The issue here is not so much freedom of speech as much as it is can the threat of violence insulate a radical political movement from criticism.
There is no moral equivalence. There's not even esthetic equivalance. The Danish cartoons are easy to look at and clever in their way.
The virulently anti-Semitic cartoons that regularly run in the state-run media in Arab regimes such as Qatar are the sort of thing you might have seen in Der Strumer, ca. 1936.
This episode should alert observers over the age of 50 that a radical change has taken place in Europe and the Arab worlds. Before World War II, Cairo was a cosmopolitan and multiethnic world capital while cities like Berlin and Nuremberg were stridently xenophobic police states.
Is the Arab world convulsed by the the presence of Israel? If so it doesn't quite explain the closing of minds on an institutional level.
For example, Egypt once had a thriving Arabic-language motion picture industry that served audiences throughout the entire region. Today, movies are illegal in places like Saudi Arabia . . . no movies have been shown there publically since the 1970s.
Whether it is becoming more repressive in response to external developments (such as Israel) or internal ones (such as the spread of Wahabbism) or a combination of the two, one conclusion should be clear: The Islamic world is headed in an unhealthy direction.
This is a challenging concept for some people to accept especially if one cannot imagine the world beyond one's own parochial backyard. As one well-meaning commenter on TPMcafe writes:
This is an interesting conflict. As a secularist who believes in free speech, I think the Muslim world is over-reacting. However, I also sense growing racism against Muslims and wonder if the reaction we are seeing among Muslims is in some ways similar to the reaction we see among African-Americans when someone like Rush Limbaugh says that Donovan McNabb wouldn't be regarded as good if he weren't black. If this is the case, asking moderate Muslims to come to the defense of the cartoons might be like asking moderate African- Americans to come to the defense of Rush.
Without Rush or Bush or some other political Polaris to guide them, some folks are totally disoriended. They have no idea what they truly believe. The deafening silence of "moderate" Muslims in this and nearly all discussions about Islam may mean that such moderates either don't exist or fear for their lives if they articulate their moderation.
The TPMcafe guy concludes with a call for understanding:
It just seems like this is a situation that should be used to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and hopefully some mutual understanding and respect for each side's culture, fears, and values. What we don't need is more polarization (which seems to be where we're headed).
This is a great idea but probably not for the reasons the writer thinks it is. I mean, what if the other side has already made up its mind about you?
How much understanding of Judeo-Christian values can there be in a part of the world where the practice or Christianity and Judeism is against the law? How much respect for Western culture, fears, and values can we expect from a political movement that defines itself in direct opposition to Western culture?
How much room for negotoation and compromise is available with a competing system that does not recognize peaceful co-existance as an ideal?
The information you need to make a judgement is available for you to see. The real challenge seems to be in making any judgement at all.