On November 3, 2011, the Associated Press reported that the offices of the satirical weekly publication, Charlie Hedbo, in Paris, France, were firebombed. The director of the weekly publication issued an "invitation" to the Prophet Muhammad to be its guest editor. Evidently, some Muslim extremists did not find the joke to be very amusing.
The issue of the publication was centered around the recent victory of Tunisia's Islamist party in that nation's first free elections, and by the move by Libya's new leaders to implement Sharia law in their country. Evidently, in response to the reference to Muhammad, an angry zealot threw a molotov cocktail into the offices of the publication.
This is not the first time that intolerant Muslims have carried out violence in the name of their supposedly peaceful God. Islamic law usually forbids depictions of the Prophet, even positive images.
When a Danish publication depicted images of Muhammad a few years ago (one of them featuring the Prophet with a bomb tied to his head), angry Muslims all over the world reacted with death threats and violence.
Perhaps the most infamous Muslim furor arose when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses. The Ayatollah Khomeni (aslo know as the Ayatollah Khomaniac) of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie. The author was forced into hiding.
However, Rushdie had his many defenders, among them Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria. The African secular humanist stated that if any harm came to Rushdie, the world should bomb Iran with "pastiches" of The Satanic Verses. For expressing his opinion, Muslim leaders in Kano, in northern Nigeria, issued a fatwa against Soyinka. And so it goes.
It obviously doesn't take much to infuriate Muslim religious nuts. Not long ago, a Western teacher in Afghanistan was persecuted for agreeing to name a teddy bear Muhammad. (That's right! A freakin' teddy bear!) The bear was actually named after a young boy named Muhammad, not the Prophet.
In Nigeria, a woman was terrorized and threatened with death for saying that, were Muhammad alive, he would have approved of the Miss World Contest, which was scheduled to be held in Nigeria. (Due to threats of violence, Miss World officials held the contest in another country.)
Theo Van Gogh, a Muslim critic in the Netherlands, was grotesequely murdered for criticizing Islam. Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali was threatened with death by Muslim fanatics in Holland for the same offense.
I have only mentioned examples of Muslim intolerance. That is because when people from other faiths or worldviews are offended when their deeply cherished beliefs are attacked, they generally respond in a civilized manner. For example, when conservative Christians are infuriated by such images as "The Piss Christ" (a crucifix dipped in urine), or a film which negatively depicts their faith, they simply protest nonviolently. Likewise, you never hear of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitatian Universalists, tradional African religionists, and others killing or threatening to kill those that have allegedly commited blasphemy or some related vicitimless crime. Of course, needless to say, there is no secular humanist equivalent of blasphemy for which offenders must be killed.
Exremist Muslims are easily offended. Indeed, they seem to be constantly on the hunt for ideas and actions to drive them crazy, no matter how mundane. They obviously have too much time on their hands. They demand that they be held to different standards than everyone else. They scoff at any democratic ideal calling for genuine freedom of speech and expression. They have a seventh-century mentality, and they are proud of it.
What is especially sad is that these religious hypocrites demand religious liberty in the defense of Islam. For example, though they think nothing of crushing freedom of speech and expression, they demand that Muslims in the West be able to build mosques wherever they see fit. They rushed to the defense of moderate Muslims wishing to build an Islamic center in Manhattan near Ground Zero. (Yet, they believe that is just fine and dandy that Christians cannot even preach in Saudi Arabia, let alone build churches there.) That is to say, they defend freedom of religion (though only for Muslims), but oppose freedom of speech and expression for the rest of us. They insist upon having it both ways.
What is the best way to respond to this blatant religous hypocrisy? Some people participate in blasphemy days in order to show their belief in freedom of expression. The main problem with this kind of reaction is that such actions are often sponsored by intolerant Islamophobes. It is important to understand the importance of standing up to Muslim extremist bullies without being lowered to their standards.
Freedom-loving people should always rush to the defense of victims of religious bullies. This could include purchasing copies of the "offending" works to let the bullies know that they cannot win. (I still have the copy of The Satanic Verses that my mother bought for me.) People should write letters to the editors of publications to demonstrate their outrage at religious intolerance. Bloggers should defend freedom of expression. People should engage in mass protests in defense of liberty. Non-Muslims should hold dialogues with moderate and progressive Muslims to foster mutual understanding. Last but not least, vicitims of religious violence should understand that they are well within their rights to defend themselves. Religious bigots should never be given the moral sanction to terrorize and kill their victims.
The bottom line is that religions--including religious images--do not deserve respect or protection any more than do political ideas, secular philosophies, etc. People and their rights must be respected and protected, and all freedom-loving people should stand united under that sterling ideal.