This controversy indicates the gulf between the Islamic world and the West on matters of freedom of expression. The idea of blasphemy as a capital offense is not an invention of “Islamists” or “Wahhabis,” but is deeply rooted within traditional Islam “” which is why the forces of radicalism are finding it so easy to stoke cartoon rage worldwide.
Freedom of speech encompasses freedom to offend. The instant that any ideology is considered off-limits for critical examination and even ridicule, freedom of speech is dead. The Islamic world, at the highest levels, wants to force the West to accept the notion that criticizing Muhammad and Islam is wrong in itself. Such a notion is just as inimical to freedom as the idea that the Beloved Leader or dialectical materialism is above criticism. Westerners seem to grasp this when it comes to affronts to Christianity, but not in an Islamic context “” as evidenced by the refusal of most American and British publications to stand up for the freedom of speech they otherwise so stoutly defend, and reprint the cartoons.
The cartoons can’t be taken back. Our only options are to defend the principles upon which our civilization is based, or to surrender.