A letter to the Arab News newspaper
I wrote the following in response to "Confusing Hate Speech With Freedom of Expression, Again!" on the Arab News website at http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=77663&d=12&m=2&y=2006 :
In response to "That’s why I am calling for widening the scope of the anti-Semitism laws that protect Jews to include the rest of us. Can anyone explain to me why not?"
I agree that Muslims should have as much legal protection against free speech as Jews do. Of course, in the United States, this is equivalent to "none at all." Here people have the right to be as stupidly racist and bigoted as they want, as long as they do not threaten (or worse, carry out) violence against lives or property. We believe it is better for a person's prejudices to be exposed to alternate viewpoints than to be either repressed or radicalized, going so far as to provide police protection to the morons in the Ku Klux Klan whenever they try to march. The only exceptions I am aware of are things like slander and libel (which do not apply to dead people, even prophets), perjury, falsehoods that affect public safety (like falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater), and national security. Cartoons of religious icons do not fall in any of these categories.
In addition, our First Amendment protects the freedom of religion *as well as* the freedom of speech. Considering that Muslims are a minority in the United States, I would think they would be very wary about tampering with the same amendment to the Constitution that grants them the right to worship freely in our country.
Third, I don't care for George Bush and didn't agree with the invasion of Iraq, but I have to admit that he is able to withstand as many insulting cartoons in a single day as Mohammed had all last year. While he has used our armed forces unwisely, I doubt he targeted anyone simply because they had rude things to say about him. (Okay, so an argument could be made for Al Jazeera, but we already know Bush is far from being a saint or prophet.) In addition, the number of verbal and cartoon attacks against the United States is so much greater than all such attacks against the Muslim world (again, excepting Bush and his pointless war in Iraq -- luckily, he will not be in office after the next election) that there is no comparison, and yet we have fewer riots in a year than the Middle East has had this past week.
Part of the reason is power -- the United States, over the past two centuries, has affected world events (for both good and ill) far more than the entire Muslim world combined. Feel free to disagree with it if you wish, though it would be ironic if you did so using the internet or the personal computer. Because our efforts matter on the world stage, we do not feel the need to get incensed at cartoons in the paper claiming we are mindless puppets of Israel or whatever. If Islam were confident in its power, it wouldn't have to make statements like "We are the fastest growing religion" (birthrate and immigration don't prove truth) and "There are 1.2 billion Muslims" (there are nearly twice as many Christians of all denominations, and they rarely mention their numbers; and there are 300 million Americans but we generally don't feel compelled to point that out). If you want to show how much you've contributed to mankind, why not mention Nobel Laureates, useful inventions, beautiful art and music, and interesting books by Muslims? That's a far better assessment of a culture than numbers (which would indicate you are the equal of the Chinese, but no more) and birthrate.
Finally, and on a strictly personal note, the freedom of speech is every bit as sacred to me as Mohammed is to a devout Muslim. I am not indulging in hyperbole; I would fight anyone who attempted to take away the right to freely express my thoughts, peacefully if possible, but by any means necessary if not. Getting Americans to move in the same direction is a bit like herding cats, but I can absolutely guarantee that abridging their right to free speech -- including the right to make a fool out of oneself -- is one sure way to find yourself trampled underfoot.