Washington on Friday condemned caricatures in European newspapers of the Prophet Mohammad, siding with Muslims who are outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion.
By inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States could help its own battered image among Muslims.
"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
"We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices," he added.
Major U.S. publications have not republishing the cartoons, which include depictions of Mohammad as a terrorist. That is in contrast to European media, which responded to the criticism against the original Danish newspaper that printed the caricatures by republishing the offensive images themselves.
Perhaps this is just payback for European non-support on other topics, but I think it's a dreadful mistake.
UPDATE: Reader John Friedman emails: "I'm sorry. Did I miss the State Dept. analysis of 'Piss Christ?' Perhaps you could link to it."
I'm sorry, but the lesson here is that if you want to be listened to, you should blow things up. That's a very bad incentive structure, but it's the one the allegedly responsible parties have created.
Related thoughts from Sissy Willis. Meanwhile, a reader from Belgium emails:
On the "dreadful mistake bit". Of course we Europeans (I am Belgian) have only ourselves to blame but Americans have to understand how fearful we are becoming of this violent minority in our midst. Muslims are already a majority in the lowest age groups in several large European cities. The potential for civil war is clearly there and what is even more worrysome is the dedication of most our governments to appeasement.
For the US State dept to seize this opportunity to burnish its image with the "muslim community" was only to be expected however and I am pretty sure that this is exactly the kind of noise our governments would want to hear from the US at this stage. So no harm done to us in any case. It will gain you zero goodwill from the fanatics, but it will not harm us. I do hope however that nobody at State dept really thinks that the fanatics have to be appeased and that those caricatures should not have been published. *That* would be a mistake of the first magnitude.