This article is interesting because it surveys the reactions of a wide range of Muslim organizations and individuals. Two points stand out. Junaid Ahmad, a law student at William and Mary, makes one of them:
"This is not just a matter of being for freedom of speech and against freedom of speech," Ahmad said. "The first thing we should realize is that Muslims dont accept the basic framework. The principal issue here is not freedom of speech, but the Islamophobic context in which such a caricaturing of the prophet is taking place. I think thats the issue here."
Nevertheless, Ahmad said he was against laws restricting such speech. "You cant give the state too much power. Its better to fight hate not through laws but education and community organizing and activism."
While I dont want to over-generalize, its probably fair to say that many American Muslims are not First Amendment absolutists. At the same time, if Ahmad is indicative, there is a certain sophisticated appreciation of limited government in some quarters.
The second point is a willingness to live responsibly in a pluralistic society:
"On the legal level and from an Islamic perspective, people have a choice," said Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary-general of the Indianapolis-based Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization in the United States. "I dont expect my neighbor to have the same reverence about the Prophet Muhammad. All that we are expecting is that they dont insult a personality thats made such a historical contribution. This is more a responsibility of living in a pluralistic society than a question of legal restrictions."
Dega Muna agrees:
To some U.S. Muslims, the cartoons of Muhammad are more a question of racism than blasphemy. "The cartoons border on hate speech. If people depicted Jews in that light, people would be very upset. If you look at them, they are very similar to cartoons drawn of Jews in Nazi Germany," said Dega Muna, 40, a Somali-born Muslim who grew up mostly in the U.S. and Canada and who coordinates a weekly "progressive Muslim" meet-up group in New York City.
"I agree its free speech, but with free speech comes responsibility, and knowing the consequences of your actions. They were provoking ... and this is the reaction they got. Unfortunately, it kind of proves their point, that Muslims are violent."
I wish that Muna would take her show on the road, sharing the lessons she has learned about responsible and self-restrained conduct in a pluralistic society with the people who sanctioned the publication of these viciously anti-Semitic cartoons.
Of course, the article has its faults, in part simply repeating a talking point about how the outbreak of violence stems from the fact that "the cartoons are seen by Muslims as the latest in a long line of western crimes against Muslims, he said. Those crimes include colonization and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims to more recent images of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and perceived western Islamophobia."
Theres also an attempt at moral equivalence, comparing a firebombing of a French movie theater showing The Last Temptation of Christ to the orchestated violence and widespread violent threats in response to these cartoons. Yes, there are intolerant and even violent Christians, just as there are intolerant and even violent Hindus, Jews, and atheists. But the scope of the violent threats and the state sponsorship of the violence are, in this case, on an entirely different plane.
I admire and agree with American Muslims who speak of the importance of self-restraint and responsibility in a pluralistic society. I hope that its a lesson that spreads throughout the worldwide Muslim community and that is sustained and sustainable even as Muslim populations grow in numbers and influence.