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Muslims Claim West has Double Standard on Cartoon Controversy

The violence over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad has highlighted the argument about the limits to public expression. Many Muslims believe that the West has a double standard when it comes to what is acceptable speech.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen's refusal to criticize the newspaper that originally published the cartoons did not sit well with the leaders of many Muslim nations, including King Abdullah of Jordan:

"With all respect to press freedoms, obviously, anything that vilifies the Prophet Muhammad -- peace be upon him -- or attacks Muslim sensibilities, I believe, needs to be condemned."

Dr. Parvez Ahmed, Chairman of the Board of Council on American-Islamic Relations, says Muslims do not see this is as a free speech issue but as an attack on religion.

"Muslims have always encouraged freedom of speech, even from the early days of the Islamic state, from the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Freedom of speech was always encouraged; in the Quran itself God gave Satan the right to speak. So we understand that every entity has the right to say whatever they want to say, but along with this right comes responsibility.

The outpouring of anger in the Islamic World may also be a reaction to how Muslims perceive the West has treated them, says Shireen Hunter, a professor at the Center for Christian Islamic Understanding at Georgetown University

"The feeling that the Muslim world, at least for the past 200 years, has been subject of colonization and other pressures, is very alive and it is very raw. And we have had another issues: Bosnia war, Chechnya war, and other conflicts that have also made the Muslims feel that somehow their grievances are not taken into account."

Some Muslims who live in the West are also offended by what they see as a double standard in the laws against inciting hatred and violence that have sprung up in Europe. They ask why it is forbidden to challenge the veracity of the mass murder of the Holocaust, or to espouse the Nazi's racist ideology, but not forbidden to criticize Islam.

Dr. Ahmed adds, "Things that are being said about Islam and Muslims today, not only in Europe but also in America, where mainstream religious leaders have said very derogatory things about the Prophet Muhammad, about Islam, about Allah (God) in a way that if it had been said for any other faith, or any other group there would have been a major backlash on it. Unfortunately these important figures, religious and political figures, made these hateful comments about Islam and in some sense they got away with it."

There is no such thing as a national hate-speech law in the United States. The courts have ruled on what goes beyond acceptable speech, such as falsely crying "fire" in a theater or other public place. The news media can be sued for knowingly publishing or broadcasting false information.

President Bush, while urging the governments of the Islamic world to curb the violence protesting the cartoons, also urged the news media to be responsible.

"We believe in a free press. We also recognize that with freedom come responsibilities. With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."

Some in the West, including Denmark's prime minister, have suggested that Muslims can use Western institutions to their advantage. They say Muslims have every right to take the newspapers that published the cartoons to court, for defaming their religion. In France, a Muslim association announced Friday it would do just that.