I’ve been engaging some Muslims on their own forum about the ongoing Cartoon War, as well as reading the accounts around the world. The following is a reworking of a comment I left elsewhere.

In the Current Cartoon War, I’ve noticed that the biggest demand by the offended parties is for “respect” for Islam. But just what does that mean, both to them and us?

The demands I’ve heard most is that we in the West must show “respect” for Islam. This is to be shown in honoring Muslim law and tradition, and enforcing it against those who violate it. And it is accompanied by threats — tacit and explicit — of violence if these demands are not met.

This, to me, is not true respect. To me, respect is something that must be given willingly to be of any value. Respect won at the barrel of a gun — respected demanded with threats of force — has another term: “fear.”

And where there are demands that we understand Muslim sensitivities, there seems to be a profound lack of respect for core Western values.

One of the most cherished ones is the right to speak freely. Voltaire said it best when he said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And free-speech advocates often repeat that it is not the speech that you agree with that needs defending, but that which most offends you.

That’s why I will denounce asshats like Ted Rall cheerfully, call for him to be ignored and fired for gross incompetence — but never demand he be censored. (For one, he serves a valuable purpose — every time he publishes another scrawl or another screed, he alienates more and more people.) But if he were to actually receive death threats, I would denounce them and demand the threatening party be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Another principle of the West (mostly in America, but largely in other nations as well) is the separation of church and state. The two entitites should never be allowed to commingle. That much spiritual and temporal power concentrated in a single entity is an invitation to tyranny. Government, in the end, is a creature of man, and man is inherently flawed. No government has any business passing laws governing blasphemy, and no church should have the power to make and enforce laws.

True respect should be a two-way street. One should show respect if one wishes to receive it. And when the Muslim world demands respect from the West — with threats of violence — while continuing to show the greatest disrespect for the West’s ways, as carried out in the West, the West responds in the way it has handled tyrannical states in the past:

With derision and ridicule and mockery.

Because one of the hardest things for a tyrant to deal with is to be laughed at.

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