Muslims around the world have stunned me with their violent and misguided reaction to the recent publications of Muhammad cartoons in European newspapers.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read in a San Francisco Chronicle article that people protesting the caricature in Damascus were chanting, “Our beloved bin Laden, Denmark must be blown up!” or that several Arab nations are boycotting European goods. The thing that shook me the most about the article was a quote by an imam in Nablus who said, “If they want a war of religions, we are ready.”

Talk about an overreaction.

Political and religious cartoons are an everyday occurrence in Western media. Think about all of the Bush cartoons out there. If our government reacted in the same way that the imam in Nablus did, we’d be preparing to go to war against every country in the world!

I’m not in any way trying to sound insensitive to Muslims. One of the cartoons was of a man with a turban and bomb on his head. The image doesn’t exactly portray Muhammad’s message of peace, and it seems only natural that Muslims would be offended and protest. However, there are both peaceful and violent ways of protesting, and it’s pretty clear that the Muslim world has chosen to take the latter.

I have some advice for the protesters: take a long, slow breath and relax! The newspapers of Europe weren’t out to declare war against Muslims when they printed those cartoons.

It surprises me that Muslims in Europe are reacting this way considering the European media’s reputation of being racy and gauche, even compared to American standards. A political cartoon of Muhammad wouldn’t seem to be taboo in Europe considering that littered throughout the continent’s magazines are provocative pictures of nude women.

Muslims who feel that they’ve been offended should boycott the newspaper and demand an apology. Threatening the lives of Europeans and demanding government intervention, however, is not only misguided anger, but cements one of the fundamental differences between Western and Muslim lines of thinking – the right to free speech. I applaud the newspapers and governments who understand this and stand resolute in the face of bomb-threats and lawsuits.

Andrew Levine is a reporter for the Daily Nexus.