"Right to Blasphemy?"

(I've changed this post since I first wrote it; thought better of it).
The story of the Arab boycott of things Danish in response to cartoons they consider blasphemous finally made the DC papers this morning. Roughly a month after lgf, ninme and tim blair had the story.

I have to say I'm unimpressed with all the liberal papers of Europe now rushing to show their free-speech bona fides by re-running the cartoons and denouncing Arab ire at them --as if they don't have the right to be offended. I haven't noticed any great enthusiasm in the European press for defending the West from Islamist terrorism. And now they rush to publish images deliberately designed to inflame and offend all Muslims?

Not that there isn't a real civilizational clash. A letter-writer to the WaTi once explained that it's an offense against Islam even to quote the Koran in a paper, because of what people will do with the paper when they're done. (You can't throw holy writ away, or wrap fish in it, and newsprint with a sacred verse on it becomes holy writ.) You can see how that belief conflicts with open discussion of the merits of Islam or what the Koran actually teaches.

At the same time, however, since we know that depicting Mohammed offends Muslims as deeply as the "piss Christ" or dung-on-the-Virgin-Mary offends Christians, what exactly is gained by deliberately thumbing the eye of Muslims? Take a bold stand for free speech by debating principles, taking issue with Muslim ideas, defending the original Danish story (which had a context and a purpose), denouncing the death threats made against various Danes. But don't just offend for the sake of it.

The Danes had a reason for running the cartoons originally. What's the German & French purpose? I'm not impressed with Die Welt's claim that it has a "right to blaspheme." That strikes me as, hmm, how would John Danforth put it? Cussed. And this from the very folks who are always urging tolerance, sensitivity and understanding on Bush & Blair.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the fatwas and death threats have begun. And ninme takes a dubious (but funny) lesson from all of this.

UPDATE 2: I've been thinking about this, and, encouraged by an email I've just received, now let me go a little further. The cartoons offend me, too; for the same reason "piss Christ" does. I hope I don't actually have to say that I defend free speech and in no way defend killing people for saying or holding offensive things. But the West has been involved in an earnest effort the past four years to separate moderate Muslims from Wahabists. How does blaspheming Mohammed help that cause? On the contrary, it puts all these papers on the side of the Islamists, who try to tell Muslims that the war on Terror is a war on Islam. This is just a cheap shot at religion, not a serious critique of hateful beliefs.

I understand that extremists with their death threats probably provoked all the editorial boards, who want to show solidarity with the Danish papers. But deliberate and purposeless blasphemy isn't a mature way to make the point.