In defense of freedom of expression

    Under the principle of freedom of expression, blasphemy can be
    vulgar, in execrable taste, offensive in the extreme, but never

    Last September, cartoonists on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
    decided to test the proposition that Western European news outlets were
    self-censoring themselves for fear of provoking a violent Islamic

    The paper published a dozen caricatures, most of them
    mild by U.S. standards. One showed a line of tattered suicide bombers
    being turned away, presumably by the Prophet Muhammad, from the gates
    of heaven because paradise had run out of turbans. Perhaps the most
    provocative of them showed Muhammad’s turban as a bomb with the fuse

    The cartoons outraged the Muslim community because,
    traditionally, the prophet is never depicted lest the image lead to
    idolatry. Demands for an apology escalated until this week
    Jyllands-Posten apologized and the Danish prime minister sort of
    apologized; he said he would never depict any religious figure “in a
    way that could offend other people.” Denmark’s Muslim community
    accepted the apology. All that’s fine.

    But the Danish newspaper
    and a Norwegian newspaper that reprinted the cartoons have been deluged
    with death threats and the cartoonists are in hiding and protected by
    guards. A Pakistani religious party put a substantial bounty on the
    cartoonists. European press accounts say the newspapers have been
    singled out as possible terrorist targets on an al Qaeda-linked Web
    site, and there have been mutterings about reprisals from suicide
    bombers. In Gaza, Palestinian gunmen threatened a European Union
    office. All of this rather proves the cartoonists were right.

    And the overly aggrieved reaction has had the perverse effect of
    spreading the offending cartoons all over the Web. Anyone with 30
    seconds and a search engine can find them.

    This almost reflexive
    “kill, kill, kill” goes beyond offended religious sensibilities and
    hurt feelings. The most violent element of Islam now feels it has a
    right and a duty to censor the Western press while tolerating vile
    caricatures of Judaism and Christianity in its own.

    There is now
    a spreading boycott of Danish products throughout the Arab Mideast. We
    don’t have a dog in this fight, but Danish bloggers are asking for our
    help. It’s not asking too much in defense of freedom of expression for
    us to hoist a couple of cold Carlsbergs and enjoy a toasted havarti
    cheese sandwich. (ital) Skaal! (endital)

    (Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)