I may have the right to insult you ("freedom of speech"), but both intelligent self-interest and a sense of humane courteous fellowship with the rest of humanity ("morality") would inform me to exercise this right with care and forethought, so I make a positive social contribution that outweighs the misery I may be adding to the world. The exercise of a right does not disguise the intent of the user, and base motives are in no way justified by taking advantage of noble principles.
I believe the cartoons should not have been published as a matter of taste and courtesy, but not as a matter of compulsion. Also, I think that the continued reprinting of these cartoons (today in France and Philadelphia) is mean-spirited -- an unnecessary insult.
I also believe that the excessive reaction by some is more a matter of religious extremism, which I think is one of the worst forces at work in the world today. It matters not what form such extremism takes, sometimes Christian (without actual Christian principles, of course), sometimes Judaic, and sometimes Islamic. That Westerners can be racist is undeniable, but that people who demand the world -- and others -- conform to their religious views (however "traditional," which is to say "old") is a mental disease and social illness that we must work to cure.
I can easily think of aspects of life in predominantly Muslim countries that I can criticize. If my intent were to engage the people of such societies in order to have them change their ways and their thinking, I would not go about it by insulting them, but would instead try to engage them in a manner that expressed respect despite disagreement. So, I do not see the proponents of the cartoon insult as having a credible justification along these lines, nor along the lines of "upholding democracy" and the "free press."
To my mind, the best response is as recommended in Christopher Fons' article: let it go. Also, in my own case, I do not choose to make critiques about Islam and the many cultures influenced by it. Before I "pull the mote out of your eye," I think it best to "pull the plank out of my own eye" (quoting a very decent man from ancient times). Both I and my unhappy, frightened country, America, could use some reform before having credentials to interfere in the lives of others. I will only say this, less as a criticism and more as a statement of an ideal; in my view, a society must be judged on the basis of equality (or the lack of it) between the sexes, an equality of justice regardless of class, a very broad social equity and real popular democracy (not just for an oligarchy or a plutocracy), an absence of war and civil violence, an absence of racism and prejudice, and a freedom FROM religion (except as a personal choice in one's personal life). To the extent any society deviates from this ideal, one can infer my implicit critiques.
The cartoon controversy can easily be dispelled by reasonable minds; the key here is the willingness to be reasonable. The danger in that, however, is that a conscientious application of reason might undermine prior belief. And that is what much protest is meant to cover over.
Other Articles by Manuel Garcia, Jr.