The cartoon crisis shifted course ever so slightly as the White House held Syria responsible for the burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus. The Washington Post quoted presidential press secretary Scott McClellan as he read a statement from Crawford:
"We will hold Syria responsible for such violent demonstrations since they do not take place in that country without government knowledge and support ... The government of Syria's failure to provide protection to diplomatic premises, in the face of warnings that violence was planned, is inexcusable."
The embassy attacks were ostensibly the outcome of Muslim outrage at the depiction of Mohammed by a Danish newspaper, a representation considered blasphemous. But the direction of the crisis has been nudged from the outset by groups hoping to turn its emotionally explosive content to their purposes. The Guardian describes how radical Imams took four month-old embers and fanned them into flames.
What should have remained a parochial row was to blow up into an international incident, largely because of the perceived obdurate response of Denmark's centre-right prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. On October 19 ambassadors from Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, demanded a meeting. They wanted the paper prosecuted. The PM gave them the brush-off, arguing that his government could not interfere with the right to free speech.
At this point a group of ultra-conservative Danish imams decided to take matters into their own hands, setting off on an ambitious tour of Saudi Arabia and Egypt with a dossier containing the inflammatory cartoons.
According to Jyllands-Posten, the imams from the organisation Islamisk Trossamfund took three other mysteriously unsourced drawings as well, showing Muhammad with the face of a pig; a dog sodomising a praying Muslim; and Muhammad as a paedophile. "This was pure disinformation. We never published them," Lund complained. But the campaign worked. Outwardly the row appeared to be calming down. But in Muslim cyber-chatrooms, on blogs, and across the internet, outrage was building fast.
But fire once kindled can take on a life of its own. The demands for apologies and the deluge of threats against Denmark created the opportunity for a pushback which some were quick to seize. Guardian account continues.
Outraged by what they regarded as Denmark's "caving in", several rightwing European newspapers decided it was time to demonstrate solidarity. On Wednesday, France Soir republished the caricatures under the defiant headline: "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" - a gesture that led to the sacking of the paper's editor the next day. Separately, Germany's Die Welt slapped the turban-bomb Muhammad cartoon on its front page.
On February 1 the flames had spread to the Internet. The cartoon issue, which did not register on the Technorati blog search index on January 31, became within 24 hours topics 1, 2, 3. As of this writing it threatening to solidly block out the top five.
But embassy burnings in Syria provided the opportunity for the White House to re-secularize what was rapidly becoming a religious and cultural conflict. The White House seized the chance to point out these arsons were not religious outpourings but deliberate acts of a State -- the Assad regime to be exact -- a State with bitter enemies throughout the Islamic world, thereby harnessing the charged climate of public opinion to advance its strategic agenda. It's reasonable to surmise that the first victim of the frisson that ran through Europe has already been Iran. Opposition within the IAEA to referring Teheran to the Security Council over its uranium enrichment program suddenly collapsed -- almost unnoticed -- as the furor over the cartoons rose to a screeching pitch.
February 5, 2006 ... The United Nations' atomic energy watchdog voted in Vienna yesterday to report Iran to the UN Security Council, setting the stage for a possible international showdown with Tehran over its nuclear program. ... The landmark 27-to-3 decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency capped months of wrangling by the body's 35-member board and paved the way for possible economic or political sanctions against Iran by the powerful 15-member Security Council.
One of the things which may contributed to this lopsided vote was the sudden European realization, on account of the cartoon crisis, that things were serious, that the hour was late. And for that we may ultimately have to thank Islamisk Trossamfund.