“As we trace the genius of a nation by their taste in poetry and music, so by their encouragement of these we may judge of their rise or fall; good authors have never been wanting in happy climes. Barbarism begins her reign by banishing the Muses. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!”

So wrote Philip Dormer Stanhope, the Earl of Chesterfield, in 1749 in a preface to a pamphlet of his speech in the House of Lords against the proposed Act for Licensing the Stage, an act supported by politicians who were being mocked in theaters by satire to the applause of an appreciative public.

In a not so coincidental dovetailing of events, a bill to regulate “hate speech” is at present being debated in the British parliament that would make it a criminal offense to publicly disparage any creed or set of religious beliefs, in addition to “inciting” violence via words or pictures against members of any race or religious sect. Ostensively, the bill is aimed at Muslims who call for jihad in Britain; in effect, it will silence anyone who questions or criticizes any creed or system of beliefs. The bill aims to suppress the provocation of thugs and rioters by gagging those who would call them thugs and rioters.

It will silence everyone but the Muslims.

At the same time, the Muslim “furor” over the publication and republication in Danish and European newspapers of cartoons that caricature Mohammed, whose depiction in any form is regarded as blasphemy, shocked many Westerners from their multicultural apathy. The one cartoon that seems to have touched the Muslim nerve — shall we call it “sensitivity”? — shows the head of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a lit-fuse bomb. This was a caricature that summed up the thousands of murders and scale of destruction wrought by Islamic “martyrs” and jihadists over the past thirty years. It was an astute, stylistic observation, a justifiable estimate of the means and ends of Islamic fascism.

The pit felt at the bottom of many stomachs over this new demand of the Muslims is fear: fear of mindless retribution, of death and destruction. It causes those who feel it to shut up in the name of “respect” for Muslim beliefs. This is the true nature of the “respect” of major American news organizations, such as CBS, when it refused to show a single cartoon.

The pit felt at the bottom of other stomachs is resolve, of a determination to stand up now for the freedom to say what one thinks, with the knowledge that if the West capitulates to Muslim demands, it will have surrendered the key freedom that permits the fight for all the other freedoms. Many European newspapers have defied Muslim “sensibilities” and reprinted the cartoons.

Islamic spokesmen called this action a “provocation.” But what is it that is being “provoked”? Violence. Property destruction. Kidnappings. Murders. The initiation of physical force and terror. All in the name of Mohammed and Allah. Hardly the behavior of a “pacific” religion that would persuade one that it just wants to “get along.”

Implied in the claim that images of Mohammed constitute blasphemy, is that anyone who creates such an image is guilty of blasphemy. What the Muslims are demanding is that non-Muslims accept that religious tenet. Thus, “respect” by non-Muslims of the tenet, at the price of surrendering the right to criticize Islam, means virtual conversion to Islam, a major step in the direction of actual conversion.

Islamists see the implications of multiculturalism and “diversity” much better than do the advocates and practitioners of these secular “creeds.” Islamists are infamous for not subscribing to multiculturalism and diversity. They might claim that it is not conversion they seek, but “respect.” But if one does not “respect” a belief, it is one’s right to question it, or to criticize it in a book, essay, speech, or cartoon. However, if one “respects” it, then it becomes a taboo subject, off limits to reasoned enquiry and civil discussion. One tells oneself: I have no right to say anything about it. And if one is prohibited, under penalty of prosecution, intimidation, or physical violence, from saying or writing anything about it, then there is no reason or point to thinking of it, either.

What a formula for thought control!

The Islamists know it. Most Western intellectuals and politicians do not.

It is time that Muslims here and abroad got used to “offensive” portrayals of Mohammed, and, for good measure, of Allah himself. After all, no one is forcing them to look at the cartoons. The West regularly shrugs off the pictorial vilification of Western institutions, culture, creeds, persons and icons. Anyone familiar with the Arab press and Arab websites will note how vicious Muslim cartoonists are.

That would be a fair trade, would it not, an exercise in mutual “tolerance” and good will? One might say that the solution to the problem is reciprocity. The Arab press can publish vicious cartoons of the West, and the West can publish mildly “offensive” cartoons about Islam.

But it is not an issue of reciprocity. Reciprocity is not in the Islamic agenda. “Islam” means “submission,” and it is submission its ill-willed mullahs and imams demand in exchange for the “peace” of intellectual torpidity in their rank and file followers, as well as in the West. Islam is by its very nature intolerant of other creeds and requires absolute, mindless obedience of Allah and compliance with the prophet’s commandments. It cannot be “reformed” as Christianity has been. Even the new Pope, Benedict XVI, has conceded that. There are no concessions Islam could possibly make without triggering its self-destruction. Fundamentally, there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim or a “civilized” Islam, not when the core beliefs of the Koran and commands of the Hadith sanction the murder and enslavement of non-Muslims in an on-going jihad that will end only with the establishment of a global caliphate.

Islamic spokesman claim that they do not seek to crush freedom of speech or expression, only to put “limits” on it. Ultimately, however, any “limit” on speech means no expression, no freedom to say what one thinks must be said. It means not reaching a conclusion, and settling for only half a syllogism, or none at all. It means that an idea has been removed from debate, discussion, and criticism.

This is a defining moment for the West. It must either speak up in defense and in bold, unapologetic assertion of the idea of freedom of speech, or forever cringe in “respect” of Islamic tenets, much as in the film The Godfather, the favor-seeking mortician cringed when gangster Vito Corleone accused him of not granting him “respect.” The fearful mortician immediately offered his respect and submission. He was seeking mere vengeance; Corleone required submission and acknowledgement of his power.

This will logically require the ultimate scrapping of another “belief” system, that of multiculturalism and diversity, and their recognition as fatal fallacies.

Ever since the Renaissance the genius of the West has been a commitment to the freedom of men to question the moral claims of others. Reason has always settled the question. Islamists are demanding that the West banish the Muse of Reason. Let those who have ears, hear that demand and understand its fundamental requirement. And let those who understand it, speak now, or forever maintain a “respectful” silence.