A Saudi Arabian lawyer by the name of Ahmed Zaki Yamani has sent a threatening letter to the group of Danish newspapers that reprinted the now famous cartoons from 2005, which depicted Mohammed as violent. The cartoons caused much unrest and intimidation from the Muslim world. Embassies were burned to the ground in countries throughout the middle east, people were killed, and protesters wielded signs reading "behead those who insult the prophet" (or variations on the theme).
Apparently lost on the rioters was the irony in perpetrating a reign of terror on western symbols (any analogue of Denmark would do), in angered response to a cartoon critiquing violent strains within their religion. I fail to envision rioting after, say, cartoons depicting crusaders carrying out massacres in the name of Christ, or even after a derogatory depiction of Jesus himself. No, the Muslim world takes its blasphemy quite a bit more gravely than do other religions in the modern age.
In 2008, when a cell was discovered plotting to murder the cartoonists, a group of Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonists, and as a show of support for the freedom of expression. In response, Yamani drafted the letter claiming to represent the 94,923 of the prophet's very offended descendants - (amusingly, that is like me claiming standing in a class-action suit against the defamation of Blackbeard the Pirate - to whom I am apparently related, according to family lore). The letter pressures the newspapers to enter into a settlement with Yamani, and to apologize to the Muslim world, in order to avoid "costly legal damages" and thinly veiled threats of further boycotts, etc.
What's regrettable is that one publication, Politiken, has already buckled under the intimidation. What's more ironic, is that the newspapers of a western country with freedom of religion are being coerced to show special respect for Islam, in particular, by a law firm headquartered in Saudi Arabia, where the promotion of any religion besides Islam is illegal... no churches, no synagogues, no Buddhas... no, no, and no. And of the Muslim countries, it's not the only nation of this persuasion. Tell me about respect for religion again? - I know this, if freedom of religion is desired, then freedom of speech is required.
I sat down this morning to rant at length on the matter, but then came across Christopher Hitchens analogous article in Slate:
The thing would be ridiculous if it were not so hateful and had it not already managed to break the nerve of one Danish newspaper. In Ireland a short while ago, a law against blasphemy was passed, making it a crime to outrage the feelings not just of the country's disgraced and incriminated Roman Catholic Church but of all believers. The same pseudo-ecumenical tendency can be found in the annual attempt by Muslim states to get the United Nations to pass a resolution outlawing all attacks on religion. It's not enough that faith claims to be the solution to all problems. It is now demanded that such a preposterous claim be made immune from any inquiry, any critique, and any ridicule.
This has to stop, and it has to stop right now. All democratic countries and assemblies should be readying legislation along the lines of the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right of open debate on matters of religion and repudiating the blackmail by law firms and individuals whose own true ancestry would not bear too much scrutiny.
Of course, Hitchens' great skill is to put it better than most, so read his full article.