Cartoons turn ugly
DEVOUT believers of Islam have every right to be deeply offended by cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad they see as blasphemous.
But that is where the reaction must stop, with moral outrage and peaceful protest.
The rest, as the faithful know in their hearts, is pure thuggery that puts innocent lives in danger, in itself an affront to the teachings of Islam. Days and nights of protest began with the publication of cartoons in Denmark that featured the prophet with a bomb-shaped turban. This sparked worldwide protests and the sacking of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria and the Danish embassy in Lebanon. Muslim and Christian mobs have clashed and churches have been stoned in Lebanon.
As time passes, the protests seem as phony as they are frightening. They are trashing property and endangering lives in countries that would jail and torture anyone for a peep of political indignation. The notion that anything — anything — spontaneous happens in Syria is a cruel joke.
The protests are violent and demand a grim, watchful awareness, but the essential grievance rings hollow. Is this about respect or a wounded tyranny of the majority? Look at the way the images of Judaism are portrayed in Middle East culture. Shamefully, is the answer, if the fiery intent of the riots is about religion and respect.
Such is the conundrum of religious freedom in the United States. The guarantee is the right to worship one's faith free from the interference of the government and non-believers. That includes the right to be left alone with beliefs, and the right to witness on behalf of one's faith.
The rub is that freedom of religion coexists with a freedom of speech that protects both the right to witness and say blasphemous things — truly offensive things without fear of official retribution or criminal acts by those offended.
The freedom to worship has shaped this country since its beginnings — religious freedom, not religious tolerance. This is not about the good-natured indulgence of the majority, but the right of all faiths to worship as they see fit.
Islamic rioters burning embassies have no more moral authority than Christians who target doctors for mortal injury because they perform abortions. Religious minorities in this country are well-served by a conclusion reached a half-century ago by the U.S. Supreme Court:
"It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company