Matt Archbold recently wrote an interesting piece for the Register about the draw-Muhammad rally that took place outside a Phoenix mosque on May 29. It was the same mosque once attended by the two terrorists who attacked another Muhammad cartoon event in Garland, Texas, just three weeks before.

“What are they trying to prove?” he asks. I’m sure that a lot of other Americans are asking the same question. According to Archbold, the point that the protesters were trying to make has already been made:

Are there really a lot of Americans who are a little hazy on where radical Muslims stand on the issue of violence? Seems to me we’ve been pretty certain about that for … uhm … about seventeen years.

Like Archbold, I also question whether a rally by armed bikers — some wearing T-shirts with obscene slogans — is the best way to make a point about Islam. On the other hand, I’m not sure he’s accurately addressing the intent of the organizers.

Archbold writes that the point about radical Muslims and violence is already well understood. But Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the rally, wasn’t talking about radical Muslims or radical Islam. He was talking about mainstream Islam. The event was needed, he said, “in order to expose the true colors of Islam.” Americans now seem to have come to a belated understanding that there is a threat from radical Islam. It’s not so obvious, however, that they have a corresponding awareness of the threat from mainstream Islam. In short, most Americans are still very hazy about where Islam itself stands on the issue of violence.

How come? Because we’ve been taught that it’s impolite to even think such thoughts. It has been drilled into our heads that violence committed in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Islam. I haven’t kept track of the number of times I’ve heard that phrase or its equivalent, but I don’t remember anyone ever offering any evidence for the claim. It’s just one of those things you have to take on faith. And if you don’t, you’re a bad person who is insulting the faith of 1.5 billion Muslims.

If you want to maintain your credentials as a tolerant citizen of the world, you have to pretend that there is a strict wall of separation dividing Islam and radical Islam, and that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving.

But in the real world no such wall exists. As exemplified by all those nice Muslim boys and girls next door who suddenly sign up for the jihad, Muslims can slide readily from the “trad” side to the “rad” side. Moreover, many of those who don’t resort to violence themselves seem willing to lend moral support to those who do. Consider some statistics:

In other words, although the majority of Muslims may be disinclined to take up arms, extremist views are widespread in the Muslims world. Which brings us back to the cartoon controversies. The prohibition on drawing Muhammad is not an extremist position. It’s the position of mainstream Islam. Nor is it only extremists who feel that violators of the prohibition should be punished. If 45 percent of Muslim-Americans believe that mockers of Islam should face criminal charges, imagine what the percentage is in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

If you’re an American and you draw a Muhammad cartoon, you have to worry about being targeted by lone wolves. If you live in Saudi Arabia and do the same, you’ll be targeted by the whole wolf-pack. It’s the local mob, incited by the local imam, that will come after you — if the police don’t lock you up first.

In short, violent retribution for insulting Islam or the prophet is not just an eccentricity of “radical Muslims,” it’s standard operating procedure for the mainstream. Well, maybe not among mainstream Muslims in the United States. But, if I understand Ritzheimer correctly, the point of the cartoon event in Phoenix was to call attention to what happens once mainstream Islam acquires sufficient cultural clout.

Cartoon contests may not be the ideal way to call attention to the radical nature of Islam. They are liable to create more heat than light. But ask yourself just what sort of thought-provoking venue you would prefer. How about a lecture about the need for a more rational interpretation of Islam delivered to a group of academics at a university in a medieval German town? Oops! That’s already been tried. And, needless to say, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address didn’t go over well in the Muslim world.

How about a documentary film about the oppression of Muslim women in Europe? That project got Theo Van Gogh killed. Some accurate history of Islam for schoolchildren? Sorry, too contentious. Courses on the Crusades and the Holocaust have been cancelled in Europe, and in American textbooks the history of Islam has been thoroughly whitewashed. Invite an ex-Muslim to speak to college graduates? Cancelled. Invite an expert on Islamic jihad to provide tips to the FBI on countering jihad? Cancelled. Present an accurate report to your superiors at the Pentagon about the connection between Islamic law and jihad? You’re fired.

Most people have never heard of these less provocative but still unsuccessful attempts to discuss the sketchy side of Islam. And that’s the problem. Personally, I prefer the low-key, non-confrontational approach to airing the problems of Islam, but such approaches rarely find an audience.

In this age of “wham!” “pow!” and “thud!” entertainment, cartoons at least have a decent chance of breaking through the distraction barrier. If the more polite attempts to discuss Islam are politely shut up, then it will fall by default to cartoonists and caricaturists to make the case.

And the case, once again, is not that radical Islam is violent. As Matt Archbold observes, we all know that. The much more controversial case — the one that practically no one wants to make — is that violence is part of the warp and woof of Islam itself.