Richard North, 03/02/2006  

So, after beef wars, and bra wars, we now have "cartoon wars", an entirely Danish issue in November, that has snuck up to occupy centre stage in a way that no-one could possibly have predicted – and we certainly did not.

Strangely though, it is only The Times and the Israeli blog Israpundit that have adopted the "cartoon wars" moniker, despite its obvious attractions and the possibility that, with armed men who might or might not finally take over the EU office in Gaza, and/or carry out their threat to bomb it and other EU member state buildings, it might become a real war, of a sorts.

So frenetic has become the issue that The Times is reporting that western governments are appealing for calm, conscious that Friday prayers today could trigger a storm of Muslim anger, escalating the situation beyond control.

And while Danish, Norwegian, German and French papers have published some or all of the offending cartoons, no British newspaper has yet bitten the bullet, although the BBC broadcasted them on its main evening bulletins – albeit as glimpses to illustrate the story - while the Channel 4 News, The Spectator and The Guardian have shown them on their websites.

Even the editor of the Jordanian Al-Shihan newspaper was drawn into the fracas, suggesting Muslim anger was unreasonable, and then sacked by his publisher after he had run the cartoons - the second editor to suffer such a fate. But the point he made was difficult to argue: “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim?”

But what continues to amaze is the range of "actors" being drawn in. Blair is distancing himself, saying it would be wrong of him to tell the media what to do – not that that has stopped him in the past. Peter Mandelson has intervened, and all sorts of Muslim worthies are getting stuck in.

A spokesman for the Muslim Association is picking on the BBC, saying it is “inciting racial hatred and not conducting a serious debate on freedom of speech,” and a senior figure in Hizb-ut Tahrir has said: "It's become open season by media to insult Islam."

Behind all this, though, there is perhaps a glimmer of a backlash from the non-Muslim communities. This is not so much a question of "freedom of speech", still less of insulting Islam. Who cares? It seems more a reaction to being bullied – the response to a group that thinks it can tell people what they can and cannot do, that same group that seems to feel it can ignore our rules, conventions and constraints, yet it expects us to respect theirs.

You may gather this Blog's response from the fact that we have published two of the offending cartoons, albeit one slightly modified by our own in-house genius, Anoneumouse.


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