As a kid living in the British military community in Kuwait I found myself immersed in Islam. I was not Muslim, but I did speak Arabic and since most of my friends were Arab, Islam was an inevitable part of my day. I was later involved in a war which brought me to within a block of my old home. A decade later, I spent a some time working with the government of an Arab sultan. I don't pretend to understand Islam.
The Muslim cartoon controversy which has fomented a sudden surge of violence in the Muslim world is difficult to understand. What makes it even more disturbing is that the reaction to those cartoons is out of context with the alleged insult. The traditional western media has done a thoroughly incompetent job of explaining both the origins of the problem and reaction. However, Soj, at European Tribune is all over this one and has provided an excellent analysis of the situation with a comprehensive history and clear explanations.
As Soj explains, the Qur'an does not forbid depictions of Mohammed; it only forbids idolatry. The Hadeth is a little more explicit, but as Soj says, in practical terms, depictions of Mohammed can be found all over the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East.
What is interesting is that the cartoons were published in early September 2005. It took until late January 2006 before Muslims took to the streets to condemn them; over 4 months. Aside from small protests in Denmark and some larger early protests in Pakistan, the Muslim world was quiet.
What CNN and the other traditional media failed to tell you is that the thousand gallons of fuel added to the fire of outrage came from none other than our old pals Saudi Arabia.And the reason the Saudis pushed this issue was to deflect the criticism they were receiving for the abysmal safety and security they provided during the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. During the January 2006 Hajj, 350 people were trampled to death in a human stampede which is being directly blamed on the Saudi government's lack of planning and concern.
And while the deaths of these pilgrims was a mere blip on the traditional western media's radar, it was a huge story in the Muslim world. Most of the pilgrims who were killed came from poorer countries such as Pakistan, where the Hajj is a very big story. Even the most objective news stories were suddenly casting Saudi Arabia in a very bad light and they decided to do something about it.Soj adds this:
Their plan was to go on a major offensive against the Danish cartoons. The 350 pilgrims were killed on January 12 and soon after, Saudi newspapers (which are all controlled by the state) began running up to 4 articles per day condemning the Danish cartoons. The Saudi government asked for a formal apology from Denmark. When that was not forthcoming, they began calling for world-wide protests. After two weeks of this, the Libyans decided to close their embassy in Denmark. Then there was an attack on the Danish embassy in Indonesia. And that was followed by attacks on the embassies in Syria and then Lebanon.
I could not help but note the number of Saudi flags that the various rioters were waving in Lebanon and Syria. Coincidence? I think not.
From my personal experience with the Muslim world it is not an overstatement that Saudi Arabia is the seat of Sunni Muslim power. Mecca is located in the Saudi kingdom and an intense religious doctrine permeates every aspect of Saudi daily life. It is a place of profound religious intolerance and it is impossible to distinguish a difference between government social policy and religious dogma. That Saudi Arabia possessed both the power and the mechanisms to ignite the current outrage, despite its somewhat artificial beginnings, is beyond question. It's not only useful, it's their style. They make Machiavelli and Karl Rove seem like amateurs.
I highly recommend you read more about it here.