Maybe we should be careful about making common cause with born-again free speech advocates who never showed any tolerance for it until it became a handy club for bashing Muslims.

Before the furor over the Danish cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad cools into caricature itself - as in, "Remember when all those Muslims went nuts over a bunch of political cartoons?" - and becomes one more convenient example of the cultural superiority of the West, to be pulled out whenever the "clash of civilizations" needs stoking, I'd like to quote Ann Coulter.

I don't do this lightly, but, like Pat Robertson, she's helpful at making hidden agendas grotesquely explicit. I'd also like to note that I found the link to her column on the Web site of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which apparently believes the appropriate reaction to offensive material is to expose, not censor, it. The council also condemned violence and hosted a forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., titled "Religious and Political Perspectives on the Cartoon Controversy." Panel discussions on tolerance! How did that fail to make the headlines?

Indeed, anyone who takes the trouble to look beyond the media stereotypes will find that the reaction of American Muslims to an incident that was deeply offensive to them was nonetheless quintessentially civilized. For instance:

"This entire sad episode goes well beyond the old debate over freedom of expression and political correctness. It all boils down to respect," Zeinab Schwen, chair of the Cincinnati Committee of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, wrote recently in the Cincinnati Enquirer. ". . . Freedom of the press should never be about using the power of the press or airwaves to ridicule and humiliate the faith of others."

That's one perspective. Here's another:

"The 'offense to Islam' ruse is merely an excuse for Muslims to revert to their default mode: rioting and setting things on fire. These people have a serious anger management problem. . . .

"If you don't want to get shot by the police, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then don't point a toy gun at them. Or, as I believe our motto should be after 9/11: Jihad monkey talks tough; jihad monkey takes the consequences. Sorry, I realize that's offensive. How about 'camel jockey'? What? Now what'd I say? Boy, you tent merchants sure are touchy. Grow up, would you?"

That was Coulter, of course - America's own Julius Streicher - announcing that it's safe to be a racist again. Here's where it gets scary.

Yeah, the cartoon riots are insane, but consider the sequence of events. Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons on Sept. 30. The embassies didn't start burning until February. It took four months for the enemies to find each other - and make no mistake, the enemies in question are fundamentalist extremists on both sides, who fuel each other's passions and need one another to justify their existence.

This is not about out-of-control Muslims. It's about maniacs who want to taste more blood. In the same column in which she chides Muslims for their "anger management problems," Coulter screeches: "Perhaps we could put aside our national, ongoing, post-9/11 Muslim butt-kissing contest and get on with the business at hand: Bombing Syria back to the stone age and then permanently disarming Iran."

This is one step away from calling for a Permanent Solution. Like Streicher, the Nazi propagandist who was hanged at Nuremberg, Coulter is a high-profile, unrestrained popularizer of hate and fear, passions that are extremely useful to the governing party. This should give all of us serious pause.

Her words put the cartoon "controversy" in a context that Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois suggested last summer, at great political cost. Referring to an FBI document describing the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Durbin said: "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings."

The pen is mightier than not only the sword, but also the genital electrode. Streicher peppered his pornographic rag, Der Sturmer, with slogans such as "The Jews are our misfortune." Coulter and her ilk push the same buttons, and they're no longer on the social margins. The fear-hate continuum has plenty of cachet right now.

The dark human impulse toward genocide needs only a focus. Right now, Muslims are "it." It's OK to torture them because they've already been dehumanized en masse. Anything could follow.

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at © 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.