Heads in the Sand

In official Washington, no one wants to irritate the fundamentalists. So most heads are in the sand in the wake of the Danish cartoons. People are “condemning” both the cartoons and the violence, but no one in office is telling the radical Islamists to grow up—except one liberal Muslim group not commonly known for a hard line on fundamentalists.

“We all, Muslims, and people of other faiths, seem to be locked into a downward spiral of mutual mistrust and hostility based on self-perpetuating stereotypes,” said Ibrahim Cooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim lobby.

“As Muslims, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, ‘What would the Prophet Muhammad do?’” (No word whether the proprietors of “What would Jesus do?” are incensed.)

“Even when the prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation,” Cooper wrote in an official statement. “When he returned to Mecca after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.”

That’s leagues tougher than anything the White House and State Department had to say.

“We find [the cartoons] offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive,” said a State Department spokesman on Friday.

Later, White House spokesman Scott McClellan condemned the violence that destroyed the embassies, but added that “[w]e understand fully why Muslims find the cartoons offensive, and we have spoken out about that.”

About the toughest language the U.S. government could muster: “We also urge all those who are criticizing or critical of the cartoons to forcefully speak out against all forms of hateful speech, including cartoons and articles that frequently have appeared in the Arab world espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Christian views,” McClellan said.

The newspapers weren’t any better. Asked by news services why the Washington Post hadn’t published the cartoons, one news exec called them tasteless. “They wouldn’t meet our standards for what we publish in the paper,” said Leonard Downie, Jr., the paper’s executive editor. “We have standards about language, religious sensitivity, racial sensitivity and general good taste.”

“It has been made clear that it is offensive,” USA Today deputy foreign editor Jim Michaels said.

Then there were the equivocators.

“A case can be made that the Danish newspaper did this as a provocation, in poor taste, whatever—maybe they shouldn’t have published them—but the reaction has been equally egregious,” said National Public Radio’s Mara Liasson on Fox News.

All this makes a certain degree of sense. In Washington and in the media, Muslim organizations have more credibility to condemn the radical masses who torch embassies than do white guys in suits on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration has gone at least a little soft on radical Islam—and that everyone is still scared stiff of it.

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