1. Should Muslims - or any other group - be protected from offence ?

No. Civilizational progress happens when individuals transgress, even blaspheme. Galileo offended the Church. So did Darwin.Spinoza offended rabbis. The concept of universal human rights offends most religions. Without offence, there is only silence - and therefore groupthink.

2. How did the manifesto come into being for you ?

The idea was brought to me by Caroline Fourest, an award-winning French journalist and author (and one of the signatories). Through my website, she followed the debates and dialogues I've been having with my readers about the cartoons -- and she noticed that I argue for freedom of expression based on the Quran itself.

For example, the Quran tells us that «there is no compulsion in religion». Which means that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as if they're sacred. Moreover, the Quran states that there will always be non-believers, and that it's up to God, not Muslims, to deal with them. So that when Muslims say «we would never depict the Prophet Muhammad this way,» I say that's your right. But according to our own holy book, non-Muslims have no obligation to abide by that tradition.

3. Why did I sign the manifesto ?

It's important for the public to know that even http://www.prochoix.org/cgi/blog/ecrire/images/bt_br.png
a faithful Muslim can support free expression. As I say on my site, Islam is important to me, yet I also know that nobody - neither a cartoonist nor a fundamentalist - can «humiliate» me without my permission.

4. In light of my security situation (bullet-proof windows at home, etc), did I agonize over the decision to sign ?

Despite an increase in threats to me, the decision was not difficult. I'm passionate about promoting democratic values over theocratic ones, and universal human rights over cultural relativism - the attitude that claims what's done in the name of a culture cannot be questioned, no matter how heinous it may be. Pluralism is not tantamount to «anything goes.» Tolerance of intolerance is a betrayal of our basic and shared humanity. __ 5. What has been the reaction so far in America ?__

The «blogosphere» (the world of web logs) has been running with this - and, for the most part, breathing a sigh of relief that silence is being broken over the need to address Islamist intimidation head-on.

On 25 February, the NY Times ran an editorial entitled «Silenced by Islmamist Rage.» They said, «It is time for moderate Muslims to abandon the illusion that they can placate the Islamists by straddling the fence... They must do so because their future is at stake - not Denmark's.» From what I could tell last night, that's a key message of many of the blogs writing about this manifesto.

6. What reaction do you expect from Muslims ?

I anticipate a mixed reaction from Muslims - hostility on the one hand (as one Muslim put it to me last week, «you and that bastard partner Rushdie») and gratitude on the other (I've received many, many emails from younger Muslims who want to reconcile religious belief to free expression). My expectation of a mixed reaction is good news -- only five years ago, such a manifesto would have been almost universally condemned by Muslims. Now, more and more reform-minded Muslims are discovering their voices.

7. Is this about a clash of civilizations ?

No, not in the sense of a showdown between «Islam» and «the West.» As I mentioned above, there are many in the new generation of Muslims who advocate free expression and are hungry to hear interpretations of Islam that put a premium, not a fatwa, on originality of thought. These young people are in the world of Islam, so the neat and tidy demarcation of Islam vs the West breaks down right there. That's why we make it clear in our manifesto that this is a battle between democrats and theocrats, examples of which can be found in both civilizations. That's also why we appeal to the «free spirits of all countries.»