"A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth." - Ibn Warraq, Democracy in a Cartoon
Western Europe now faces a serious dilemma: how do you tolerate the intolerant? My answer is short: you don't because, as A.C. Grayling put it, "the result is too often the death of toleration itself, because those who live by hard principles and uncompromising views in political, moral, and religious respects always, if given half a chance, silence liberals because liberalism, by its nature, threatens the hegemony they wish to impose."
The Danish cartoons depicting the Islamic faith in what enraged Muslims deem a blasphemous light has led to violent reactions around the globe, including the burning of Danish embassies in Syria. There is no excuse for such actions, as there is no right to not be offended which supercedes the right to expression. Tolerance means being allowed the freedom to practice your faith without interferance so long as you do not violate the rights of others, it does not mean being allowed the freedom to impose your religion on others by silencing their freedom of expression. Otherwise, 'toleration' becomes, as expressed by Thomas Paine, "not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it."
Now, I'm not calling for militant actions against Muslims. But what I am suggesting is that Western Democracies should not budge nor compromise on this matter. There should be no laws protecting religious sensibilites from offense, no laws giving legitimacy to the violent fanatacism which calls for the death of infidels who insult a religion. In essence, this sort of barbaric response will not be tolerated nor condoned, in any shape or form.
At the Secular Outpost, Taner Edis writes
Sigh. On one hand, this whole fracas reinforces my general contempt for the human species. On the other hand, I can't even get my usual fool's compensation of a bitter sense of superiority. I'd like to come out and say I know the right and proper way to respond to incidents that (possibly deliberately) provoke religious offense, but I don't see any way to do it without appearing a morally outraged twit myself. Again, sigh...I can sympathize to an extent. But we (humanists) are not cultural relativists, and the response seems clear enough to me: denounce the violent reactions and defend the freedom of expression, while holding any individuals who participate in militant reprisals legally accountable for their actions.
Why should Islam, or any religion, be granted legal or social protections from criticism? Faith must stand or fall on the intellectual defense of its claims, not on legal prohibitions against critique, or upon violent intimidation of those who would question it.
And how any human being ever has had the impudence to speak against the right to speak, is beyond the power of my imagination. Here is a man who speaks -- who exercises a right that he, by his speech, denies. Can liberty go further than that? Is there any toleration possible beyond the liberty to speak against liberty -- the real believer in free speech allowing others to speak against the right to speak? Is there any limitation beyond that?
So, whoever has spoken against the right to speak has admitted that he violated his own doctrine. No man can open his mouth against the freedom of speech without denying every argument he may put forward. Why? He is exercising the right that he denies. How did he get it? Suppose there is one man on an island. You will all admit now that he would have the right to do his own thinking. You will all admit that he has the right to express his thought. Now, will somebody tell me how many men would have to emigrate to that island before the original settler would lose his right to think and his right to express himself? - Robert Green Ingersoll, "The Limitations of Toleration"