Freedom Versus Respect

On the border between cultures, the value of freedom can clash fiercely with the value of respect. Freedom of expression allows zealots and racists to say what they think, no matter whom they offend or what violence they might incite. For example, France Noir, a French newspaper, recently published cartoons of Muhammad that are extremely offensive to Muslims. Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post reports:
"The cartoons include an image of the Prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle," according to Agence France-Press. "A third pictured a middle-aged prophet standing in the desert with a walking stick, in front of a donkey and a sunset."

France Soir
also printed images that have shocked Christians in the past, including the poster of the 2002 film "Amen," which depicts a hybrid of a Christian cross and a swastika, and parodies of Christ on the cross.

"Islam forbids any representation of the Prophet," the paper's front page editorial says today. "The question is, are all those who are not Muslims obliged to honour that prohibition? Can you imagine a society that added up all the prohibitions of the different religions? What would remain of the freedom to think, to speak, or even to come and go freely?"
Such offensive images of Muhammad cut to the heart of any Muslim. They widen the rift between cultures and fan the flames of hostility. I certainly don't want to die on my sword defending some unknown editor's right to be hateful and condemning, but as a writer, I must champion France Noir's right to offend Muslims and Christians. Here's the bottom line: if nobody has the power to muzzle my hate, then they won't be able to shut me up when I write about love — which is actually a more incendiary topic.

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