Muslims have every right to believe that nobody should caricature Mohammed, and presumably Muslims don’t do such things. However they have no right to stop anyone else from producing cartoons, commenting on the age of Mohammed’s wives (whatever his relationship with them), or saying whatever else they wish on the subject. You cannot enforce the strictures of your faith on non-believers. The World is not a religiously ordered society. That may come when you die, or not, we’ll find out soon enough.
So I don’t agree with the protestors who have sparked such concern, and I think they are very foolish indeed to appear to be threatening violence. In general, it is dangerous to prosecute people for what they write or say, but there does seem to me a case that some may have had an intent to incite violence, which can be dealt with without any new illiberal anti-terrorist laws. But a real sense of proportion is needed here, and we have to aim off for those used to a political culture where extreme language is more acceptable but not literally meant. It seems to me the use of police cautions might be sensible at this stage.
It is particularly important that this is not used to build up steam behind Tony Blair’s ridiculous proposal to ban Hizb-ut-Tehrir. That organisation remains key in that it has the most fundamentalist Islamic views, many of which I personally dislike, but actively preach non-violence at that end of the religious spectrum.
Unfortunately, voices of tolerance on all sides are going to be in short supply in the mainstream punditry in the next few days. Religion still can be manipulated to bring out the worst in people, but we should not forget that it operates more effectively in doing precisely the opposite.
Craig Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who resigned after protesting the US/British policy of sending prisoners to that country to be tortured.