Germaine Greer: We've fallen for the street theatre of outrage

The fanatics have won this round in the game of pandemonium
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The Independent Online

When Muslim extremists got to hear of the not very funny and not at all biting cartoons that appeared at the end of September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, illustrating an article on the difficulty of finding an artist to draw Mohamed's face for a childrens' book about Islam, they rubbed their hands. Here was a great opportunity for their favourite game, pandemonium. The faithful being forbidden to see the offending pictures, because they must never look upon a supposed likeness of the prophet, meant that the fact that most couldn't have cared less didn't have to be addressed. After four months of agitation by mullahs from Denmark, outrage finally reached Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation with 240 million people. A few dozen men calling themselves the Islamic Defenders' Front, in dazzling white and Muslim green, came in a body, howling like lunatics, to "attack" the Danish embassy with rotten eggs. As video of the performance was downloaded on to every news service in the world, they stopped howling and had a chat with the ambassador.

The second stage in the game relied on over-reaction by the secular authorities and the fomenting of Islamophobia. The impact of two planes on the World Trade Center was the most spectacular opening gambit of pandemonium ever seen; the authorities in the world that likes to call itself free misunderstood, and inadvertently conceded game, set and match to al-Qa'ida. What al-Qa'ida meant to do was to blast Islamic fundamentalism deep into every consciousness, so that it loomed over the entire world, when in fact the murderous element was tiny, nasty and very, very lucky. They got what they wanted: Osama bin Laden is now a household word.

We could have played the game another way. We could have said to ourselves, "'I bet they never get to pull off anything like that again." As, of course, they haven't. Instead, we had every intelligence bureaucracy around the globe darkly prophesying that the next vast atrocity was just around the corner, that not one inch of the "free" world was safe, that the long fingers of al-Qa'ida were deep in every pie, that only their superhuman vigilance had averted global catastrophe, and that all civil liberties should be forthwith suspended, cancelled and countermanded, indefinitely.

As the returning tide of secularism begins to lap at the shores of Muslim theocracies, the game of pandemonium has become more desperate. In Bangladesh, Muslim fundamentalists recently detonated 500 bombs, by way of demonstrating the extent of their control of this tiny country of 145 million people. It only takes 500 fanatics to place 500 bombs, and Bangladeshis don't frighten easily, so the gambit ultimately didn't work, probably because even though the area has the highest population density of anywhere in the world, the 500 bombs killed only two people.

Unfortunately, more and more governments are more and more easily convinced that the staged gambits of the pandemonium game represent the feelings of the inarticulate mass of the Muslim population, and concede far more ground to fanaticism than fanaticism is capable of winning any other way.

Outrageous behaviour might make converts but it doesn't sway whole populations. More effective is the version of pandemonium now being played by Iran. Iran was always going to return to secularism after the reaction to the enforced secularism of the quisling Shah had spent itself. As fundamentalism in Iran loses ground, President Ahmadinejad has gone for the WMD gambit, a high-risk strategy which didn't work for Saddam Hussein. You break the seals on nuclear reactors and start making truculent noises about your right to develop nuclear power, bombs even, and driving Israel into the sea. The entire international community falls upon Iran. So far so good, because suddenly your people are being persecuted, not for your stupidity, defiance and pointless belligerence, but because they are Muslims.

More and more people are now convinced that you can take the piss out of every religion but Islam, that Muslims feel differently from other people, and that we should treat them as a special case. Once again, the fanatics have won their round of pandemonium, by suckering our media into representing howling mini-mobs as representative of the vast majority of Muslim people. In the US, where nobody has a clue how to outflank an opponent in the game of pandemonium, Janelle Hironimus of the State Department handed victory to the manufacturers of pseudo-riot on a plate by intoning, "Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable."

There was nothing in any of the 12 cartoons that incited hatred of anything. The people orchestrating the street theatre of outrage know that, but the US state department doesn't, and so once again the provocateurs win this round of pandemonium. Every time a public official makes his apologies, the pandemoniacs win, and secularism takes another bashing.