Two paragraphs in an editorial in the Egyptian Gazette in Cairo make it clear why so many people in the Muslim world do not - and probably never will - understand something as basic to Americans as freedom of expression.
Says the Gazette:
"In a desperate bid to assuage anger, which has erupted across the Muslim world over published cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, Western media and officials cite freedom of speech as an excuse. The argument is downright faulty. It adds insult to injury. Who said that free speech should be offensive to others? (How can there be any such guarantee?)
"The drawings, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and were later reprinted in European papers mock a symbol that means a lot for Muslims. For sure, freedom of the press is not without limits or responsibility. The European media, which provoked Muslims' fury, have not shown enough consideration by running those images, deemed offensive by ordinary Muslims inside the west and far beyond."
Most members of the "Muslim world" have never had any contact with a free press and free speech. They see their "governments" or religious leaders controlling what is printed and talked about and they assume the same holds true elsewhere.
So with a minimum of agitation, mobs erupt and destroy, maim and kill, apparently in the name of Allah or Muhammad - whichever symbol seems to stir the most ire. It would be interesting to learn just what percentage of any given crowd really understands why it is assembled.
Concludes the Egyptian Gazette: "In a multicultural world, the media everywhere should demonstrate a sense of responsibility and play a role in bringing people of different faiths together. By no means does this lofty role contradict freedom of expression."
How many Western publications have produced how many appeals to people to work together rather than pulling apart, particularly since 9-11. How many Muslim publications have done likewise?
There is no certainty where the line is to be drawn in this latest clash of free speech and faith, if such is indeed the root cause of the protests. Again, the problem is further complicated by the fact that such huge segments of the Muslim world have no concept of freedom of the press and how to deal with it. So with nefarious leadership, they strike out.
Kathleen Parker of the Orlando Sentinel, writing in USA Today, put it well:
"There is no equivalence between organized murder on behalf of a malignant social system and a half a dozen nerdy artists, speaking only for themselves, lampooning a fanatical religious sect whose members, by the way, specifically advance the delightful goal of exterminating millions of 'infidels.'
"The correct comparison, in fact, for Nazi and Klan terrorists are their brothers under the hoods - the jihadists who issued a death sentence on writer Salman Rushdie, who beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl and businessman Nick Berg, and who kidnapped an innocent American female journalist and showed videos of her sobbing and terrified among armed men holding guns to her head.
"These are the fascist thugs, not the artists who draw cartoons in the service of democracy and truth."
In a counterpart piece, Souheila al-Jadda, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, condemns the violence that has flared then calls, rather naively, for a "can't we all get along" approach. Al-Jadda says:
"We must look for ways to build the bridges between East and West - not break them down - so that some day we can truly begin to respect and know each other better."
Right now, al-Jadda represents a voice in the wilderness, with little hope of being heard, as long as the protest-energizers keep stirring up people who have no notion about freedom of expression and speech and a separation of church and state.