When Salman Rushdie mocked Islamic sanctities in his magical 1989 realist novel “The Satanic Verses,” Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini did something shockingly original: He issued a death edict on Rushdie and all those connected to the production of his book. By doing this, Khomeini sought to impose Islamic mores and laws on the West. We don’t insult the prophet, he effectively said, and neither can you.
That started a trend of condemning those in the West deemed anti-Islamic that persists to this day. Again and again, when Westerners are perceived as denigrating Muhammad, the Koran, or Islam, Islamists demonstrate, riot or kill.
Khomeini’s edict also had the unexpected side effect of empowering individuals – Western and Islamist alike – to drive their countries’ policies.
Fleming Rose, a newspaper editor, created the greatest crisis for Denmark since World War II by publishing 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad. Florida pastor Terry Jones sowed panic among American commanders in Afghanistan by threatening to burn a Koran. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and friends prompted a crisis in U.S.-Egyptian relations with his amateurish "Innocence of Muslims" video. And the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo caused the French government to temporarily shut down diplomatic missions in 20 countries. Plans by the German satirical magazine Titanic to publish attacks on Muhammad likewise led German missions to be closed.
On the Islamist side, an individual or group took one of these perceived offenses and turned it into a reason to riot. Khomeini did this with “The Satanic Verses.” Ahmad Abu Laban did likewise with the Danish cartoons. Afghan President Hamid Karzai goaded his people to riot over burned Korans by American soldiers, and Egyptian preacher Khaled Abdullah turned “Innocence of Muslims” into an international event.
Any Westerner can now buy a Koran for a dollar and burn it, while any Muslim with a platform can transform that act into a fighting offense. As passions rise on both sides of the divide, Western provocateurs and Islamist hotheads have found each other, as confrontations occur with increasing frequency.
Which prompts this question: What would happen if publishers and managers of major media outlets reached a consensus -- “Enough of this intimidation, we will publish the most famous Danish Muhammad cartoon every day, until the Islamists tire out and no longer riot”? What would happen if Korans were recurrently burned?
Would repetition inspire institutionalization, generate ever-more outraged responses, and offer a vehicle for Islamists to ride to greater power? Or would it lead to routinization, to a wearing out of Islamists, and a realization that violence is counter-productive to their cause?
I predict the latter. A Muhammad cartoon published each day, or Koranic desecrations on a quasi-regular basis, would make it harder for Islamists to mobilize Muslim mobs. Westerners could then once again treat Islam as they do other religions – freely, to criticize without fear. That would demonstrate to Islamists that Westerners will not capitulate, that they reject Islamic law, that they are ready to stand up for their values.
So, this is my plea to all Western editors and producers: Display the Muhammad cartoon daily, until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.