Diana West

"Now we have drawn out a hit list of a 'Who's Who' guide to slam into. Take your time but make sure their (sic) gone soon -- oh, and don't hold out for a fatwa it isn't really required here." And then: "Has anyone got that Christian kaffir 'Ibn Warraq's' real name yet?"

Scrolling through such illiterate spewings is a little like reading an interactive bathroom wall; but since the Internet has linked and even activated jihadi terrorists, it's not something to ignore. The poster continued: "Well them (sic) disbelievers (the signatories) have in effect signed a death wish via this statement so to hell with them, we'll just provide the help that they so dearly crave."

I asked Ibn Warraq, author of the superb "Why I Am Not a Muslim" (Prometheus, 2003) written after the Rushdie affair, about the threat.

"We must take it seriously in one sense, but we mustn't let it stop us in our tracks," he said. He's right, of course; although most of the "world" -- writers, journalists, intellectuals -- have already been stopped in their tracks, intimidated, paralyzed, almost dysfunctionally so. How to jump-start them again?

As far as I can tell, the manifesto has inspired just one outlet, an Irish Web site called The Blanket, to publish the Danish cartoons "in protest against totalitarianism," editor Anthony McIntyre said last week. This makes The Blanket, which will also be profiling the manifesto signers, the sole journal in the British Isles, online or on paper, to do so. "We wanted to show solidarity with those writers who were prepared to stick their necks out in defense of free speech," McIntyre said.

So here we are, living in a world where a manifesto for free speech constitutes "(sticking) their necks out," draws death threats on the one hand, and silence on the other. Why did they sign it, then? Ibn Warraq offered the words of John Stuart Mill: "A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by exertions of better men than himself."

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).