The fact that anyone would possibly condemn the printing of an image more harshly than perpetrators of murder driven by the “offense” caused by said images is absurd. The reaction in some parts Islamic world to these images shows a poor understanding of what is meant by “freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech means freedom of speech for everyone for one very important reason: if speech is to be limited, the limitations of speech must be imposed by some human entity (they surely aren’t given from the heavens), and how do you suppose such entity would impose these limitations? And how would it find the authority to decide, conclusively, what can be said? There is no reason to believe anyone who claims to have such authority. In a free intellectual society good ideas and bad ideas are not simply dictated to the masses. Ideas compete with each other. Good ideas withstand scrutiny, and bad ideas crumble in light of reason – that is how we move forward.
In a totalitarian society – a society ruled by brute force – the persistence of an idea is removed from its merit, and becomes the function of who has the largest army or the most powerful weaponry or the most easily mobilized hoards. The aniconism of Mohammad, as anything more than a personal and private belief, is not a “good” idea. It would not survive the market place of ideas, because it is based on shoddy, non-existent evidence. Nobody has any obligation to give any credence to or respect to that “rule.” The violent reaction of some Islamic fundamentalists – while wholly reinforcing the danish artists’ point – was patently totalitarian or fascist or brutish or monarchial or tyrannical. Whichever term you like.
The charges against the Danish newspaper of cultural insensitivity or prejudice are false, and even if they weren’t, they would be entitled to their opinion – just as the Islamic community would be entitled to a non-violent rebuttal. Yes, making unsupported claims and sweeping generalizations about arbitrary classifications (like race) is wrong. But it is important not to confuse this with rampant moral relativism. The cartoonists are not stereotyping. They make no sweeping generalizations about Arabs or the Middle-East, because they don’t need too. Their targets are adherents to a specific religion which already has the platforms of its ideology in print. Islam, like the other monotheistic religions, is a violent religion. It calls for forced conversion, and promises a fleshly paradise for martyrs. It makes claims that are incompatible with well-reasoned secular society, and it isn’t content with only believing these claims in private.
I stand with the Danish newspaper’s decision to print those cartoons. If I did not agree with them, I would stand by their right to print those cartoons, and expect rational rebuttals and non-violent confrontation. Freedom of speech is essential to any free society, and to silence free speech through force, or fear of violence, is strictly totalitarian. The asymmetry of the “crimes” committed is so stark that the galvanizing act is no crime at all and the response – which shouldn’t have escalated past the point of an angry letter to the editor – was veritable atrocity. In this situation, the only party worthy of harsh condemnation is that which intends to violently force its views on others – in this case, Islamic extremists and the dangerous dogmas they follow.