Bush Administration on 2006 Danish Cartoons: “We Certainly Understand Why Muslims Would Find These Images Offensive”

Pakistani Muslim men march during a demonstration in Karachi on May 18, 2008 to protest against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). At least 17 Danish dailies reprinted one of the cartoons in February, vowing to defend freedom of expression a day after police in Denmark foiled a plot to murder the cartoonist. AFPPHOTO/ Rizwan TABASSUM (Photo credit should read RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo by RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

As our politics are overtaken by embassy-riot finger-pointing, it’s worth remembering how the Bush administration attempted to finesse the 2006 protests of Danish cartoons that mocked Muhammed. (I think everybody knows this by now, but Muslims don’t illustrate Muhammad in any form. Hence the outrage.) From February 2006:

The Muslim world erupted in anger on Friday over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Europe while the Bush administration offered the protesters support, saying of the cartoons, ”We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.”

… The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, reading the government’s statement on the controversy, said, ”Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images,” which are routinely published in the Arab press, ”as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Still, the United States defended the right of the Danish and French newspapers to publish the cartoons. ”We vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view,” Mr. McCormack added.

Now, 2012 is not 2006. An American ambassador has been murdered, for the first time since 1979. But this statement, like the Egyptian embassy statement that’s outraged the Romney campaign, was made at a time that no Americans had been killed. Free speech advocates, then and now, retch at the thought of governments “sympathizing” with murderous thugs. But it’s not some innovation of the Kenyan anti-colonial Obama administration. It’s how our government’s acted, when either party’s been in control, in an age of heavy involvement in the Muslim world. If you’re going to maintain embassies in the hearts of Arab capitals, you’re not going to be able to respond to these situations the way Christopher Hitchens would’ve.