Dear Sir, ONE of the first lessons I received as a very junior reporter on a local weekly was, “Remember whatever you write will be offensive to someone.” At the time I was covering nothing more contentious than the local magistrates court and the occasional funeral, but the injunction was one I never forgot.

Often the value of a free Press is measured as much by what it doesn't print as that which appears in its columns. But, as a counterpoint, the news media should not be cowered into self–censorship by suppressing coverage of issues simply because they might offend some sensibilities. We might never know why the UK media - with the notable exceptions of BBC2 Newsnight and Channel 4 News - took the multilateral decision (so far) not to reproduce copies in their print editions of the Danish magazine's cartoons depicting Mohammed disparagingly, when facsimiles were appearing in publications throughout Europe. I prefer to think it was a responsible judgement call by editors and not a collective attack of the vapours, borne from a fear of reprisal, harassment and intimidation. As your columnist Ray Fleming fairly argues, newspapers have a duty to exercise proper judgement and considered restraint, irrespective of their right to publish and damn others. But Mr. Fleming, too, might be well advised to practise more of what he preaches and act with a better sense of editorial responsibility, never more so than in his incessant apologia for all things Islamic, serial omissions of equivalence and imbalanced selectivity. Commentating on facts is one thing; suppressing the facts that don't suit the argument is entirely another. So he might like to dwell on the following... To quote a Times leader of last Friday, “The anger directed at these cartoons by certain Muslims would carry more weight if pictures that crudely insult Jews and Christians were not found regularly in the Middle East. To contend that faiths of many forms merit a degree of deference, but not absolute protection, is one notion. To insist that this principle be applied selectively is another, quite indefensible, assertion.” Less than a month earlier, a letter published in the same newspaper from a group of prominent British Muslim groups defended Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, in his assertion that homosexuality was “harmful”. They wrote that “All Britons, whether they are in favour of homosexuality or not, should be allowed to freely express their views in an atmosphere free of intimidation or bullying. We cannot claim to be a truly free and open society while we are trying to silence dissenting views.” In their considerable efforts to try and understand Islam as many of us are at pains to do Westerners are continually confounded by the contradictions this religion poses and many of its followers' adherence to the psychosis of victimhood. Spokespersons, representing what claims to be the “moderate” mainstream, insist Islam preaches universal peace, tolerance for non–believers' rights and does not seek supremacy, while, simultaneously, “extremist” proponents attack Western cities, their citizens, their institutions and values, invoking the very same dogma. Yet, as the furious and arguably disproportionate overreaction to the cartoons illustrates from demonstrations demanding the beheading of journalists, attacks on Western diplomatic missions, kidnapping and death threats to EU nationals in Arab lands to flag–burnings and the boycotting of Lurpak it is little wonder even many liberal–minded Europeans ask: Has Islam been entirely hijacked by extremists and/or are these incandescent outpourings a reflection of mainstream Islam and, if so, how much of our hard–won freedoms must be sacrificed to placate them?

Mr. Fleming pleads for reasoned argument to be interposed “if criticism of the Muslim world is called for”, yet he manifestly fails to recommend the same recourse to those who take the right to protest well beyond the limits of acceptable margins. His stark lack of comment embracing equivalence and balance brings to mind something about pots and kettles, but - to echo Voltaire - I would tell him, I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Hugh Ash, Portals Nous
Letter reply
RAY Fleming replies: “I do not want to dispute Mr Ash's contention that I am sometimes selective in what I write about Islam and its relations with the West. But so is he. In some 300 words about the difficulty Westerners find what they consider to be Islam's “adherence to the psychosis of victimhood” I looked in vain for any reference to the probable cause of this psychosis. The Middle East has been the political playground of the West for at least the last eighty years; regimes have been overthrown, supported, abandoned according to the priorities of the great powers without regard to the rights of the people of the region. Can anyone wonder that the Palestinians have an acute sense of victimhood? Why is there no mention of the Iraq war in Mr Ash's letter? An illegal war started on false grounds, causing countless casualties among Iraqis and unlikely to produce any of the results promised for it. Are the Iraqis not victims? I could go on. Criticism of Muslims is to be found everywhere and I do not need to add to it every time I write on the subject. But understanding of Islam is hard to find and I believe it is necessary to try to balance things out, because if we continue the way we are going there will be an almighty clash of civilisations before very long.