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Less than spontaneous combustion
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


February 08, 2006

Even in a flag-bedecked city like Washington, D.C., it would be tough on short notice to come up with enough Danish and Norwegian flags to burn at a spontaneous demonstration.

So how, in an impoverished, isolated place like Gaza, do demonstrators come up with a seemingly unlimited supply of Danish and Norwegian flags - how do they even know what they look like - to burn and trample on?

Thanks to Reuters, we have an answer. In Gaza, and probably elsewhere in the Muslim world, canny merchants try to anticipate demand for something to desecrate. Said Reuters, "When Gaza shopkeeper Ahmed Abu Dayva first heard about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, he quickly ordered 100 Danish and Norwegian flags."

He is selling them for $11 each, and since the flags are burned or shredded, there's built-in repeat business. What Abu Dayva can't get locally, he orders from Taiwan. The Israeli flags for burning come from an Israeli supplier.

Which only underscores that these demonstrations are hardly spontaneous and barely about blasphemy. The cartoons were published in Denmark last September and now that the blogosphere is on the case, we find that an Egyptian newspaper printed them on its front page last October to no discernible reaction.

In dictatorial and secular Syria, where nothing happens without the government's permission, mobs burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies. This was probably less an outlet for aggrieved religious sensibilities than President Bashar Assad's way of telling the Europeans to quit carping about his regime.

In Afghanistan, where the cartoons haven't been reprinted and few have access to the Internet, a mob protesting the cartoons set out to attack a U.S. base, even though the U.S. has been a bystander in this whole controversy.

The mob, egged on by the Taliban, consisted of Afghanis angry at the U.S., angry at the West, angry at imported Pakistani construction workers, angry at foreigners generally and some just out for a little excitement.

"They forgot all about the cartoons," a spokesman for the regional governor told The Washington Post.

The violence has dismayed many moderate Muslims because it displays a streak of shrill, almost messianic intolerance. And, of course, it has been almost comically counterproductive because so many Western outlets that have felt compelled to reprint or link to the cartoons - which really aren't all that clever in the first place - out of principle or sheer devilment.

Indeed, an editorial cartooning subspecialty has grown up, the prophet Muhammad cartoon. The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo printed a cartoon of its own on the front cover showing Muhammad burying his face in his hands and saying, "It's hard to be loved by fools." And it reprinted all 12 of the Danish cartoons inside.

Press reports say sales are five times normal.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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