Islamic fundamentalism is a dark cloud hanging over Europe and the West, it is a cancer eating away at our democratic and liberal values, free speech being one of the most important, a valued right we will not easily give up, no matter what the threats and intimidation.
A Danish paper publishes a cartoon of the prophet. That it has caused offence, there can be no doubt, although the question to be asked is how many of those who have taken offence have actually seen the cartoon.
At the root (of the alleged offence) is the edict that the prophet may not be displayed. This edict comes from two sources, the nub being idolatry. The Old Testament (a book common to the Jews, Christians and Muslims) forbids the worship of graven images. The writings of the prophet say if you have a picture in the house, angels will not visit the house.
It is interpretation that takes it to its present sense.
Whether the offence was intended, is probably a moot point.
Had the cartoon showed the prophet with trotters and a pig-like face, then it could be said offence was intended.
It is a tradition of western society to satirise.
Two summers ago I was at a church event. During the evening was a sketch taking the piss out of Christianity and the one God. This wasn't some anti-Christian group who were attacking the church, it was the churchgoers themselves who had sufficient strength of faith that they could poke fun at themselves. Not so long ago, they would have been hauled up for their blasphemous behaviour.
Muslims complain that the cartoon caused offence, that it ridiculed Muslims, that it defamed the character of all Muslims.
The background to publication of the cartoon is that a Danish publisher of a book on Islam and the prophet was unable to find an illustrator. No one dared illustrate the book for fear of their life.
If someone holds a deeply held belief, that is their choice, so long as it does not impeded on the rest of society, they are doing little harm, apart from perhaps to themselves and their nearest and dearest.
One may hold a deeply held belief that the earth is flat and we are all descended from aliens who live on the far side of the moon. If so, you may well be humiliated and upset every time a picture of the earth as a sphere is shown. Beliefs defy logic and rational explanation, as does offence to those beliefs.
In the Middle East cartoons are published which depict Jews as hook-nosed evil monsters. These are deliberately designed to cause offence, worse still, are intended to stir up racial tensions and hatred.
Muslims complain that the cartoons exaggerate Muslims, show them as religious bigots, consumed with hatred, suicide bombers.
It does not need a cartoon to do this, Muslims manage quite well to do this all on their own.
We only have to look at a few examples which are an offence to the human race, let alone portray Muslims as religious fascists.
The burning down of three Scandinavian embassies over the weekend in two Arab countries. Further attacks on embassies on Monday.
Hate-filled Muslims on the streets, not just in the Middle East and Pakistan, but also London, calling for beheading and massacres, extermination of those who do not share their intolerant world-view.
It was Muslim suicide bombers who carried out the Tube bombings in London on 7 July 2005. The same for the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Thousands of innocent people killed, many of those killed, themselves Muslims.
Public executions, beheadings, which are shown on television. Suicide attacks glorified on television, even showing the mutilated bodies and body parts.
During the Iran-Iraq War, young Persian men, often no more than boys, were driven by clerics into the minefields with the promise that death meant instant martyrdom and entry to heaven. They even carried with them into the minefields the keys to heaven.
Co-ordinated attacks on churches in Iraq.
Intolerance of different Muslim sects of each other. Attacks on Sunnis, attacks on Shias, especially places of worship.
Calls for women who commit adultery to be executed, for gays to be executed.
When brave Muslims speak out against this intolerance, especially the treatment of women, they too are are targeted, have death threats made against them.
A member of the Dutch Parliament, herself a Muslim, was forced into hiding with 24-hour round-the-clock protection, when she spoke out against the treatment of women.
Those who speak out, who are not Muslim, are at best accused of being Islamaphobic, at worst beaten and killed.
Unlike several European newspapers, no British newspaper has reproduced the cartoons. This is not because the do not believe in free speech as strongly as their counterparts on the continent, it is because they fear the consequences, the violent backlash.
A newspaper editor in Jordan, himself a Muslim, reproduced the cartoons. He did so in order that his readers could see what all the fuss was about, what he regarded as an over-reaction. He expected a few angry letters from his readers, what he did not expect was to be sacked.
Two Jordanian newspaper editors are now facing prosecution.
What next, scantily dressed white girls attacked because it offends the Muslim sense of dress code? It is already happening, not in the streets of Pakistan or in a Mosque, but on the streets of Leeds and Bradford.
Salman Rushdie had his books burnt. Not because he is a crap writer, who offends literary sensibilities, but because Muslims didn't like what he wrote.
Are we to all live in fear?
Are we to practice self-censorship, as has the British press?
It is not only Muslims, there is a general rise of religious intolerance. Something that we thought had long been defeated.
The Catholic Church has backed the Muslims in their criticism of the cartoons. Is this because they agree, or because the Church too wants to roll back to the Middle Ages?
The Church has carried out its share of killings and mutilations, burnings at the stake, for heresy. Offering death to anyone who offends, who dares to hold a contrary view.
The Church, in particular the Catholic Church, has been highly critical of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Critical because it says things the church does not want to hear.
Although a novel, Brown draws on historical record. A historical record that does not accord with faith, therefore must be suppressed.
The film of the novel is due to be released this year. The studio is very tight-lipped about the content of the film. The fear of fans of the book is that the studio has bowed to pressure from fundamentalist Christians.
When filming took place at Lincoln Cathedral, a nun mounted a silent vigil outside. She did so because she felt the book to be blasphemous. That was her right. She did not engage in violence, threaten to burn the Cathedral down, issue death threats against the Bishop who authorised the use of the Cathedral as a film set for what many Christians view as a blasphemous book.
In the US, apart from Big Business, the backing for Bush comes from Christian fundamentalists.
A play in Birmingham was stormed by Sikh extremists, because they did not like the plot.
In the US abortion clinics are shut down, medical practitioners threatened with violence, and in some cases murdered.
Any criticism of Israel is met with cries of anti-semitism.
When John Pilger produced a documentary on Israeli policies in occupied Palestine, he and his staff with inundated with hate mail. Most of which originated in New York, where the documentary had not been screened.
Was it acceptable at the weekend demonstrations in London for people to be dressed as suicide bombers, to praise the suicide bombers of last July who caused carnage of innocent people on the London Underground and on the streets of London, to incite murder?
On Monday, one of the young men dressed as a suicide bomber, admitted that what he did was wrong, and issued a public apology. It was later revealed he was a convicted drugs dealer released early on parole.
Even more worrying, the lax attitude of the Police. Had this been an a march of anarchists, of any group of people protesting the war in Iraq, or any other of Blair's policies, we know what the reaction would be.
You cannot read out the war dead in Iraq outside Downing Street without risking arrest.
Rather belatedly, the police on Monday said they would be forming a special squad to investigate the weekend protesters. Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?
We live in a tolerant society, but what we cannot tolerate is religious bigots and fantastics, who if we let them, will strip away all our freedoms.
In Nazi Germany, everyone remained silent. They remained silent, so that when they came for us, there was no one left to protest.
The Clash of Civilisations is not between the West and Islam, as that is to over-simplify and to play into the hands of the extremists.
The Clash of Civilisations is between a liberal, enlightened world that believes in human rights and free speech and an intolerant, dark, Satanic world of religious bigots and the fascism of religious fundamentalism.
Early January, Chanel 4 showed an excellent two-part documentary by Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene) on belief and religious fundamentalism. That were are sleep-walking into an intolerant world and his two-part documentary was intended as a wake-up call.
Is it already too late?
I watched the second part with a Muslim friend who grew up in Iran. Her only observation was to comment 'A very brave man.'
The curse of the twentieth century was the twin evils of Fascism and Communism. Is the evil of the twenty-first century to be the totalitarian evil all encompassing embrace of religious fundamentalism?