I’m on the record as not being a fan of Julian Assange or WikiLeaks. However, we are learning some useful things from his disclosures. For instance, a State Department cable from August 2006 reveals the duplicitous role that the Syrian government played during the infamous Danish cartoon riots of that year. Remember them? Worldwide riots erupted on the famed Islamic street, which by the evidence includes much of Europe now, in response to a Danish newspaper publishing cartoons depicting Mohammad in various unflattering ways. Here’s a movie that I produced at the time to show how the riots started, who started them, and why.
The cartoon riots were a trick, perpetrated by unscrupulous imams and their backers, for the purpose of intimidating the West into adapting Islamist codes of speech policing, and for the purpose of generating fear and loathing of the West up and down that fabled Islamic street. It all worked quite well, thanks in no small part to the Western media’s cowardly behavior throughout.
Now, to the incriminating doc concerning Syria. At the time of the riots, it was fairly obvious that various and sundry despots around the Middle East were using the Danish cartoon controversy for their own ends. Syria’s hands were bloody, as they tend to be in any crisis. In this WikiLeaked doc, “SARG” refers to the Syrian government:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx one of the most influential Sunni religious figures in Damascus, provided PolChief February 6 with his assessment of SARG involvement in the run-up to the violent February 4 demonstrations (and its reaction in their aftermath). He noted that PM Naji al-Otri several days before the demonstrations instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus, without setting any ceilings on the type of language to be used. Hasson complied with the order.
“No ceiling” on the rhetoric is as it sounds — the prime minister of Syria, Muhammad Naji al-Otari of the ruling Ba’ath Party, unleashed the top mufti to jump ugly on the cartoons, and the mufti did his part. With joy, no doubt. And riots, predictably, ensued, with a little help from the mufti’s friend:
(C) xxxxxxx noted that one of the key organizers of the march was Ammar Sahloul, a wealthy businessman (money trader) with close ties both to the regime and to the Grand Mufti. xxxxxxxx suspects him of being an agent for the SARG. He said that Sahloul had been one of the people involved in sending out text messages a few days before the demonstrations, inviting people to come.
How very Soros — it was an astroturf riot bought and paid for by a rich, connected man who is close to power.
As these things sometimes go, the Syrian cartoon riots threatened to get a bit out of hand. So the Assad gang stepped in to put a lid on it:
C) After the Danish Embassy was attacked (along with the Swedish and Chilean missions housed in the same building) and the Norwegian Embassy was torched, Syrian security officers acted much more resolutely to prevent damage at the French Embassy. Sheikh xxxxx friend Ayoubi, the Minister of the Awqaaf, was on the scene trying to calm the demonstrators and get them to disperse. Ayoubi told xxxxxxx that the senior Syrian security officer then informed him “Thats it. Tell them to disperse or we will use live ammunition” to stop the rioting and to prevent them from storming the Embassy.
Here’s where the real taqiyya comes into play:
(C) xxxxxxx assessed that the SARG allowed the rioting to continue for an extended period and then, when it felt that “the message had been delivered,” it reacted with serious threats of force to stop it. He described the message to the U.S. and the broader international community as follows: “This is what you will have if we allow true democracy and allow Islamists to rule.” To the Islamic street all over the region, the message was that the SARG is protecting the dignity of Islam, and that the SARG is allowing Muslims freedom on the streets of Damascus they are not allowed on the streets of Cairo, Amman, or Tunis.
Notice the dual messages. To the West, the riots were orchestrated and intended to send the West a message: Leave us despots alone or you’ll get nothing but chaos. The Syrian Ba’ath Party had every incentive to send that particular message to a United States that had just toppled the neighboring Ba’ath dictatorship in Iraq. Assad didn’t want to end up like Saddam. To those who embodied the chaos, the rioters themselves, Assad sent a different message: We, the secular Syrian government, are your guardians from those nasties in the West. Trust us to keep Islam pure.
For what it’s worth, the Ba’ath Party has long played this dual role — secular national socialists on the one hand, guardians of Islam on the other — and that relationship goes back to a previous Grand Mufti, a previous incarnation of national socialism, and a terrorist who fooled lots of Westerners into thinking he was a man of peace. His name was Arafat. But I digress.
That dual channel communication above was by no means the end of Syria’s duplicity in the matter, as the cable makes clear:
(C) The Danish Ambassador told Emboffs February 6 that he had met with the Minister of the Awqaaf on February 2 (and separately with the Grand Mufti) to explain the Danish position and ask for help in cooling tempers. He noted that the while the Mufti issued a helpful statement, the ministers reported comments on Friday in a mosque in the upscale Malki neighborhood only served to inflame the situation.
The entire Danish cartoons episode, for which the cartoonists themselves continue to live in hiding for fear of meeting with Theo Van Gogh’s fate, was orchestrated from beginning to end, and on the ground in police states like Syria. It’s one thing to suspect all this, as I and many many others did at the time, but quite another to see it confirmed, and now leaked to the world.