Kathleen Parker

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of political cartoonists.

Not this time for the ones losing newspaper jobs, but for those whose lives are literally on the line thanks to outraged Islamists offering a bounty for their heads.

The cartoonists in question are a dozen Danish artists who drew Muhammad-themed cartoons last September for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten during an exercise to test the limits of free speech. The cartoon-a-thon was conceived in response to complaints from a Danish author who couldn't find anyone to illustrate her Muhammad children's book.

Although the book itself was not controversial, the Muslim faith considers it blasphemy to depict the Prophet in any way. Thus, in December, the youth branch of Pakistan's largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, offered a bounty for murdered cartoonists.

One could make a quick argument against publishing some of the cartoons for being mediocre, but free speech makes no demand for quality. More to the point, the Danish cartoon controversy proves the larger truth that those groups most vocal in demanding tolerance from others are usually themselves the least tolerant.

Denmark is a cautionary tale for those who doubt the insidious and serious nature of our enemies and illustrates the deep schism between believers in democratic ideals and many of those we hope to convert. In the relaxed parlance of our uniquely Western attitude toward irreverence, they don't get it.

Until Muslim nations and peoples do get the idea that free expression means freedom to offend as well as the necessary correlative - to be offended - we have a problem. And people like former President Bill Clinton, who essentially sided with jihadists with his recent comments on the cartoon controversy, have done much to exacerbate it.

Is it possible that Clinton doesn't get it either?

In a confusion of moral equivalency, Clinton compared the cartoons to anti-Semitism and condemned them as "appalling."

"So now what are we going to do? ... Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?" he said Monday at an economic conference in the Qatari capital of Doha.

No, what is appalling is that a Western leader who still wields enormous power would sacrifice an opportunity to explain big ideas and big principles to a part of the world that clearly doesn't understand them. Instead, he finessed the moment and caved to the kind of virtue that feels good in the present but that gets people killed in the future.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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