Saturday, February 18, 2006

It's going down

Jacques Brel: Au revoir, vôtre Europe

The Associated Press reports:
A Pakistani cleric announced a $1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who drew the Prophet Muhammad. In Libya, a demonstration against the caricatures left the Italian consulate on fire and at least nine people dead, according to an Italian diplomat. ...

Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi announced the bounty for killing a cartoonist to about 1,000 people outside the historic Mohabat Khan mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

He said the mosque and the religious school he leads would give a $25,000 reward and a car for killing the cartoonist who drew the caricatures -- considered blasphemous by Muslims. He said a local jewelers' association would also give $1 million, but no representative of the association was available to confirm the offer.

"Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act, he has challenged the honor of Muslims. Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million dollars from the association of the jewelers bazaar, one million rupees ($16,700) from Masjid Mohabat Khan and 500,000 rupees ($8,350) and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward," Qureshi said.

"This is a unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize," he said.

So that's the state of play for freedom of the press and of speech in Europe, and potentially in every country where Muslim leaders have eyes to raise the Crescent. Which is, everywhere. You fail to follow the rules of Islam, whether you're a Muslim or not, and there's a jolly good price on your head.

Europe. Now, this may seem off topic, but not really, I think.

I was just listening to a CD of Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer and songwriter who was immensely popular in the 1960s. He was a great artist who was also a bit of a show-off and inclined to go over the top: I don't have a lot of time for his often-used device of increasing the tempo of a song until, by the end, he sounded like an auctioneer. But when he let go of mannerisms, his lyrics and delivery could be honestly, almost transcendentally poignant and romantic.

And he seemed, in some way, to plumb the heart of old Europe, which two world wars and endless earlier conflicts had devastated time and again, but which always seemed to rise once more, its faith -- in love, if not God -- indestructible.

It's the Europe that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstain II were thinking of when they wrote "The Last Time I Saw Paris," when the street signs had become bilingual, French-German, in 1941.

Europe recovered from that tyranny. Can it do the same again?

The signs aren't good. Years of prosperity and the nanny state have raised several generations of Europeans who imagine that global warming is the greatest calamity they could ever face, and that whatever the problem, government bureaux will take care of it.

There are very few things I'm sure of, but this is one of them: right at this minute, there are madmen who are working out meticulous details of a terrorist atrocity the likes of which we probably haven't seen before, in answer to a perceived insult to their warlord Prophet.

When -- if? -- their plans are fulfilled, I hope what remains of the spirit that organized the Resistance in World War II will awaken at last. Maybe even the European Left will finally stand up and say, enough.

Then again, maybe the Prophet's avengers have bigger game in their sights, such as the Great Satan itself.

This year? Next year? The year after? Someone knows; I don't. Be ready. It's going down.

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