Sensitivity or Fear?
From Michael Kinsley's commentary, "The Ayotollah Joke Book," in the February 10, 2006 edition of the Washington Post:
"...A lively debate is going on about whether Islam really does forbid any portrayal of the prophet, however benign, or whether that is a recent innovation of some subset of the faithful with possible ulterior motives. This debate misses the point. Some Christians believe they are required to wear particular sorts of clothing. Some Jews and Muslims don't eat pork. They don't claim that their religion requires other people to wear special clothing or avoid eating pork....
"But the limits of free expression cannot be set by the sensitivities of people who don't believe in [a particular teaching]...."
From Charles Krauthammer's commentary, "Curse of the Moderates," in the February 2006 edition of the Washington Post:
"...A true Muslim moderate is one who protests desecrations of all faiths. Those who don't are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for the rioters, merely using different means to advance the same goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith. These are not defenders of religion but Muslim supremacists trying to force their dictates upon the liberal West....
"What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto attached.
"The worldwide riots and burnings are instruments of intimidation, reminders of van Gogh's fate. The Islamic 'moderates' are the mob's agents and interpreters, warning us not to do this again. And the Western 'moderates' are their terrified collaborators who say: Don't worry, we won't...."
From Andrew Sullivan's essay, "Your Taboo, Not Mine," in the February 13, 2006 edition of Time Magazine:
"...Muslim leaders say the cartoons are not just offensive. They're blasphemy--the mother of all offenses. That's because Islam forbids any visual depiction of the Prophet, even benign ones. Should non-Muslims respect this taboo? I see no reason why. You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I'm not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don't expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended....
"Yes, there's no reason to offend people of any faith arbitrarily. We owe all faiths respect. But the Danish cartoons were not arbitrarily offensive. They were designed to reveal Islamic intolerance--and they have now done so, in abundance. The West's principles are clear enough. Tolerance? Yes. Faith? Absolutely. Freedom of speech? Nonnegotiable."
Catering to "Muslim sensitivities" over a bunch of satiric cartoons published in a free press, particularly if that catering stems from fear of reprisals, amounts to turning the clock back to the Middle Ages, when the establishment of religion as the rule of law was the norm. Furthermore, such catering comes too close for comfort to supporting the validity of anti-blasphemy laws. And sometimes blasphemy is in the eye of the beholder, which is to say, subjective. And subjectivity can be dangerous.