What the Islamic protesters are saying is, “our religion doesn’t allow for depictions of Mohammed, therefore nobody (whether they’re Islamic or not) may depict Mohammed.” Imagine if other faiths took this approach. Many Roman Catholics don’t eat meat on Friday. Would they be within their rights to demand that all steakhouses be closed on Friday? Should they be allowed to firebomb any restaurants that serve meat on Friday? Of course not. Tolerant people understand others aren’t bound by the strictures of their religion.
This isn’t to say the Danish cartoons aren’t provocative, maybe even stupid. But there are plenty of provocative and stupid cartoons. A recent Tom Toles offering in The Washington Post depicted an American soldier sitting in a hospital bed with his arms and legs amputated. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sits nearby and comments, “I’m listing your condition as ‘battle hardened.’”
Many readers were upset by the cartoon. Some, including all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote protest letters to the paper. But nobody threatened to attack Toles or bomb the newspaper’s headquarters. “No one questions the right of a cartoonist to do what they want to do and people do it all the time,” Rumsfeld said. That’s the tolerant attitude we need from the Islamic world.
Muslims are free to be offended by drawings of Mohammed. They should feel free to march or boycott Danish products. But they don’t have the right to tell non-Muslims what we may or may not do. And they certainly don’t have the right to insist that Europe change its laws on press freedom, as the spiritual leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah recently demanded.
If the West gives in now, where will the demands end? In Austria, some Muslim men are insisting that non-Muslim teachers in their children’s school wear headscarves. So if you think a few cartoons aren’t worth standing up for, better dust off the old burka.
At the dawn of the 21st century, it’s simply too dangerous to have a growing group which advocates taking the world back to the 8th century. We can’t pick between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. We need them both.