Salman Rushdie introduced the world to radical Islam when a death threat was issued against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. The threat not only extended to the author of The Satanic Verses, it also extended to his publisher. Recently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali experienced a similar threat, fleeing to America after her friend filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered on a city street in Amersterdam. Hirsi Ali and van Gogh collaborated on a film about violence against women in Islamic societies. Hirsi Ali didn’t pull any punches when she followed that with her best-selling memoir Infidel. At the present time, artist Kurt Westergaard has been forced into hiding after he received death threats because he drew a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb instead of a turban.
This sort of fanaticism makes an American incredulous, and it usually has the same effect on Europeans. But in Westergaard’s case, his home country Denmark isn’t going silent. Three newspapers in that country reprinted his cartoon in a show of solidarity.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Westerners is getting across the concept of freedom of speech to those in countries governed and/or oppressed by fanatics. Solidarity in the press is a great place to start. I’ve read comments on some newspaper Web sites that question why a cartoon like this is published, knowing it may provoke violence. To an American that is a question more dangerous than the violence that might be provoked.