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Free speech should soar above insult and injury

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What's lost in this slugfest, drowned out by extremists, are the voices of moderate, responsible, democracy-promoting Muslims. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a majority of Americans now think Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence.

A Muslim who spoke out was the editor of the Jordanian paper Shihan who posed this question: "Muslims of the world, be reasonable. What brings more prejudice against Islam - these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim?" For his bravery he was fired. Instead of insult, how about defending this speech of reason?

And how about reviewing the clashing civilizations' agenda? While the West insists free speech be on the docket, Islamic thinkers would offer another item: power.

As Rami Khouri, respected editor at large of Beirut's Daily Star, claims: "This is not primarily an argument about freedom of the press.... It is about Arab-Islamic societies' desire to enjoy freedom from Western and Israeli subjugation, diplomatic double standards, and predatory neocolonial policies." Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author shortlisted for the Nobel, writes that people in the West "are scarcely aware of this overwhelming feeling of humiliation that is experienced by most of the world's population."

And to this history of insult we would add more insult? As to insult, a test for the defenders of the right to offend: Presumably you have exercised your free speech to the maximum protesting the bonafide offenses of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, this near-unforgivable insult of torture that America has visited on the Arab world? It's my Voltairean right to ask and your responsibility to answer. (Mr. Bennett and Mr. Dershowitz fail this test: While citing the media for not republishing the Danish cartoons, they excoriate them for publishing the images of Abu Ghraib.)

Provocation, insult, giving offense: When the target is deserving, these are powerful tools, and the West has a glorious history of using them. Henrik Ibsen outraged audiences with his play "A Doll's House" when Nora slammed the door on her infantilized existence - and forever altered our consciousness about woman's place. With his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. argued the case against the Establishment that the Negro could no longer wait for freedom but must claim it now - and unlocked the prison for all of us. This is the highest - and most responsible - use of the right to offend: to enhance human dignity.

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