A Feb. 5 article on local Muslims' reaction to the controversy over the publication of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad included this quotation from someone offended by the cartoons: "Technically, you have the right to walk into a crowded theater and yell, 'Fire!' But is that responsible?" The speaker's remark may have left the impression that there are no limits on free speech, but the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment right to free speech does not apply in all situations. A 1919 ruling stated, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."
Area Muslims React With Tempered Anger
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Wearing a brown golf cap against the cold drizzle, Rocky Omary stood outside Walima Cafe in Falls Church, where he and about 50 other men of Middle Eastern descent had just watched the Tunisian soccer team take a drubbing from the Nigerians.
That trouncing was bad enough. But Omary had other, more disturbing, insults on his mind: specifically, the recent publication in European newspapers of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist.
"I've been getting a lot of e-mails about it, and I'm distributing them all," said Omary, a Damascus native who sells real estate in Northern Virginia. "There is a limit to freedom. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Let's have some respect."
A few miles away at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling, Zaki Al Barzinji, 16, was equally upset.
"Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should say something," the teenager said. "If somebody showed a picture of the pope with a bomb on his head, that would cause a great public outcry. Nobody would be talking about freedom of speech."
Washington area Muslims say they are closely following the furor in Europe and other parts of the world sparked by the cartoons, which first appeared in Denmark and Norway. In interviews yesterday, they expressed anger and hurt feelings. And although they said they recognized the value of freedom of speech, they said the freedom must be matched with respect and responsibility.
"Technically, you have the right to walk into a crowded theater and yell 'Fire,' " said Uzma Unus, 34, a teacher in Sterling who is also vice president of ADAMS. "But is that responsible?"
Several were critical of the violent reactions of some Muslims in Europe and the Middle East. The better way to respond, they added, is through dialogue and peaceful protests, such as the recently launched boycott of Danish dairy products.
"We don't want what is happening in Europe . . . to cross over to the United States," ADAMS Deputy Imam Sheikh Rashid Lamptey told about 150 men and women attending midday prayers. "We want to conduct [our protests] in a very orderly way."
The cartoons, including one showing Muhammad with a bomb in his head covering, have drawn escalating outrage from Muslims in England, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and in the Palestinian territories.
Yesterday, crowds in Syria set fire to the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish embassies. And, according to a wire report, a radical Islamic preacher in Lebanon demanded that the Danish editor who first printed the cartoons be killed.
Such reactions are "not warranted," said Robert Marro of Great Falls, who was attending prayers at ADAMS. Europeans could have defused the situation by apologizing instead of staking out a hard-line position of upholding free speech, he said.