In recent days, thousands of fanatical muslims around the world have lashed out in blind anger in response to cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.
The responses have been completely out of proportion to any offence caused by the cartoons. Protestors have attacked symbols of Denmark, burning Danish flags and effigies of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Some have even gone so far as to react violently, casting stones at Danish citizens working abroad.
The angy protestors have also been indiscriminate in their attacks, desecrating the symbols not only of Denmark, but also Norway, France, and other European countries.
Those who react to a perceived offense by comitting an even greater one defile the good name of their cause.
Some intellectuals try to explain that the unfocussed rage aimed at Westerners is the inevitable consequence of an attitude of disrespect of Islam by the West.
This is preposterous.
Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of Western civilization. This right is vital to the functioning of democratic society. It is non-negotiable. Freedome of speech means that one has the right freely to criticize, parody, ridicule, and mock the ideas of others. Yes, sometimes this will cause offense. Yes, sometimes an apology is a good idea. However, the right to make the expression in the first place must never be questioned.
This enlightened prinicple is entirely incompatible with the notion that certain symbols are sacred and must never been criticized. This is the heart of the matter. It is not disrespect for Islam, but the pricinple that holds no religion sacred that differentiates Western civilization from those who attack it.
The sort of people who are driven to violence by a cartoon are not likely to be the same sort who are willing to sit down to have a civilized discussion. As long as there are people who are willing to throw stones at those who criticize their sacred icons, we will have a problem. Furthrmore, those who respond to critisicm with violence only engender mistrust and hurt their own cause. It is up to muslim scholars around the world to educate their followers on the importance of mutual respect. Only then can we put this nonsense behind us and focus on solving real problems.