Amir Taheri, The New York Post:
"ABLESSING from God": So have Iran's leaders, starting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the controversy over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed.
A closer look at the row, however, shows that the whole rigmarole was launched by Sunni-Salafi groups in Europe and Asia, with Ahmadinejad and his Syrian vassal, President Bashar al-Assad, belatedly playing catch-up. God had nothing to do with it.
To see how the whole thing was manufactured to serve precise political ends, consider the chronology of events: READ MORE
The cartoons were published last September and, for more than three months, caused no ripples outside small groups of Salafi militants in Denmark.
In December, a group of Danish Muslim militants filled their suitcases with photocopies of the cartoons and embarked on a tour of Muslim capitals.
They failed to get to Tehran: The Iranians, being Shi'ites, saw them as Sunni activists bent on mischief. But they managed to go to Cairo, Damascus and Beirut and, were allowed to send emissaries to Saudi Arabia.
The Danish Muslim group also did something dishonest — it added a number of far more derogatory cartoons of the Prophet to the 12 published by the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and misled its interlocutors in Muslim capitals into believing that all had appeared in the Danish press.
In Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood told the Danish group that this was not the time to kick a fuss over the cartoons. The brotherhood was busy plotting its election strategy and pretending to be a "moderate" political party. The last thing it wanted was to be branded as a rabid anti-West force. The brotherhood leaders suggested that the matter be put on ice until January.
The Danish militants also received a negative reply from Hamas, the Palestinian radical movement. Hamas was busy trying to win a general election and needed to reassure at least part of the Palestinian middle classes. The Hamas advice was: Wait until after we have won.
The emissaries found a more sympathetic audience in Qatar — where the satellite-TV channel Al Jazeera (owned by the emir) specializes in inciting Muslims against the West and democracy in general. The channel's chief Islamist televangelist, Yussuf al-Qaradawi (an Egyptian preacher who is also a friend of Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London), was all too keen to issue a "fatwa" to light the fuse. He then mobilized his network of Muslim Brotherhood militants in Europe to attack the cartoons and claim, falsely, that images were not allowed in Islam and that the Danish paper had violated "an absolute principle of The Only True Faith."
Thus the call for Jihad received its supposed "theological" green light. (Ironically, the section of the brotherhood headed by al-Qaradawi is financed by the European Union as a non-governmental organization.)
As the first rent-a-mob crowds appeared on global TV screens, Ahmadinejad realized that here was a cow worth milking.
For Denmark is set to assume the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council — at the very time that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to refer Iran to the Security Council and demand sanctions. What better, for Tehran's purposes, than to portray Denmark as "an enemy of Islam" and mobilize Muslim sympathy against the Security Council?
To regain the initiative from the Sunni-Salafi groups, Ahmadinejad quickly ordered a severing of commercial ties with Denmark, thus portraying the Islamic Republic as the Muslim world's leader in the anti-Danish campaign.
Syria was next to jump on the bandwagon, again for mercenary reasons. The United Nations wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and five of his relatives and aides, including his younger brother, for questioning in the murder of Lebanon's former premier, Rafiq al-Hariri. (Assad has tried to negotiate immunity for himself and his brother in exchange for handing over the others — but the U.N. wouldn't play.) As with Iran's nuclear program, the Syrian dossier will reach the Security Council under Danish presidency. To portray Denmark as "an enemy of the Prophet" would not be such a bad thing when the council, as expected, points the finger at Assad and his regime as responsible for a series of political murders, including that of Hariri.
The Danish-cartoons cow will also be milked in another way: Tehran and Damascus have launched a diplomatic campaign to put the issue of "protecting religions against blasphemy" on the Security Council agenda. If that were to happen, issues such as Iran's quest for the atomic bomb and Syria's murder machine in Lebanon might be pushed aside, at least as far as world public opinion is concerned.
People watching TV news may think that the whole Muslim world is ablaze with righteous rage translated into "spontaneous demonstrations." The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, even if offended by cartoons which they have not seen, have stayed away from the street shows put on by the radicals and the Iranian and Syrian security services.
The destruction of Danish and Norwegian embassies and consulates happened in only two places: Damascus and Beirut. Anyone who knows Syria would know that there are no spontaneous demonstrations in that dictatorship. (Even then, the Syrian secret police failed to attract more than 1,000 rent-a-mob militants.) And the Syrian government refused the Norwegian Embassy's request for additional police protection. It was clear that the Syrians wanted the embassies sacked.
The rent-a-mob attacks in Beirut were more cynical. The Syrian Ba'ath — which has been murdering, imprisoning or deporting Sunni-Salafi militants for years — was suddenly transformed from a radical secular and Socialist party into "the Vanguard of the Faith." The mob that committed the atrocities in Beirut was bused from Syria and consisted of Muslim Brotherhood militants who are never allowed to demonstate on their own account.
The Muslim crowds that have demonstrated over the cartoons seldom exceeded a few hundred; the Muslim segment of humanity is estimated at 1.2 billion. And only three of Denmark's embassies in 57 Muslim countries have been attacked.
The Danish Muslim gang who lied by adding cartoons that had never been published has done more damage to the Prophet and to Islam than the 12 controversial cartoonists of Jyllands-Posten.
The fight between Denmark and its detractors is not between the West and Islam. It is between democracy and a global fascist movement masquerading as religion.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.