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U.S. must take firm stance with cartoon protesters

We do not negotiate with terrorists.

This is the stated policy of the United States. It is the standard response when a journalist or a Christian missionary is kidnapped by the Iraqi insurgency and threatened with death. It was reiterated when Osama Bin Laden insincerely and manipulatively “offered a truce” in a videotape revealed in January. When Hamas recently won power in the Palestinian government, President Bush made it clear how the United States deals with organizations they suspect to be affiliated with terrorism: “Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

But when extremist Muslims took to the streets this week in opposition to 12 cartoons run by Jyllands-Posten, the largest daily newspaper in Denmark, this policy was not restated.

The cartoons, one of which depicted the prophet Muhammad with a turban shaped like a bomb, were far less scathing than many satirical potshots at Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and other religious groups that have appeared in newspapers around the world. The response by extremist Muslims has been far more inflammatory than the cartoons themselves; quite literally so, as the extremists have been setting the Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus aflame (where the Norwegian embassy was stormed as well). These protestors glorify Sept. 11 and promise similar attacks in the future. They have made death threats and assaulted police. Iran has suspended all trade with Denmark over the controversy.

The list of repercussions goes on, but perhaps most telling are the signs some of these protestors hold up that read “Freedom Go to Hell,” along with other variations of that comment.

One wonders if the people holding those signs understand that they are using the freedom of expression to make their point.

These protests are not peaceful assemblages of concerned Muslims. They are groups that have engaged in and celebrated violent acts. Unfortunately, the White House did not respond to them by saying, “We do not negotiate with terrorists,” and applauding Jyllands-Posten for understanding the rights of a free press. White House Chief of Staff Scott McClellan said, “We understand fully why people, why Muslims, find the cartoons offensive.”

It seems that the White House is asserting that one can understand these protests. After all, there are definite differences to be resolved in what has become a clash of cultures between the West and the Middle East. These divergences run to the very heart of how society is viewed. As much as we consider it an infringement upon our way of life to be told “Freedom Go to Hell,” it is imaginable that Muslim nations feel the same way about Americans condoning potshots at what they consider to be most sacred. The White House seems to think it wise to be sympathetic to the idea that the cartoons are offensive.

Giving people the impression that the only speech that is acceptable is the speech that doesn’t offend anyone is simply a wrong and pathetic strategy. Those who cannot understand the difference between agreement with an idea and allowing the expression of that idea do not deserve to be understood or compromised with. Those who engage in violence, no matter how legitimate their gripe, deserve to be imprisoned. If one cannot live in a society while allowing for things they don’t agree with, one cannot live in a free society.

It is important to remember that there are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. Only a very small minority would agree with the method of these protestors. Avoidance of prejudicial anti-Muslim thinking is necessary. Equally as necessary, however, is the realization that it is our way of life that is at stake in this conflict. It is not the idea that the cartoons are offensive that is so threatening, but the idea that since they are offensive they should not be permitted.

It is for this reason that the United States cannot negotiate with terrorists. It is not their point of view that is at issue, for pluralism is the American way. It is the very reason they are terrorists – their willingness to engage in violence – that makes it completely fruitless and inappropriate for any nation to negotiate with them. The answer to negative speech is not limiting speech or engaging in violence, but more speech. The United States and Europe need to make it clear that only the grievances of peaceful protestors will be given attention. To the violent minority, the answer should be clear: We do not negotiate with terrorists. As to those who would restrict our liberty and say “Freedom Go to Hell,” they should be told to go to – well, you see where I’m going with this.

The cartoons may be offensive, they may be in bad taste, but when protestors ignore more civilized methods of dissent and engage in violence, they forfeit any right they had to amenity. As to attacks on our civil liberties, there should be no right to amenity in the first place.

Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.