Ken Connor
The violent response to an anti-Muslim movie has cast the subject of religious tolerance into the limelight. Is Islam a religion that can tolerate criticism? Can Muslims bear up gracefully when their religion is insulted? As I wrote last week, when it comes to Islam as practiced and understood in much of the Middle East, the short answer to these questions appears to be "no."

As Pastor Brian Lee points out in his article "Freedom of Religion Requires Freedom to Offend," to be a person of faith in America means being a person who is prepared to have his or her most cherished beliefs and convictions criticized, challenged, or ridiculed. Turn on your television or your radio, log on to your favorite social media website and odds are there will be content calculated to outrage and offend you. As Americans, we tolerate such indignities because we believe that free speech is a liberty that is fundamental to a free society. As the saying goes, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." To many in the Muslim world, however, this appears to be an utterly foreign concept. Having never lived in America, they assume that the American government regulates political speech and artistic expression like their own governments do. In their societies, there is no separation of church and state. The state is viewed as an instrument of their faith. Thus, they cannot understand why the American government would "allow" such offensive material to be produced, and they demand that the American government punish the offenders.

American Muslims should recognize that such demands are ridiculous, and I'm sure that most do. Having personally enjoyed the fruits of freedom, they realize that's not how things are done in America. In America, you have the right to express your beliefs and the right to criticize the beliefs of others. That's true whether the objects of your criticism are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Sikhs, Wiccans, you name it – just ask Bill Maher.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.