NEW YORK -- At the National Black Fine Art Show, a painting by Harlem artist Tafa depicts an upside-down "Christ-like" figure with a face that resembles Osama bin Laden. No Christians have threatened the artist, bombed the building where it is displayed or attacked the city government.
Throughout the Middle East, state-controlled newspapers regularly depict Jews and Israeli leaders in despicable, stereotypical and anti-Semitic caricatures. These cartoons show Jews with hooked noses and Stars of David morphing into swastikas. Palestinian and Arab blood drips from Jewish hands, and Jews are blamed for creating AIDS. Neither those newspapers nor Arab embassies have been attacked by Jewish mobs.
When a Danish newspaper publishes several political cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, riots ensue and the artists and newspaper receive death threats. When newspapers in France and Germany courageously (and unexpectedly) reprint the cartoons as a demonstration of their right to free speech, further demonstrations occur and threats are made against those newspapers.
Occasionally, moral clarity comes with something quite simple, such as political cartoons. These riots impress upon us an objective truth: The "clash of civilizations" is more than a conflict between peoples; it is between the 21st and the 7th centuries - between a God who has "commissioned" his followers to exact judgment on the world, according to their narrow interpretation, and a God who offers man grace, along with the freedom to choose or reject it, reserving judgment for Himself on another day.
Many American newspapers and some TV networks have declined to publish the "offending" cartoons, thereby playing into the hands of the rioters.
Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, told Editor & Publisher magazine that the cartoons "wouldn't meet our standards for what we publish in the paper." The Post's standards apparently were met when it published a Tom Toles cartoon Jan. 29 depicting an American soldier without arms or legs. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stands beside his bed declaring, "I'm listing your condition as `battle hardened.'" Some critics contend the cartoon slanders the military.
A free press is so critical to freedom that America's founders wrote it into the First Amendment as one of our fundamental rights. If intimidation limits press freedom, our other freedoms are in jeopardy.
The violent reaction to the Danish cartoons is not the first attempt by "Islamo-fascists" to censor free speech in their pursuit of subjugating us all to their intolerant way of thinking.
The world-renowned cartoonist Ranan Lurie tells me of a meeting he had in 1997 with the publisher of Al-Ahram, the most widely read newspaper in the Arab world. Mr. Lurie signed a contract to provide his cartoons to the newspaper.
Within days of the publication of his first cartoon in Al-Ahram, a "jealous Egyptian cartoonist" published a story about him in Ruz-al-Yusuf magazine. He wrote, "Do you know this guy is a Jew and not only a Jew, but a soldier and not only a solider, but an officer and not only an officer, but a paratrooper?" The magazine printed a full-page cartoon of Mr. Lurie descending on the Egyptian pyramids and destroying them. It also published Mr. Lurie's picture with an orange Star of David on his face. There were riots in Cairo. Al-Ahram canceled Mr. Lurie's contract after just 11 days.
Mr. Lurie says it won't stop with cartoon censorship, but will advance to "telling us what to wear, and Islam will be insulted if your wife or girlfriend doesn't wear a head scarf."
Will free societies give in to threats, intimidation, murder and riots? If we don't stand now against this fundamentalist intolerance, there may not be enough of us left standing for the next and subsequent battles.
In a recent speech at the National Press Club, Mr. Rumsfeld said of Islamic terrorists, "They will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs."
It's going to be a long war.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.