So now it's cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb-shaped turban. Ambassadors are withdrawn from Denmark, Gulf nations clear their shelves of Danish produce, Gaza gunmen threaten the European Union. In Denmark, Fleming Rose, the "culture" editor of the pip- squeak newspaper which published these silly cartoons - last September, for heaven's sake - announces that we are witnessing a "clash of civilisations" between secular Western democracies and Islamic societies. This does prove, I suppose, that Danish journalists follow in the tradition of Hans Christian Anderson. Oh lordy, lordy. What we're witnessing is the childishness of civilisations.
So let's start off with the Department of Home Truths. This is not an issue of secularism versus Islam.
For Muslims, the Prophet is the man who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights, almost cari- acatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew Arnold wrote about the sea's "long, withdrawing roar". That's why we talk about "the West ver-sus Islam" rather than "Christians versus Islam" - because there aren't an awful lot of Christians left in Europe. There is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.
Besides, we can exercise our own hypocrisy over religious feelings. I happen to remember how, more than a decade ago, a film called The Last Temptation of Christ showed Jesus making love to a woman. In Paris, someone set fire to the cinema showing the movie, killing a young man. I also happen to remember a US university which invited me to give a lecture three years ago. I did. It was entitled "September 11,2001: ask who did it but, for God's sake, don't ask why". When I arrived, I found that the university had deleted the phrase "for God's sake" because "we didn't want to offend certain sensibilities". Ah-ha, so we have "sensibilities" too.
In other words, while we claim that Muslims must be good secularists when it comes to free speech - or cheap cartoons - we can worry about adherents to our own precious religion just as much. I also enjoyed the pompous claims of European statesmen that they cannot control free speech or newspapers. This is also nonsense. Had that cartoon of the Prophet shown instead a chief rabbi with a bomb- shaped hat, we would have had "anti-Semitism" screamed into our ears - and rightly so - just as we often hear the Israelis complain about anti-Semitic cartoons in Egyptian newspapers. …