In the streets of Beirut, Damascus, Islamabad and elsewhere,
as chanting mobs torched Danish and other Western offices,
including embassies of other European countries and
representative offices of the European Commission, we think
that we heard a clash of civilizations.
Moslems around the world were insulted by the publication of
cartoons depicting their religious leader Mohammed. Many
regard any depiction of him as forbidden, and in this case he
was depicted as advocating violence, for example by wearing a
turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. So they reacted
with fury and violence.
The reaction was not a deed of passion. It was long in
building up. The cartoons were published in September, and
they did draw a muted reaction from Moslems living in Europe.
It was a meeting in Mecca in December of the 57 Moslem
nations of the world that seemed to mark a turning point. The
closing statement of that conference, according to the New
York Times, expressed "concern at rising hatred against
Islam and Moslems and condemned the recent incident of
desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Mohammed in the
media of certain countries." It described the incident as
"using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame
After that meeting the press in Moslem countries began to
talk frequently about the European cartoons and governments
began to encourage demonstrations. Regimes that are under
some Western pressure to become more democratic were able to
reply by pointing to these bitter fruits of democracy.
Stanley Fish, a law professor at Florida International
University, noted that the Danish newspaper that published
the cartoons insisted that they were "not directed at
Muslims." Rather, the intention was "to put the issue of self-
censorship on the agenda and have a debate about it."
Professor Fish said that the Danes feel that they are neither
for nor against religion. However he asserts that they are
adherents "of the religion of letting it all hang out, the
religion we call liberalism."
The Muslims are against this religion. The believe that there
is a right and a wrong in the world, and that they are right
— and that they have a right to say that they are
right, including publishing cartoons that vilify Christianity
and Judaism in less respectful images than were used in
reference to Mohammed. They believe that Christians and Jews
follow false religions and are thus proper objects of hatred
and even disgust. The dominant Muslims in the world believe
further that they are justified and even obligated to express
their belief in violence directed at those who disagree. Many
Muslims do not agree with this interpretation of Islam, but
the violent ones are ascendent nowadays.
Our position embraces elements of both sides, but goes beyond
them. In practice we are close to the Western side in that we
believe that conflict should take place only at the
In theory we are in some ways like the Muslims though the
differences loom large. We also believe that there is a right
and a wrong and that we know what is right. But when we
encounter cartoons that vilify us — whether in the Arab
countries or in European countries — our reaction is
not violent, even in theory. We do not seek to draw blood.
Rather we shed tears.
We weep for the exile that we suffer that includes not only
our physical persons but the ideas that we stand for. If we
are inspired to action, we will sit on the floor and mourn
the Destruction and beseech Hashem to end it soon and to
bring about the Final Redemption.
If we were to cast it in political terms, we would say that
our core belief is not in the power of our arms but in the
power of our ideas. We believe that the fundamentals of our
Torah are so strong and so right that they eventually will
prove themselves overwhelmingly irresistible to the entire
"This is the dvar Hashem to Zerubovel as follows: Not
with armies and not with physical might — but with My
Spirit says Hashem the Lord of Hosts" (Zecharya