As you know, newspapers in a majority of European countries - and other countries such as New Zealand - have reprinted the Danish caricatures of Mr. Mohammed (PBUH & SAW). Most journalists and politicians on the old continent emphasize that the freedom of speech is the freedom to offend others and if it were not, it would become completely vacuous. The government has no right to apologize on behalf of privately held newspapers and it cannot punish them either. While a balance between responsibility (self-censorship) and freedom (provocation) is desirable, Europe would always prefer an excess of caricature over an excess of censure, using the words of a French politician.
The anglosaxon reaction is very different. The British media that are usually provocative - much like The Reference Frame - chose not to reprint the caricatures (although BBC has shown them on TV). The right to provoke does not mean that we must do it. And Jack Straw, the minister of foreign affairs, praised the British media for their approach. Finally, the United States - according to the State Department - shares the feelings of the Muslims that the drawings were offensive.
America had to invest hundreds of billions of dollars for various wars which has not only established democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan but it has also predictably damaged America's image in the Muslim world (at least so far). Europe can harm its own image equally profoundly (and maybe even more) by 12 mediocre drawings. Well, Europe can be very efficient, too. The only improvement how to get more Joules per Muslim would be to draw Allah Himself but I guess that no one has the courage to do so right now. ;-)
What do I think about the U.S. and U.K. reactions? I think that they are very decent but not sincere. But because of some reasons, I appreciate their slightly hypocritical attitude. Of course that their reaction is caused by the vast experience that the Americans and the British already have with the militant Muslims. Many British and Americans have died in the recent war and the U.S. and U.K. governments know that every word to support anything found offensive by the Muslims will lead to new British and American casualties. In this sense, the approaches of the governments are kind of responsible.
Do I really believe that the U.S. and the U.K. will stay on the Muslim side if this conflict happens to grow? Do I believe that Washington will nuke Copenhagen as thousands (or millions?) of Muslims imagine? I hope not. It seems obvious that if the conflict becomes something more serious, it will be a part of the war on terror and Uncle Sam will again be the usual nice and helpful uncle who helps to save Europe from its lethal problems so often.
Do I think that there is some conspiracy going on? That the reaction of the Muslim world was organized and planned and the caricatures as just buttons that made it start? Not really. My impression is that many Muslims actually believe that drawings of Mr. Muhammed (PBUH & SAW) are much more unforgivable than the obscene treatment of the people in Abu Ghraib, among many other recent incidents. Sorry to say but the reason is simply that the human life and dignity have a negligible value in the Islamic world - at least in comparison with the prophets. This is how their world works - and our Christian world was not so terribly different in the Middle Ages.
Indeed, many things have changed about the Western world since renessaince and analogous changes have yet to occur in the bulk of the Islamic world.
If this conflict evaporates and peace between the cultures is restored, what rules will it follow? I think that it is obvious that the rules must still say that the territory of the Islamic world may follow their laws but the Western countries must obey their own laws. Westerners would become a bit more careful (=scared) after a few Danes are hypothetically killed (much like the Americans and British did) but they will probably still enjoy their usual rights including the right to draw God and His hypothetical friends (PBUH & SAW).
Every Muslim reader of The Reference Frame should realize that they will have to accept this right that has existed in the West for many centuries, and if they can't live with it, it's too bad. Even if you find a couple of allies in the West who are ready to help you to make drawings of Mr. Mohammed (PBUH & SAW) illegal, be sure that you will never find a sufficient support to change the laws in this fashion. Note that our mentalities are vastly different. Anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, and anti-American brainwashing newspaper articles occur on daily basis in the Islamic world and we don't care much. (In fact, maybe, we should care, but we just happen to respect the right of the Middle Eastern newspapers to brainwash their readers with stupidities.)
This brings me to the second - and hopefully less likely - scenario, namely that the conflict won't go away. How can it look like? What semi-realistic catastrophic plans can we invent?
- The Parliaments of most Islamic countries reject, under the popular pressure, the caricatures and demand a punishment (note that such resolutions are unanimous so far, e.g. in Pakistan), including death for the cartoonists
- By March, most diplomatic ties between the Western countries and the Muslim countries will be cut
- First assassinations start to escalate the atmosphere
- A violent demonstration of Muslims in a Western country will be stopped by armed policemen
- The Gaza strip - a piece of land that we allowed to be controlled by militant extremists - will always lead the effort to start a new world war, and most of Westerners and Jews who are still there will be killed as a retaliation
- The Western consensus will be that the Gaza strip is the world's epicenter of terrorism and the West will try to re-occupy it, with a silent approval from a few Arab countries including Jordan
- At this moment, the Islamic world will be sufficiently unified to start to defend its territory of Gaza, bringing many countries to the conflict
- Military bosses in the West will agree that it is impossible to fight 1.2 billion people by conventional weapons. The countries will be nuked roughly in the following order: Iran, Syria, Pakistan (unsuccessul attempt to retaliate with nukes), Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the rest
- Incidentally, the hypothesis that there are enough nukes to destroy the planet thrice will turn out to be a miscalculation, and America, Britain, and France - the main Allies in the war - will have to triple their stockpiles by 2008
- At the very end of the war around 2010, weakened Iran will finish its first nuclear weapon, and they will send it to CERN two weeks after the last squark is discovered (the squark discovery is probably the least likely part of my scenario, according to Peter Woit); however, a complete surrender of the Islamic world will follow three weeks later
- The Third World War will be remembered as the worst conflict in history, partly due to the hundreds of millions of casualties. After one year of evacuation because of increased radiactivity, secular multi-cultural democracies will be established on the territories of the former Islamic countries. Islam will remain legal, but only in its update that allows people to draw God and prophets and allows them - including the women - to rely on hundreds of other elementary human rights, too
- Most importantly, the aerosoles from the nuclear explosions in the Middle East will cool down the planet by hefty 0.02 degrees, diminishing the single most important threat to our civilization called the global warming
The intelligent Muslims should think twice whether they want to provoke the whole Western world with their sensitivities because this is a conflict that they could not win. All peaceful outcomes of this conflict assume that it will continue to be legal to draw the prophets in the Western world.