The cartoons themselves were a red herring from the start -- a fake issue, trumped up by fanatical Muslims seeking grievances to abet a confrontation, and thereby extract concessions from the West. It is a fire, still being stoked around the world by radical “Islamists”...
The husband and I go round and round on this subject, he mostly saying, "They're just cartoons" and I mostly objecting, "No, they're a shot across our bow - if we're not willing to stand up for a value as fundamental to our society as free speech, what are we willing to stand up for?" I take no joy from Warren's confirmation; I don't want the kind of conflict that appears to me to be looming. (And, let me be more clear: the husband doesn't trivialize the issue - he just sees a different starting point from mine, at the violent responses to the cartoons rather than at the initial and apparently carefully fostered outrage and the furious backpedaling efforts of some - too many - in the West.) But it is what it is. There's a strain of Islam that does want this conflict. Whether it's a sign of a Final Battle like Armageddon and thus a desired outcome among certain of the devout, like the red heifer breeding project among some fundamentalist Christians1, or a more secular spoiling-for-a-fight thing whereby some Islamists recognize a widening crack in the West's armor that they're eager to exploit, I don't know. The difference in motivation does matter; religious fanatics are generally thought to be harder to convince to lay down their arms than mere power-seekers. But either way, this time looks more and more like the world between the wars.
Bloggers are enjoined not to throw around the N-word - no, not that one (well, yes, that one too, but on the grounds of civility rather than stifling debate); "Nazi" is the word that triggers Godwin's Law. But because that group was so successful at rising from the "nothing" of an unhappy populace to within a few bad decisions of European domination, it's worth a look, because so many of the elements are similar: the very real disparity between the downtrodden group and the world they can see outside their reach; the perception, perhaps justified, perhaps not so much, that their downtroddenness comes as a result of that outside world's deliberate actions; the handy scapegoat; the emphasis on ideological (in this case) purity; the conviction that any who don't conform to that standard of purity are inferior, but are not just to be ignored - rather destroyed; a tendency here in that outside world to feel a bit (or a lot) guilty about that same disparity and to attempt to assuage our own guilt by (another word that comes dangerously close to invoking Godwin) appeasement; an arms race; the actual - not virtual - stifling of dissent; a continual racheting-up of protest from marches to flag-burnings to kidnappings to - what? Kristallnacht? Or have we been there already?
If I were a relatively powerless fringe group who desperately wanted power, I could do worse than to look to that group for strategy and tactics. I could draw the simple lesson "Don't go mad" from the leader of that group and reasonably believe that I could sidestep their defeat. Most importantly, I could push my case as far as possible as quickly as possible, so that the sweet convention that that group May Not Be Named could effectively do my debate-stifling for me for a while - and when the West awakens, they may be surprised at how much I've accomplished during their nap.
I'm simultaneously gratified and saddened to learn that Mark Steyn agrees.
1It's possible to read Revelations in such a way that certains Signs and PortentsTM point to an imminent Armageddon. (In my own faith tradition, we tend to go by the "You know not the day nor the hour" verse instead.) One of these signs is the birth of a red heifer in Israel. There's at least one fundamentalist Christian group out there that's trying to take the timing into its own hands by undertaking a project to breed that red heifer predictably from parents who will then be transported to Israel. In my opinion, this project is misguided in so many ways I don't know where to start - but conceptualizing God as a kind of garbage-in-garbage-out Black Box will do as well as any other starting point. But please note that because (a) I'm not in or of the group, and (b) I first heard about them on the pretty much hostile-by-definition NPR some years ago, I may be wrong about both their motives and their methods.