It was front-page news in May 2005 when Newsweek magazine retracted a report claiming that a U.S. interrogator in Guantanamo had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Everywhere it was noted that Newsweek's inaccurate story had sparked widespread Muslim rioting, in which at least 17 people were killed. When Newsweek's error was revealed, a chorus of condemnation was directed not at the killers and the fanatics who had incited them -- Pakistani imam Mohammad Hanif, for instance, had said that the alleged Koran-flushers "should be killed in public so that no one can dare to insult Islam and its sacred symbols" -- but at Newsweek.
From the White House down, the magazine was denounced -- for running an item it should have known might prove incendiary, for relying on a questionable source, for its animus toward the military and the war. Over and over, Newsweek was blamed for the riots' death toll. Conservative pundits in particular piled on. ''Newsweek lied, people died" was the headline on Michelle Malkin's popular website. At NationalReview.com, Paul Marshall of Freedom House fumed: ''What planet do these [Newsweek] people live on?... Anybody with a little knowledge could have told them it was likely that people would die as a result of the article." All of Marshall's choler was reserved for Newsweek; he had no criticism at all for the marauders in the Muslim street.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for her part, announced at a Senate hearing that she had a message for ''Muslims in America and throughout the world." That message did not suggest that decent people ought not resort to murder merely because someone has offended their religious sensibilities; nor did it suggest that the primitive bloodlust raging in Afghanistan and Pakistan was evidence of the Muslim world's dysfunctional political culture. Rather, she stressed that ''disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States."
But in fact, what disgraces Islam above all is its hair-trigger readiness to erupt with violent indignation at even the barest perceived insult -- whether real or imagined. By contrast, Christians, Jews, and Buddhists do not lash out in rage when their religion is insulted. They do not call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain.
The vast majority of the planet's Muslims say nothing and do nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. Nor do they support the courageous few who dare to raise their voices in protest. For example, when Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, called on Muslims and Middle Easterners to ''converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism" -- only 50 people attended.
The reluctance of Muslims to speak out against the atrocities committed in the name of their faith is rooted in the historical reality that, from the earliest years of Islam, its political and religious leaders have worked in tandem to impose their consensus on all Muslims; those who have questioned their authority have paid a steep price.
Adapted from "Why Islam Is Disrespected," by Jeff Jacoby (May 20, 2005), and "A Muslim's Apology," by Salim Mansur (October 4, 2006).