A few days ago a friend brought to my attention an article by Michael Radu of the Foreign Policy Research Institute:"This Is Not about Mohammed's Turban"
I found the article awful: intellectually mediocre and, more to the point, badly misguided. Radu says the Danish-Mohammed-cartoons controversy "has made it clear that most Muslims simply do not comprehend but nevertheless oppose Western democratic values and diversity". Bull. Much clearer is that the self-righteous liberal Westerners who are so up in arms on the Danish newspaper's behalf simply do not comprehend how profoundly offensive it is to Muslims - including the many non-extremist ones - to make any picture of the Prophet Mohammed, much less a cartoon making fun of him.
In 1995 in Muzaffarabad - the capital of the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir, now destroyed by the recent earthquake - I was having a conversation in my hotel room with a local government official who was responsible for showing me around, when he noticed a copy of a book I had left on the floor, titled Mohammed and the Quran. Diffidently and politely, he asked me to pick it up and not to leave it on the floor. Such sensibilities are superstitious, even anti-Islamic (because Islam is theoretically an iconoclastic religion, which incidentally is also why images of the Prophet are deeply frowned upon), but of course I felt awful about having wounded them. What is wrong with exercising discretion and tact in such things?
I think the Danish editor used extremely poor judgment. He should have quietly refused to publish the cartoons. I'm all for press freedom, but this isn't really about that, any more than the Judith Miller thing is about protecting anonymous sources. What makes the point all the more salient is that the same editor previously declined to publish cartoons of Jesus because, that's right, he thought they might cause offense.
Muslims shouldn't threaten violence or attack embassies, but what this controversy really reveals is how poorly the West understands Islam and Muslim sensibilities, and even moreso how little respect we really have for an entire civilization and history that is crucially important to more than a billion people worldwide.