What if a cartoonist drew a demeaning picture of Jesus? What if an artist did something obscene with a sacred Christian symbol, say, floating a crucifix in human urine?
Oh, wait. That’s already happened.
But oddly enough, the Metropolitan Museum of Art still stands, countless anti-Christian Hollywood producers continue to make their films, and artists use their corner on the market of free expression to demean God without any fear of retribution.
Why “oddly enough?” Because apparently to Islamic extremists, a few satirical cartoons are enough to send rocks and petrol bombs through windows, violent mobs into the streets, and cut off trade with entire countries.
In September, a Danish newspaper printed 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, a practice sometimes forbidden by Islamic law. Since then, dispute has raged about whether or not such a decision was ethical.
Several newspapers around the world have reprinted the cartoons, inciting even more violence from the Islamic community worldwide. At least four people have already been killed in these violent protests, trade between Iran and Denmark has been cut off, and the destruction of consulates and other public institutions are growing widespread.
Despite the violence that some Muslims have demonstrated, many Westerners still seem unsure about their role in this debate. They are afraid to seem insensitive or intolerant, and, from long attendance at the school of “all religions are equal,” they wish to avoid giving offense. Such empathy is normally commendable.
However, giving into demands from those willing to use violence to control discussion and stifle debate is a betrayal of our core values. Without freedom of speech, we have no democracy. If we hope to live in harmony someday with peace-seeking Muslims, we cannot allow extremism to prevail.
Islamic protestors are waving signs that read, “Behead the Infidels;” “Europe: Take some lessons from 9/11;” and “Freedom go to Hell.” These kinds of threats should shake us from our lethargy and propel us to action. Dare we stand by and watch them desecrate the freedoms that are the very cornerstones of our country?
Some news organizations, such as CNN, have declined to reprint the cartoons “out of respect for Islam.” But we must wonder: is it respect that drives such a statement, or fear? They were not so respectful of the aforementioned work of modern art, “Piss Christ,” nor have they shied away from close scrutiny of other cultures and religions.
What would we do in this situation? As Christians, what is more important, to respect others’ beliefs or to stand by our rights?
We can do both. There is no reason to willfully antagonize other cultures simply for the sport of it; however, we don’t need to apologize for our opinions.
The First Amendment was created to protect our right to freedom of speech and of the press, and that includes cartoons, however inflammatory they may be.
We in the west have a responsibility to fight for our most precious freedom: the freedom of expression, for which so many before us have sacrificed their lives.
A true democracy cannot survive without the freedom to criticize, to oppose, and even to argue and potentially offend. This is obviously sparse in the Islamic world, and without it, Islamic extremists will remain oppressive and militant, continuing to stifle all creativity, truth, and basic human rights.
Like Europe in pre-World War II Germany, we can bury our heads in the sand, but this does not mean that the threat is gone. Far from it. The powers of hatred and bigotry will continue to grow whether we like it or not, so this is our chance to stand for liberty. If we truly love our country and its freedoms, we have no choice.