Where to begin today? There's a smorgasbord of religious extremism on display today, with Bush administration incompetence on the dessert table, so much so that you might start to think there might be almost a symbiotic relationship between the two.
First, in a not-entirely-unpredictable display of intolerance for Western tolerance, Lebanese terr--sorry, protestors burned the Danish Embassy in Beirut this morning:
The violence in Lebanon came a day after thousands of protesters in neighboring Syria set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the most violent of furious demonstrations by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Twelve caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues.
Der Spiegel has the Danish view:
"We expected these kinds of threats," said Jyllands-Posten spokesman Tage Clausen, looking calm, composed and almost peaceful given the commotion surrounding his newspaper. The bomb threat, he said, just served to show how relevant the debate that the newspaper unleashed four months ago is in contemporary society. In September, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's highest-circulation newspaper, published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad—one showed him wearing a bomb as a turban with the fuse already burning.
Clausen said the paper did not intend to provoke Muslims by running the political cartoons. "Instead we wanted to show how deeply entrenched self-censorship has already become," he said. After the explosive reaction to the drawings, however, you would be hard pressed to find a Danish cartoonist willing to risk drawing any caricatures relating to Islam.
The newspaper has published an open letter to Muslims, in part apologising, and in part explaining to the 15th Century why the 21st Century is different:
In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.
Maybe because of culturally based misunderstandings, the initiative to publish the 12 drawings has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world.
I must categorically dismiss such an interpretation. Because of the very fact that we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion and because we respect the right of any human being to practise his or her religion, offending anybody on the grounds of their religious beliefs is unthinkable to us.
It is the wish of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that various ethnic groups should live in peace and harmony with each other and that the debates and disagreements which will always exist in a dynamic society should do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
An article from the Los Angeles Times' media critic about our tolerance of fundamentalist intolerance suggests we need a little less tolerance dealing with these thugs:
In Iraq on Friday, the country's dwindling community of Chaldean Catholics prepared for more of the terrorist attacks that have become routine; there were no reported attacks on Muslims in any of the countries where the Danish caricatures were republished. Muslims in those places may have been affronted, but they are not in fear for their lives. No Western leader claims that Ferdinand and Isabella did not expel the Moors from Spain or that there were no massacres during the Crusades. If they did, they'd be howled off the podium and ridiculed into obscurity. The president of theocratic Iran claims that there was no Holocaust and people across the Islamic world applaud.
This dovetails nicely with Talk of the Town in this week's New Yorker, about the Hamas victory:
Among the fundamentalists, the idea that Islam is superior to other religions has become predominant. Long before it took over the Palestinian parliament, Hamas managed to turn what we thought to be a national conflict into a religious war.
Next, on the same topic (i.e., religious fundamentalism's jihad against reason), the New York Times reports NASA Administrator Michael Griffin called for more openness in the agency in response to widespread and growing political interference from Administration appointees. For example, as part of their war against science, the Administration wants the word "theory" appended to the phrase "Big Bang:"
The Big Bang memo came from George Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.
In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."
The story about NASA and the stories about the Muslim world's reaction to the Danish cartoons are connected. Religion and politics need to be separate, as our founders understood, and the Bush administration does not.
This last story kind of brings it all together. MSNBC is reporting this hour that a major Al Queda prisoner has escaped:
A man considered a mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 soldiers in a Yemeni port in 2000 was among 23 people who escaped from a Yemen prison last week, Interpol said Sunday.
So do you feel safer than six years ago?