Whether or not you buy Robert Wright's argument in the NYT that the cartoon riots are comparable to Watts in the 60s (I'm not at all convinced myself) he makes a strong case for not going overboard on the free speech issue:
Even many Americans who condemn the cartoon's publication accept the premise that the now-famous Danish newspaper editor set out to demonstrate: in the West we don't generally let interest groups intimidate us into what he called "self-censorship."
What nonsense. Editors at mainstream American media outlets delete lots of words, sentences and images to avoid offending interest groups, especially ethnic and religious ones. It's hard to cite examples since, by definition, they don't appear. But use your imagination.
Apart from Hugh Hewitt, most of the blogosphere seems to have taken a strident line that could be summarized as "We might as well get that clash of civilisations over and done with..." Tunku Varadarajan adminsters a rebuke in the Wall St Journal:
Ultimately, newspapers have stewardship responsibilities. That is what makes discourse civilized. It's a lot harder to manage ethical decisions when the constituency to consider is larger than one guy in his boxer shorts - blogging away in his own living room.
Below the belt (if you'll pardon the pun) but somebody had to say it. Varadarajan makes a persuasive case for everyone to cool it:
To the free-speech absolutists in the blogosphere, I say that making this episode the test of our Western manhood is not the right way to go -for a number of reasons... Freedom of speech and imagery is sacrosanct; but it is not compulsory. The First Amendment means that you can, but do not have to, exercise the freest lawful speech. It means that you are responsible for your speech, not the authorities. The absence of legal restrictions also means that institutional dispensers of speech--such as newspapers and TV channels--need to exercise their freedom wisely.
What does that wisdom involve in the current situation? The U.S. is fighting a propaganda war against bin Ladenism. Why hand our foes a gratuitous tactical advantage? Why not collectively deprive the enemy of a detonator?--not because we are forced to; not even because we agreee with or respect the rioters' values; but because we want to make it easier for moderates in the Muslim world (our allies) to take on the obscurantists.
Similar advice from the Huffington Post's. Zachary Karabell, author of a fine book on the making of the Suez Canal:
We have given the radicals exactly what they want and crave: free publicity and de facto validation as the voice of the silent millions who care more about what's for dinner than about what a Danish newspaper printed in its pages five months ago.