As I've written before, its more or less untenable to claim that the Jyllands-Posten cartoons are racist. Indeed, this criticisms seems to have more or less dropped out of the public discourse in the last few days; now people seem to be saying that the cartoons should not have been because they are "deliberately offensive" or "gratuitously offensive."
The first of these objections simply does not make sense. I find President Bush's crazed fundamentalism offensive (lets ban human animal hybrids, because its wrong to mess with God's creation); others seem to find Brokeback Mountain offensive. I'll add to that that I find dumb questions about infinity offensive, ok? There is often no way for you to make a controversial political or artistic statement that will leave people unoffended. Whats next, arguments that The Satanic Verses should not have been published because its offensive to Muslims?
The second of these objections makes a bit more sense. People defend the The Satanic Verses because, while offensive to many, it has other benefits - ideas that simply cannot be conveyed without trampling on the religious figures some hold dear. Is the same true of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons? Those who say it isn't so argue that the cartoons are only meant to offend.
The problem is that nothing that I have seen in this debate undermines the original reasons for the publication of these cartoons. Quoting Jyllands-Posten,
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him.Every word of this has proven true in the recent debate; and every word has only highlighted why the publication of the cartoons was necessary, contradicting the claims that the offense was gratuitous. To put it bluntly, we cannot have a democratic, free society when one group attempts to violently coerce everyone else into silence when discussion turns to its holy cows. The controversy over the publication of the cartoons, the torchings of the Danish embassies all over the Middle East, only prove the point that is being made here: that the fundamentals of democratic society is Europe are weak, and that unless change occurs a de facto quasi-censorship will soon emerge.
Update: at Left2Right, Jamie Tappenden gives an excellent exposition of the intrinsic worth of the caroons.