Adam Ash

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

The cartoon controversy: many depictions of Muhammad have been made by Muslims, etc.

1. Bonfire of the Pieties
Islam prohibits neither images of Muhammad nor jokes about religion.

"The Muslim Fury," one newspaper headline screamed. "The Rage of Islam Sweeps Europe," said another. "The clash of civilizations is coming," warned one commentator. All this refers to the row provoked by the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper four months ago. Since then a number of demonstrations have been held, mostly--though not exclusively--in the West, and Scandinavian embassies and consulates have been besieged.

But how representative of Islam are all those demonstrators? The "rage machine" was set in motion when the Muslim Brotherhood--a political, not a religious, organization--called on sympathizers in the Middle East and Europe to take the field. A fatwa was issued by Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood sheikh with his own program on al-Jazeera. Not to be left behind, the Brotherhood's rivals, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba), joined the fray. Believing that there might be something in it for themselves, the Syrian Baathist leaders abandoned their party's 60-year-old secular pretensions and organized attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

The Muslim Brotherhood's position, put by one of its younger militants, Tariq Ramadan--who is, strangely enough, also an adviser to the British home secretary--can be summed up as follows: It is against Islamic principles to represent by imagery not only Muhammad but all the prophets of Islam; and the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. Both claims, however, are false.

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk , i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers. There is no space here to provide an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most famous:

A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M'eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet's capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad's miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk's portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Some of these can be seen in museums within the Muslim world, including the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in Bokhara and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and Haroun-Walat, Iran (a suburb of Isfahan). Visitors to other museums, including some in Europe, would find miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have been few statues of Muhammad, although several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the building of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind.

There has been other imagery: the Janissaries--the elite of the Ottoman army--carried a medallion stamped with the prophet's head (sabz qaba). Their Persian Qizilbash rivals had their own icon, depicting the head of Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and the first Imam of Shiism. As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.

Now to the second claim, that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. That is true if we restrict the Muslim world to the Brotherhood and its siblings in the Salafist movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. But these are all political organizations masquerading as religious ones. They are not the sole representatives of Islam, just as the Nazi Party was not the sole representative of German culture. Their attempt at portraying Islam as a sullen culture that lacks a sense of humor is part of the same discourse that claims "suicide martyrdom" as the highest goal for all true believers.

The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade. Both Arabic and Persian literature, the two great literatures of Islam, are full of examples of "laughing at religion," at times to the point of irreverence. Again, offering an exhaustive list is not possible. But those familiar with Islam's literature know of Ubaid Zakani's "Mush va Gorbeh" (Mouse and Cat), a match for Rabelais when it comes to mocking religion. Sa'adi's eloquent soliloquy on behalf of Satan mocks the "dry pious ones." And Attar portrays a hypocritical sheikh who, having fallen into the Tigris, is choked by his enormous beard. Islamic satire reaches its heights in Rumi, where a shepherd conspires with God to pull a stunt on Moses; all three end up having a good laugh.

Islamic ethics is based on "limits and proportions," which means that the answer to an offensive cartoon is a cartoon, not the burning of embassies or the kidnapping of people designated as the enemy. Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

(Mr. Taheri is the author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes".)

A Persian illustration of Muhammad preaching

2. The Clash to End All Clashes?
Making sense of the cartoon jihad

In belated response to a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish paper and subsequently reprinted across Europe, scenes of outrage filed out of London, Beruit, and Damascus, among other cities this weekend. Flags and embassies burned. Placards (in London!) read: " Behead those who insult Islam."

In light of the anger unleashed, National Review Online asked some experts on Islam and/or the Mideast for their read on what's going on and what can/should be done. We asked each: Is this a clash of civilizations we're watching? What can be done? By Muslims? By everyone else?

Mustafa Akyol:
As a Muslim myself, I understand the disgust of Muslims around the globe at the Euro-cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. A deep respect for God, His revelations, and His prophets is a hallmark of the Islamic faith. In the Muslim culture there are no jokes about God; we take Him and His religion quite seriously. And we abhor those who ridicule them.

However, this sensitivity does not justify the violent, uncivilized rampage that we are now seeing across the Islamic world. They threaten and hurt innocent non-Muslims and do more harm to Islam than any cartoon could do.

Moreover, their reaction is not what the Koran tells Muslims to do in the face of mockery. Early Muslims were ridiculed very often by pagans, and the Koran suggested a civilized disapproval: "When you hear Allah's verses being rejected and mocked at by people, you must not sit with them till they start talking of other things." (4/140) And although the current cartoon-avengers are filled with fury, the Koran defines Muslims as "those who control their rage and pardon other people, [because] Allah loves the good-doers." (3/134)

This rage, then, is not a theologically driven response, but an emotional uproar by people who think that their faith and identity are being insulted. It is in a sense a nationalist reaction — the nation being the Muslim umma . (If this reaction were not nationalist, but purely religious in nature, then it would also follow on the mocking of Jesus Christ and Moses. After all, the Koran regards these holy men as God's chosen messengers.)

All of this means that an Islamic argument against the current "Islamic rage" can — and should — be brought up by Muslim scholars and intellectuals. Their message should not be "Let's not take God so seriously," but "This is not the way to honor Him."

Another interesting point in the whole cartoon hype is the difference of attitude between the ultra-secular continental Europe and the more God-friendly Anglo-Saxons. It is a notable fact that cartoons were published and, in some cases, officially supported in countries characterized by widespread atheism and deep-seated anti-clericalism. Yet neither the religious U.S., nor the not-so-religious, but still respectful, Britain joined them. Similarly, the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, along with many non-Muslim clerics, criticized the cartoons for offending the Muslim faith. Believers respect each other's beliefs about what is sacred.

Thus, if what we see is a clash of civilizations, the responsibility lies in the hands of the extremists on both sides: those who insist, "Yes, we have a right to ridicule God" and those who threaten, "We are going to kill you for it." The rest could get along.

(Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish Muslim writer based in Istanbul, Turkey. His website is located at

Zeyno Baran:
In their efforts to combat radical Islamist extremism, many Western governments make a simplistic distinction between groups that use violence and those that do not. Anxious to "beat the terrorists," they ignore groups which, while forswearing violence for themselves, incite others to carry out terrorist activities. This inability to recognize that groups with differing tactical approaches nevertheless can have similar ends has allowed radical organizations to operate with near-impunity in dramatically escalating tensions between Muslims and the West — tensions that only further the radicals' ultimate goal of a clash of civilizations.

If the latest set of incidents stemming from the Danish publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammed is not a final wake-up call for a change to this overly narrow approach, then it is difficult to see what would be. Tolerated and sometimes legitimized by European governments, "non-violent" groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and even the less-extremist International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) have been free to encourage confrontation between Muslims and the West. In Denmark, long a key target of HT, the group has called for the killing of Danish Jews and of members of parliament. Meanwhile, at an HT-organized demonstration in Britain outside the Danish embassy, protesters dressed as suicide bombers and carried placards stating "Butcher those who insult Islam." At the same time, a delegation of Danish Muslims led by the Copenhagen imam Abu Laban, linked to IUMS chair Yusuf Qaradawi, toured the Middle East to garner support and orchestrate the mass protests seen over the past several days.

While common sense should have prevailed long ago in the West after the cartoons were released — after all, when radicals are trying to convince Muslims that the "war on terror" is really a "war on Islam," a certain amount of prudence is required to avoid giving propaganda victories to the enemy — the most important step now is to cease tolerating intolerance. No Western (or Muslim) government should tolerate appeals to kill others in the name of religion. The longer such radicals who claim to speak for Muslims are allowed to do so freely, and the longer they are legitimized by Western governments that want to "develop open channels" to the Muslim community, the more demonstrations, riots, and killings we will see. After all, these protests and attacks were not committed "spontaneously" by Muslims, but were encouraged by radical groups — groups that can, with the right approach, be defeated.

(Zeyno Baran is director of international-security and energy programs at the Nixon Center.)

Rachel Ehrenfeld:
Facing what seems to be the rising clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and Western democracies, the leaders of the Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere should seize the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic values they claim to respect and advocate. They should call immediately and publicly on their Muslim communities to stop the violent demonstrations and the death threats against those who published the cartoons about Mohammed. All leaders of Muslim communities should publicly condemn Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasralla who argued , "If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so."

The riots started after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark; after Sheikh Osama Khayyat, imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, praised on national Saudi television the Saudi government for its action; and after Sheikh Ali Al-Hudaify, imam of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, called "upon governments, organizations and scholars in the Islamic world to extend support for campaigns protesting the sacrilegious attacks on the Prophet."

President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address praised the Saudis for taking "the first steps of reform — now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts." This gives the Saudis a unique opportunity to lead the Muslim world towards tolerance, and prove that Islam is a religion of peace. For example, the Saudis should announce that they will immediately allow Christians and Buddhists who work in the Kingdom to hold prayer services. We can only hope the Saudis surprise us and rise to the challenge.

(Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It , Director of American Center for Democracy , and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.)

Mohamed Eljahmi:
The violence, intimidation and threats about the Danish cartoons show that neither the U.S. nor the West can afford baby steps when it comes to political and economic reforms in the Arab world. It is sad to note that the U.S. has allowed Arab autocrats to dictate the terms of political reforms. Despots like Qadhafi and Mubarak continue to be marketed as models, the first for giving up his WMD program and the second for winning a sham election. To Liberal Arabs, it is no surprise that Qadhafi closed his embassy in Denmark, Mubarak used his media and rhetoric to inflame the public and sparked the boycott, the Saudis boycotted the products and the Syrians torched the Danish embassy. Liberal Arabs know that Arab despots work harmoniously and each has a scripted role, because their survival depends on jointly oppressing dissidents and sedating the less educated.

In Arab societies, mob-mentality rules and the individual has no right, because according to Salafism, the whole defines the part. In a free society, the part defines the whole, therefore, the economic pie is bigger and people care about better schools for their children, gender equality, the elderly, the handicapped, and other issues that make government accountable to its people. In free society, religion is an individual choice and there are political and legal guarantees that protect individual rights. In the Arab world the Koran rules, thus it is impossible to go against the mob or argue with the divine. In Mubarak's Egypt, kidnapping of Coptic women and forcing them to convert to Islam is not offensive. In Qadhafi's Libya the desecration of Jewish cemeteries or grotesquely forcing Italians to exhume the bodies of their dead and take back to Italy is acceptable.

If the Bush administration and the West are serious about advocating for reform, then they must stop letting the despots dictate the terms of reform, because political reforms in the Arab world are not luxury but they are essential for American and world security.

(Mohamed Eljahmi is a senior software engineer with over 22 years of experience in the software industry, where he has worked in design and in development of software applications. He is a Libyan American, who is advocating for genuine political reforms in Libya. Eljahmi has lived in the U.S. since 1978 and has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1990.)

Basma Fakri:
The Danish cartoons were published in the name of freedom of speech. They reminded me of the infamous Salman Rushdie story and the strong reaction at the time from Iran.

Understanding and tolerance are most needed when dealing with different cultures. This is not a matter of freedom of speech — it was a matter of insulting others' religion and beliefs. Religion is a very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed delicately. Unfortunately, certain newsmakers enjoy drawing attention to themselves by being shocking.

However, violence is definitely not the right response. I do wish that Muslims had just ignored the cartoons, or had used the media to express their strong opposition to the cartoon and perhaps publicly boycotted Danish products.

There is a big confusion between terrorism and Islam. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Unfortunately, some extremists are using the religion of Islam to achieve their own goals. There is nothing in Islam that encourages killing or terrorizing innocent people. And the reaction to the cartoons that started this recent string of protests is not helping matters.

(Basma Fakri is president and Co-founder of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq.)

Farid Ghadry:
The event that launched this worldwide protest by Muslims over the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist was the pulling of the Saudi ambassador from Denmark, a mere four months after the printing. The effect will change the landscape for both Arab oil-producing countries and terrorism-sponsored states.

Oil-producing Saudi Arabia is also the guardian of the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. With oil, Saudi Arabia is able to influence the West, and with its guardianship of these cities, it is able to control the movement of 1.3 billion Muslims. This centralization of power gives Saudi Arabia vast powers that are having an effect on civilizations across the globe.

The Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia, adhereing to a movement that originated in the center of the country, controls oil in the east and Mecca and Medina in the west. But even within their own borders, the Wahabis have a geographic Achilles' heel in the west of the country; and this is exacerbated when one considers Jordan, as well as the history of the Hashemite family (today's Jordan), which, up until the turn of the 20th century, controlled Mecca and Medina instead of the Saudis.

It is important for all Muslims that Mecca and Medina either be returned to the Hashemite family or be guarded by an international council elected by the 56 countries of the Organization of Islamic Conferences. The few leaders of 25 million Muslims should not control the fate of another 1.3 billion. Making Mecca and Media be for Muslims more like what the Vatican is for Catholics would go a long way toward giving all Muslims a say in their own affairs and charting a new direction for Islam.

Terrorist states will use Islam, as Syria did, to impose its will on the West. Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and many others are watching how Syria used the cartoons to launch an attack against Western assets and values. This is the beginning of what promises to be an unstoppable weapon of rogue states, used to inflict pain, through violence, on other civilizations.

(Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.)

Mansoor Ijaz:
In order to prevent idolatrous misconceptions, it is forbidden in Islam to depict the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in any way. But Muslims greatly weakened Islam's message of tolerance and forgiveness last week with their hysterical and criminally violent behavior in response to European media outlets' printing and reprinting twelve cartoon caricatures depicting the Prophet (PBUH) in an unflattering light.

The cartoons were offensive and wrong. But the Muslim world's explosive reaction demonstrates once again the failure of Islam in the modern age — its adherents are prepared to expend seemingly infinite energy in defense of religious beliefs not many of them are prepared to practice. Rectifying the hypocrisy that riddles Islam's efforts to be portrayed in a better light is the fundamental issue at stake for Muslims, not the freedom of the press or the defense of our Prophet (PBUH) through violence and anger.

Muslim leaders must confront their demons and reform Islam from within, rather than defending what is indefensible from outside. They must reduce the impulse for Islam's followers to be their own worst enemies by acting in ways that betray the traditions and teachings of a great religion, while giving ammunition to those who seek to portray them in a negative light.

It is simply unacceptable that while hundreds of millions of Muslims live in squalid conditions throughout the world, Islam's so-called guardians bask in the sunshine of resorts from Marbella to Cannes, and their children waste away national wealth in casinos and nightclubs from Geneva to Las Vegas. The money spent by one member of a Middle Eastern royal family on vacation at a Geneva hotel and casino for one week could feed thousands of Palestinian children for one year — such is the magnitude of hypocrisy in the Muslim world today.

Saudi Arabia's Custodian of the Holy Mosques, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, should set the example for reformation. He should invite the Danish and Norwegian prime ministers to Riyadh and educate his Scandinavian guests about why there is need to protect Islam's message against idolatrous misinterpretations. He should then listen carefully to his guests about why freedom of expression, as offensive as it was in this case, must be insured by Western governments, whose primary responsibility is to defend their citizens' rights and freedoms. In this way, he would demonstrate Islam's fundamental thirst for giving and receiving knowledge, its capacity for forgiveness, and its core value of tolerance, rather than allowing mass hysteria to define Islam's message.

Toleration asks us as citizens of an integrated world not to insult one another's religion. Freedom demands that we be allowed to reject the societal norms of others, and even to insult them, as Muslims often do when they burn an American flag or set fire to an effigy of a political leader they loath. Eliminating the hypocrisy between toleration and freedom should be Islam's goal.

(Mansoor Ijaz is an American Muslim of Pakistani origin.)

Judith Apter Klinghoffer:
We are in the midst of an Intifada designed to remake Europe in a manner more in line with the creed of its religious Muslim minority. Placing respect for Islam above freedom of the press would be one such change. Using state power to limit freedom of speech would be another. Europe has three options. It can agree to accommodate Muslim demands, disengage from the Middle East, or join the American struggle to democratize the Middle East. Let me outline briefly the meaning of each choice.

Accommodation or appeasement would not mean just agreeing to a few minor legal or behavioral changes. Note that the abstention of the British press from publishing the cartoons, the plans to rewrite British law to prevent insults to Islam, and the British government's strong condemnation of the publication of the cartoons did little to moderate the stance of British Muslims. Instead, British citizens were treated to marches celebrating those who blew up the London subway system.

Disengagement is the road Israel eventually chose, and the road an increasing number of Europeans would like to take. This would mean closing European borders to any additional Muslim immigrants, deporting illegals, and undertaking a vigorous program of forced integration. It also means precluding Turkish entry into the EU. Indeed, it means erecting a new iron curtain between Europe and the Middle East.

Reengagement would mean joining the U.S. in selling democracy to the Middle East in the manner the U.S. sold democracy to Europe in the fifties. Then, Communism presented the same challenge Islamism is presenting today. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The secret is to dare to make the people of the Middle East the same promise the U.S. made the Europeans during the years of the Marshall Plan: Follow us and your lives will be radically better. It was a promise kept. If you doubt this, just watch the 1952 documentary entitled Struggle for Men's Minds .It was made to explain to Americans the reasons it is worth their while to use their tax dollars to finance selling democracy in Europe. It focused on Italy, which then looked as undeveloped and chaotic as Iraq looks today, and it outlines the strategies the U.S. used to combat the rising tide of Communism there. If I were a Western leader, I would not only watch, it but make all my staff do so too. For when all is said and done, this is the only strategy which will provide prosperity, peace, and security to both Europe and the Middle East.

(Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Fulbright professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and History News Network blogger.)

Clifford May:
It is not a "clash of civilizations" that is taking place. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism — which currently expresses itself most forcefully and lethally as Militant Islamism.

Civilized people — whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew — do not respond to an offense by torching embassies, stoning churches, and calling for offenders to be beheaded.

Of course, most Muslims are not doing that — most Muslims are neither barbarians nor extremists. But most of the money and power in Muslim societies today is in the hands of Islamists or of dictators who are only too eager to harness anti-Western animus for their own purposes.

By persuading so many people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — that the cartoons in question "insult Islam," Militant Islamists have achieved a victory.

Few dare argue that the cartoons do not insult Islam — that they insult only Militant Islamism. Yet, surely that would be the most obvious interpretation of a cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a bomb in place of a turban. If such groups as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas had not committed countless acts of violence in the name of Islam, such an image would make no sense.

Similarly, the cartoon showing Mohammed saying that heaven was running out of virgins is most obviously interpreted as a commentary on the unprecedented frequency of suicide bombings being carried out by Militant Islamists. Why would such a cartoon insult peace-loving Muslims who would never consider strapping on a bomb belt in the expectation that mass murder will bring rewards in the next world?

Many commentators have charged protesters with hypocrisy, noting — correctly — that venomous characterizations of Jews and Christians are routinely on display in Arab and Muslim countries. But hypocrisy is professing beliefs that one does not actually hold. The Militant Islamists are doing no such thing. What they profess and what they believe are identical. It's simply this: Infidels must not insult Islam. But Muslims may insult infidels. The Islamists are not arguing for Islam's equality among the world's great religions. They are insisting that Christians, Jews, and others acknowledge Islam's superiority, its status as the one true faith. They are quite clear on this. If we refuse to hear what they are saying, that is our fault and our problem.

(Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies , a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)

Ramin Parham:
Are we witnessing a clash of civilizations ignited by the Danish caricatures?

Civilization, says the dictionary, is defined as "an advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached".

As a French and U.S.-educated Iranian, I seriously doubt that, with the exception of secular Turkey, one could find among Islamic countries anything even close to that definition. Pre-Islamic Persian and Islamic civilizations are today nothing but history.

The Danish caricatures have the merit of underlining the above point from a different angle: A so-called civilization whose foundations are shaken with a few drawings is anything but a civilization!

Twenty-seven years after the islamist revolution in Iran; 17 years after Khomeini's fatwa against the Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdi; 15 years after the slaying of Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses; an entire new Middle East is being born in pain. At this critical juncture, we should all keep in mind a few basics:

First, painless birth is a chemical fantasy.

Second, Muslims will achieve nothing by self-complacency.

Third, readjusting democracies to new necessities is a legitimate problematic for those adhering to common secular values within a trust environment.

Fourth, democracies were born out of the Enlightenment, the Lumieres, and the Aufklarung, that is the personal liberty of thought and the sum of the public, universal and free usages of reason. The price tag to enter this elite club is high in terms of sacrifice. Iran has reached the necessary level of cultural complexity.

Fifth, the West should catalyze the democratic maturation of the Muslim East in the common interest of all.

Last but not least, there is no better candidate than a free Iran to champion that cause.

(Ramin Parham is an independent commentator based in Paris.)

Daniel Pipes:
It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not.

By way of demonstration, allow me to recall the similar Muslim-Western confrontation that took place in 1989 over the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and the resulting death edict from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.

Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini "completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that "the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such "excesses in the freedom of expression."

In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inan, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that "killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a "terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses "a great service."

This same division already exists in the current crisis. Middle East-studies professors are denouncing the cartoons even as two Jordanian editors went to jail for reprinting them.

It is a tragic mistake to lump all Muslims with the forces of darkness. Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist. Hounded in their own circles, they look to the West for succor and support. And, however weak they may presently be, they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world.

(Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures.)

Nina Shea:
Blasphemy laws are among the greatest impediments to democratic evolution in the greater Middle East. Not limited to criticisms of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, or the realm of the Divine, they are also used by prevailing powers and those with Islamist agendas to crush political dissidents and scholars engaged in intellectual debate. Carrying the death penalty or other harsh punishment and inviting vigilante retribution, the crime of blasphemy has become an indispensable tool of repression in that region.

Saudi Arabia regularly brings blasphemy charges (or one of its variants, such as "using Western speech") against those who speak out of turn. Recent examples include democracy activists who proposed substituting a written constitution for the Kingdom's slogan that "the Koran is the constitution," and a school teacher who instructed his class to be tolerant of Jews.

Revolutionary Iran, which has put to death thousands for blasphemy and shut down hundreds of newspapers, has turned the practice into an art form. One who made the mistake of translating into Farsi the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was killed on the Declaration's 50th anniversary. Another famous case of a Shiite professor highlighted the usefulness of the charge to silence critics of clerical rule. At his July 2004 trial, he declared he was being punished for "the sin of thinking."

Afghanistan still criminalizes blasphemy. A journalist who argued against the criminalization of heresy was found guilty and barely escaped with his life. Karzai's only female cabinet member was charged with blasphemy for criticizing blasphemy and other Islamic rules, and, though never tried, was ousted by death threats.

Once blasphemy is introduced into the law, it becomes almost impossible for the system to reform itself. Western leaders should be pressing these Middle East governments to drop their legitimization of blasphemy, not contemplating whether to adopt it here.

(Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.)

Bat Yeor:
We have always been in a clash of civilizations. The fact that our European leaders choose to deny the reality is not an argument to dismiss what is so obvious to everyone. But having a clash of civilizations does not entail a global war of all against all. On the contrary, it imposes a need for a deeper dialogue — a type of dialogue that has been prevented by our leaders, busy to protect the virtual and sanitized image of Islam they tried to impose on Europeans for 30 years, through a culture of self-flagellation, self-guilt, obfuscations, denials, obsequiosity, anti-semitism and anti-Americanism: what we call politically correct and totalitarian language.

I see the cartoons affair as an inter-European conflict also. A revolt to assert, within the law, Western values of freedom of opinions, speech, and religion — the basic values of our civilization, acquired through centuries of conflicts, sacrifices, and courage. It is possible that people could be displeased by some analyses, but this cannot suppress the right to speak them. In the last century Europeans have endured three totalitarian regimes: Nazism, Fascism, Communism. They are not ready to accept a fourth one: sharia rule. However much I understand Muslim's sensibilities, I expect Muslims who chose to come and live in Europe to respect European sensibilities for their values and laws.

In this affair I see also the dangerous role played by some Muslim groups in Europe. They instigate, like the Danish imam Ahmed Abu Laban and others, hatred among Muslims and excesses against Europe, and then they pose as indispensable peace intermediaries between Europe and the Muslim world. This unhealthy situation is much developed in Europe due to the weakness and lack of resolve of our leaders, who have not the courage to deal with the security problems they have themselves created. These leaders have the duty to solve these problems by the rule of law, and not by deferring them to a third party, as if Europeans cannot express their rights except by begging through a benevolent Muslim channel. In this respect, the cartoons affair expresses the rejection by some of the EU's lack of political transparency and its contempt for its European constituency from which it takes billions of euros to give to the Arab world, and particularly to the corrupt and terrorist Palestinian Authority.

A lot can be achieved toward reconciliation by a free debate. This would trigger an inner Muslim reformist movement, which could then destroy the jihadic framework through which a majority of Muslims relate to the infidels even today.

(Bat Yeor is the author of studies on the conditions of Jews and Christians in the context of the jihad ideology and the sharia law. Recent books include: Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, both at Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.)

Making fun of Jesus

3. Rotten Judgment in the State of Denmark
By Jytte Klausen
The Danish paper that printed the cartoons of Muhammad wanted to stir up trouble -- and the government wanted a culture war. They got more than they bargained for.

Kashmir this week declared a nationwide protest against 12 cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published four months ago in a provincial Danish paper. Iran officially launched a cartoon war against the West, calling for competitive lampooning of the Holocaust. I can't wait to see what comes next. Will we reach a state of de facto deterrence based upon the stockpiling of sketches? Are roundtable negotiations of mutual editorial disarmament to follow?

I would much prefer cartoon wars to fatwas calling for beheadings. But in the process of this big cartoon upheaval that has spread across Europe and beyond, my country of birth, Denmark, has fallen from grace. The modern myth of "the little tolerant people," rooted in a group of Danes who risked their lives to save Jews from Nazi deportation in 1943, has died.

In the past five years, I have interviewed 300 Muslim leaders in Western Europe about their views and solutions for the integration of Islam. It has long been evident to me that religious toleration and reverence for human rights have been sorely lacking in Denmark. The debate now raging over the caricatures has tilted on the defense of free speech -- but a deep and unflinching commitment to free speech is not really the mission of the paper at the center of the maelstrom, nor of the present Danish government.

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that originally published the 12 caricatures, has a circulation of about 175,000 and is Denmark's largest paper. The paper's main offices are in Aarhus, the country's second-largest city, on the outskirts of town in an area zoned for industrial use. The building resembles a well-kept small manufacturing plant, but inside everything is white and pleasant. It is where I grew up, and in my family the paper still sits on our coffee tables. But don't let the blond wood deceive you. Jyllands-Posten is a conservative paper and it has always minded the religious and political sensitivities of its readership, the Lutheran farmers and the provincial middle class.

In Denmark the national papers have historically been associated with the main political parties and the movements that formed them. Jyllands-Posten is associated with the prime minister's party. In English, Fogh Rasmussen's party is referred to as the Liberal Party; in Danish it is "Venstre," meaning "the Left." But the party is neither left nor liberal. The names date back to the days of limited suffrage, when the Conservatives were "the Right" and there were only those two parties. My father, a brother and a sister ran for office from Rasmussen's party. It was the party everyone else in my family voted for. Once I emigrated to the United States, family unity on political matters was restored.

The Economist called the Danish cartoons a "schoolboy prank." That describes them pretty well, but I like a few of them nonetheless. One is of a benign-looking Prophet, who stands on a cloud turning away a line of suicide bombers with, "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins." That one elicited a laugh or two in my family. My favorite one, though -- which was aimed at the cartoon publishers, not Islam -- shows Muhammad as a seventh-grader, who has written on the blackboard "Jyllands-Posten's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs." Two others portray the Prophet much the way Jesus is usually drawn, but darker and with a halo that has turned into horns. The rest are a predictable mix of self-righteous, unfunny commentary and depictions of shady-looking faces with big, bulbous noses and blood-dripping swords. They tab popular prejudices about Muslims as war-mongering and misogynistic blackbeards. They are the pebble that started a tsunami -- but they were never meant to be innocent.

A gag gone wrong

The cartoons started out as a gag, the kind you do when the news is slow. Flemming Rose, the paper's culture editor, decided last summer that he was fed up with what he described as the spreading "self-censorship" on matters related to Islam, so he solicited cartoonists for drawings of "how they saw the Prophet." On Sept. 30, 12 cartoons were published under the headline "Muhammad's Face." Rose cited a statement by a Danish stand-up comedian, who had complained that he was afraid to make fun of Muhammad on TV. A children's book author complained that he could not get anyone to illustrate his book about Muhammad. Another example of Islamic pieties' crushing influence on free speech was that three theaters had put on shows deriding George Bush, but none Osama bin Laden. Cartoons are an important anti-totalitarian expression, Rose wrote, and therefore the paper had asked 40 Danish cartoonists to draw their image of Muhammad. Only 12 responded. Rose implied that some of those who did not respond were infected by self-censorship.

This all would have been very well if the paper had a long tradition of standing up for fearless artistic expression. But it so happens that three years ago, Jyllands-Posten refused to publish cartoons portraying Jesus, on the grounds that they would offend readers. According to a report in the Guardian, which was provided with a letter from the cartoonist, Christoffer Zieler, the editor explained back then, "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them." When confronted with the old rejection letter, the editor, Jens Kaiser, said, "It is ridiculous to bring this forward now. It has nothing to do with the Muhammad cartoons." But why does it not? Can you offend Muslim readers but not Christian readers? "In the Muhammad drawings case, we asked the illustrators to do it. I did not ask for these cartoons," Kaiser said. "That's the difference."

And therein lies the truth. The paper wanted to instigate trouble, just not the kind of trouble it got. And in this mission it acted in concert with the Danish government. "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid," boasted the minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, in a speech at his party's annual meeting the week before Rose's cartoon editorial last fall. Mikkelsen is a 39-year-old political science graduate known for his hankering for the "culture war." He continued, "The Culture War has now been raging for some years. And I think we can conclude that the first round has been won." The next front, he said, is the war against the acceptance of Muslims norms and ways of thought. The Danish cultural heritage is a source of strength in an age of globalization and immigration. Cultural restoration, he argued, is the best antidote.

The Danish government has protested that Danish Muslims and the Islamic countries have conspired in a misinformation campaign regarding both the paper's motives and the law of the land. Among the examples of preposterous misinformation are that the paper is run by the government, and that the government can do anything to regulate what is said or not said. While radical Islamists have exaggerated and exploited these themes to incite violent protest, the painful reality is that there is some truth to them. The paper is related to the government, not by ownership but by political affinity and history. And Denmark is no paragon of free speech. Article 140 of the Criminal Code allows for a fine and up to four months of imprisonment for demeaning a "recognized religious community."

Mogens Glistrup, a tax protester turned xenophobe, was imprisoned for 20 days last year for a racist speech. He compared Turks to rabbits. Back in 1975, Jens Jorgen Thorsen, a multimedia artist belonging to the "situationist school," had a government grant provided to make a film about Jesus taken away. Five thousand young Christians had demonstrated in the street of Copenhagen against Thorsen and his movie and tumultuous scenes broke out. (Coincidentally, a police estimate held that about 5,000 people participated in one of the first demonstrations against the cartoons held in Copenhagen in October 2005.) Respected politicians spoke up and said that Thorsen had free speech, but if the blasphemy law had not been violated then certainly good taste and the feelings of religious Danes had the case dragged on in court forever with no conviction. Fourteen years later Thorsen had his government grant restored, adjusted for inflation.

The Danish right has only recently been converted to the free speech principle, and has its own idea of how to use it. In the past two years, the Danish People's Party has twice proposed to eliminate the blasphemy paragraph. Two of the party's members, Jesper Langballe and Soren Krarup, both pastors in the Lutheran National Church, have described Muslims as "a cancer on Danish society" in speeches in parliament. They want to be free to say it outside parliament too. The paragraph was not removed in part because of opposition from Lutheran clergy, who do not all share the two pastors' views.

But is blasphemy what the cartoons are about? The problem with the cartoons isn't that they violate Islam's rules about depiction of the Prophet, according to Fatih Alev, a young Danish imam and a prominent advocate for integration with whom I've spoken many times on the issue of integration. Rather, it is their political content, he told the Danish press this week. He objects that the cartoons stereotype who Muslims are, and misrepresent the religion entirely as the propaganda program of militant Islamists.

Defending free speech?

Meanwhile, most US media outlets have not shown the cartoons, citing respect for Islamic prohibitions on depictions of the Prophet. On Saturday, Feb. 4, the Philadelphia Inquirer published the one with the bomb in Muhammad's turban, with an explanatory note that suggested that all Muslims do not regard depicting the Prophet as sacrilegious in the same way. But a number of European papers reprinted the cartoons in part or in full, proclaiming their intention not to be censored, nor guided by Islamic religious law. The conservative German paper Die Welt and the left-leaning Berliner Zeitung both printed the cartoons citing European values -- though they disagreed on what those values are. Die Welt thought Islam should not be allowed to trample free speech, while the Berliner Zeitung cited the importance of safeguarding modern freedoms wrested from the Catholic Church.

The prohibition in the Koran is clear: The Prophet is so beautiful that no human hand can render him with justice. And you will never see a depiction of Muhammad in a mosque or in illustrated versions of the Koran. But the reality is that illustrations of Muhammad are readily found in Persian icons and woven into rugs. Usually, the Prophet is depicted from the back, on a horse, or with a blotch in place of his face. Posters and pictures in the iconic style of Christian religious paintings and reproductions can be found in bazaars, Muslim homes, and on Muslim graves in French municipal cemeteries. Christians have long printed and painted Muhammad, from renaissance art, to a frieze on a wall of a government institution in Washington D.C., to religious children's books. The Danish children's book author, Kare Bluitgen, who ostensibly was unable to find an illustrator willing to draw Muhammad, has published his book with a picture of Muhammad on a winged horse on the front cover. The book is respectful and schmaltzy. The abstract in one book catalog reads: "The minute Amina conceived Muhammad, she felt as if in another world. In the unusually sharp light she saw the castles in Busra in Syria many days travel away. And all the camels in and around Mecca whispered to each other that a future leader had been conceived." You get the picture.

Self-evidently, Islamic religious law does not apply in secular societies and there can be no legal prohibition on the publication of drawings of the Prophet. The effort to impose a global ban on depictions of Muhammad is part of the religious restoration projects of the Wahhabis and the Taliban. Therefore the question is, if the Western press has a moral obligation -- and in countries with blasphemy laws, also a legal one -- to be equally respectful to Muslims and Christians? Some conservatives in this country are saying, as did the British ultra-conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who thinks respect is a basic building bloc of society, "If we mock the religious taboos of Muslims we pour scorn on the icons of Christianity." Meanwhile, writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens screamed, "Offend them!"

Freedom of speech versus respect for the feelings of devout religious followers -- Christian, Muslim or otherwise -- is an important issue. When I did my interviews with European Muslims, many religious leaders told me that in their view the central problem was a general lack of respect for religions. They reported that in day-to-day politics they found it easier to work with the local rabbis, pastors or priests than with the politicians.

But neither Europe's growing domestic problems with religious pluralism nor a Danish newspaper's clumsy provocation of local Muslims explain the unwanted international crisis we are suddenly faced with. Rather, the cartoons apparently provided a grand opportunity to extremists: for radical elements in Islamic countries rife with internal dissent, and for right-wing extremists in Denmark and Europe, to mobilize supporters from the disaffected. Among the victims are the moderate Muslims in Europe and worldwide, who now find themselves increasingly wounded in the crossfire between xenophobes and Islamists.

(Jytte Klausen is a professor of politics at Brandeis University and author of "The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe.")

Muslims strike back with nasty Holocaust cartoon

4. Depicting Mohammed: Why I'm offended by the Danish cartoons of the prophet -- by Reza Aslan

Not long ago, as I was strolling through the sprawling bazaars of the holy city of Qom in Iran—a city often referred to as "the Vatican of Shiism"—I came across a cramped, catacomblike shop that sold religious trinkets to tourists. Hanging in the shop's window was a poster depicting what looked like a beautiful young girl with large, bright eyes and a cherubic face lit up by some unseen source of light. The girl wore a loose headdress, like a turban she had carelessly let unravel, from which peeked thick strands of lush, black hair. She looked skyward, her rosy lips parted in a shy smile.

I was thrilled, thinking I had found a poster of the Prophet Mohammed's beloved daughter, Fatima, whose veneration in Islam (particularly Shiite Islam) is matched by that of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. Most stores in Qom carry prints depicting heroic Muslim figures like the prophet's son-in-law, Ali, or the prophet's grandson, Husayn. But a portrait of Fatima is exceedingly difficult to find.

I rushed into the store and breathlessly asked the shopkeeper how much he wanted for the poster of Fatima hanging in his window.

He clucked his tongue in disgust and shook his head.

"That is not Fatima!" he cried sternly. "That is the Prophet Mohammed!"

I was embarrassed, but not surprised. Since the publication of a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed in Denmark's largest daily, Jyllands-Posten , much has been written about Islam's prohibition against physical representations of the prophet of Islam. In fact, the Muslim world abounds with magnificent images of Mohammed. (In general, Shiites and Sufis tend to be more flexible on this point than Sunnis ). In some, the prophet's face is obscured by a pillar of fire that rises from beneath his chin in a veil of flames. In others, he is unveiled and glorious, a golden nimbus hovering over his head. While some Muslims object to these well-known and widely distributed depictions, there has never been any large-scale furor over them for the simple reason that although they depict the prophet, they do so in a positive light.

Not so, of course, in the case of the now infamous Danish cartoons. The fact is that Muslim anger over the caricatures derives not merely from their depiction of Mohammed. That may have upset more conservative Muslims, but it alone would not have engendered such a violent and widespread response. Rather, most Muslims have objected so strongly because these cartoons promote stereotypes of Muslims that are prevalent throughout Europe: Mohammed dressed as a terrorist, his turban a bomb with a lit fuse; Mohammed standing menacingly in front of two cowering, veiled women, unsheathing a long, curved sword; Mohammed on a cloud in heaven complaining that Paradise has run out of virgins. It is difficult to see how these drawings could have any purpose other than to offend. One cartoon goes so far as to brazenly call the prophet "daft and dumb."

So, while in Europe and the United States the row over the cartoons has been painted as a conflict between secular democratic freedoms and arcane religious dogma, the controversy is really about neither. Instead, it's another manifestation of the ongoing ethnic and religious tensions that have been simmering beneath the surface of European society for decades, like last year's Paris riots and the murder two years ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

In the minds of many Muslims in Europe, the cartoons were intentionally inflammatory, published to further humiliate an ethnic and religious minority that has been socially and economically repressed for decades. Indeed, it seems as though the cartoons were deliberately meant to provoke precisely the reaction they did. One of the Danish cartoonists, Lars Refn, admits as much in his own illustration, which does not depict Mohammed but rather a schoolboy who has written across a blackboard, " Jyllands-Posten's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs."

No one doubts that the press should be free to satirize. But freedom of the press cannot excuse the promotion of noxious stereotypes. Jewish groups were furious when the Chicago Tribune published a cartoon in 2003 that portrayed a hunched and hooknosed Ariel Sharon salivating before a pile of money doled out to him by George W. Bush, ostensibly as an incentive to maintain the peace process. ("On second thought," the avaricious Sharon is depicted as saying, "the path to peace is looking brighter.") And rightly so.

As international human rights law recognizes , in any democratic society freedom of the press must be properly balanced with civic responsibility, particularly at a time when the world seems to be engaged in a "war of ideology," to use President Bush's words. Extremist groups and some political leaders in the Arab and Muslim world are eager to exploit any opportunity to propagate their belief that Islam is under attack by the "West" and thus rally Muslims to their murderous cause. The cartoons were published months ago, in September 2005; the protests against them turned violent only after extremists began circulating fabricated and far more offensive cartoons of the prophet (for instance, Mohammed with a pig's snout), which were not part of the original Jyllands-Posten bunch. Until then, the protests had been mostly contained to Denmark and the Netherlands and had taken the form of a reasonably peaceful and highly effective economic boycott.

Of course, the sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, "Islam probably has no place in Europe," have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic. It is this common attitude among Europeans that has led to the marginalization of Muslim communities there, which in turn has fed the isolationism and destructive behavior of European Muslims, which has then reinforced European prejudices against Islam. It is a Gordian knot that has become almost impossible to untangle.

And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten . We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.

(Reza Aslan is a research associate at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.)

5. Your Taboo, Not Mine
The furor over cartoons of Muhammad reveals the zealot's double standard

The iconic image of last week was in the Gaza Strip. It was of a Palestinian gunman astride the local office of the European Union. All the diplomatic staff had fled, tipped off ahead of time. The source of the militant's ire? A series of satirical cartoons originally published in Denmark. Yes, cartoons.

A Danish paper, a while back, had commissioned a set of cartoons depicting the fear that many writers and artists in Europe feel when dealing with the subject of Islam. To Western eyes, the cartoons were not in any way remarkable. In fact, they were rather tame. One showed Muhammad with his turban depicted as a bomb--not exactly a fresh image to describe Islamic terrorism. Another used a simple graphic device: it showed Muhammad surrounded by two women in full Muslim garb, their eyes peering out from an oblong space in their black chadors. And on Muhammad's face there was an oblong too, blacking out his eyes. The point was that Islam has a blind spot when it comes to women's freedom. Crude but powerful: exactly what a political cartoon is supposed to be.

The result was an astonishing uproar in the Muslim world, one of those revealing moments when the gulf between our world and theirs seems unbridgeable. Boycotts of European goods are in force; demonstrators in London held up signs proclaiming EXTERMINATE THOSE WHO MOCK ISLAM and BE PREPARED FOR THE REAL HOLOCAUST; the editor of the French newspaper France-Soir was fired for reprinting the drawings; Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the publication; and protesters set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus. The Egyptian ambassador to Denmark expressed disbelief that the government would not prevent further reprinting. Freedom of the press, the Egyptian explained, "means the whole story will continue and that we are back to square one again. The government of Denmark has to do something to appease the Muslim world."

Excuse me? In fact, the opposite is the case. The Muslim world needs to do something to appease the West. Since Ayatullah Khomeini declared a death sentence against Salman Rushdie for how he depicted Muhammad in his book The Satanic Verses, Islamic radicals have been essentially threatening the free discussion of their religion and politics in the West. Rushdie escaped with his life. But Pim Fortuyn, a Dutch politician who stood up against Muslim immigrant hostility to equality for women and gays, was murdered on the street. Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who offended strict Muslims, was killed thereafter. Several other Dutch politicians who have dared to criticize the intolerance of many Muslims live with police protection.

Muslim leaders say the cartoons are not just offensive. They're blasphemy--the mother of all offenses. That's because Islam forbids any visual depiction of the Prophet, even benign ones. Should non-Muslims respect this taboo? I see no reason why. You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I'm not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don't expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended.

Blasphemy, after all, is commonplace in the West. In America, Christians have become accustomed to artists' offending their religious symbols. They can protest, and cut off public funding--but the right of the individual to say or depict offensive messages or symbols is not really in dispute. Blasphemy, moreover, is common in the Muslim world, and sanctioned by Arab governments. The Arab media run cartoons depicting Jews and the symbols of the Jewish faith with imagery indistinguishable from that used in the Third Reich. But I have yet to see Jews or Israelis threaten the lives of Muslims because of it.

And there is, of course, the other blasphemy. It occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, when fanatics murdered thousands of innocents in the name of Islam. Surely, nothing could be more blasphemous. So where were the Muslim boycotts of Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan after that horrifying event? Since 9/11 mosques have been bombed in Iraq by Islamic terrorists. Where was the rioting condemning attacks on the holiest of shrines? These double standards reveal something quite clear: this call for "sensitivity" is primarily a cover for intolerance of others and intimidation of free people.

Yes, there's no reason to offend people of any faith arbitrarily. We owe all faiths respect. But the Danish cartoons were not arbitrarily offensive. They were designed to reveal Islamic intolerance--and they have now done so, in abundance. The West's principles are clear enough. Tolerance? Yes. Faith? Absolutely. Freedom of speech? Nonnegotiable.


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