Praised for it (and probably pressurised) by the Blair-Brown government, the British press has unanimously refused to let its readers see the "Muhammad cartoons" in the row which fills its front pages. We do not believe that religious authorities should decide what can or can't be published, and so republish the cartoons.
To see the cartoons, click here.
To Muslim workers and young people who are not admirers of the Saudi hierarchy or of the political Islamists like Al Muhajiroun (who have organised the anti-cartoon demonstrations in London), we say: free speech is vital for democracy, for social change, for the possibility of challenging what has been laid down by established authorities.
It is also vital for clearly-defined minority opinions of any sort.
Freedom, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, is always and exclusively the freedom of the one who thinks differently. Freedom only for those who think much the same as the authorities - or freedom only for those who do not offend, annoy, and irritate entrenched authorities - is no freedom at all.
We protest against the suppression of these cartoons on the same grounds as we protested against the suppression of the play Bezhti (written by a Sikh, but offensive to conservative Sikh authorities) or the attempts of some Christians to suppress "Jerry Springer - the Opera".
By publishing these cartoons, we are not by any means endorsing their content, certainly not the content of all of them. Some of them are from a reactionary viewpoint, and at least one of them - the image of the turban/bomb - suggests that all Muslims are terrorists, a vile view which can only fuel racism. We want to make it very clear that we strongly reject the notion that all Muslims are somehow responsible for Islamist terrorism, and that we militantly oppose anti-Muslim racism. But we are printing the cartoons in order to reiterate the basic idea that freedom of expression must include freedom to be offensive - and our conviction that, in refusing to reprint them, the British press is undermining free debate on these issues.
We defend the freedom of Muslims to practise their religion. We oppose any persecution of Muslims for being Muslims.
Only, we demand the same freedom for all religions, and for the anti-religious too.
To return Europe to the times when Christian authorities had a very big, sometimes decisive, say in what could be said and published, would be very bad (for Muslims, too!) In many countries those times are not so long ago. In Britain, where the hold of the religious authorities on politics has been weakening for centuries, there is still a law banning "blasphemy" against the Christian religion.
It would scarcely be better to have the big religious authorities in each country - Christian, Muslim, maybe Hindu - helping each other get sufficient power that they can jointly prohibit whatever is uncongenial to any one of them, thus marginalising minority religious views and the anti-religious.
We recommend readers also to look at:
This blog by a secular-minded Saudi, in which he argues that the whole "scandal" is a beat-up by the corrupt Saudi authorities. (Images of Muhammad are offensive? Then why aren't the boycotts directed against... the Islamic Republic of Iran, where pictures of Muhammad are commonplace).
Article in the Guardian explaining how the row has been deliberately built up by conservative Islamists and the Saudi authorities since the cartoons were published last September (and why they were published in the first place).
Wikipedia's detailed account, with many links.