With a warning not to view the intoonfada through simple clash-of-civilization lenses, Daniel Pipes points the wayback machine to the era of Salman Rushdie:
It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.
Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini "completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that "the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such "excesses in the freedom of expression."
In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inönü, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that "killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a "terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses "a great service."
Maybe my memories of 1989 are getting misty and water-colored. (Batwing blouses! Frank Bruno! "My Prerogative!" Wine Coolers! Pineapple Face! The Diceman!) But I remember that even back then it was obvious the west wasn't standing solidly against the edict. In addition to the notorious examples of John Le Carre, Germaine Greer, Roald Dahl, and other cultural bigwigs, there was an openly feckless response from western governments; as Pipes himself points out in his history of the Rushdie affair, our neighbors to the north even banned the book for a short time.
The response to the cartoon flap, by comparison, has been much stronger, which is why I think there's reason for optimism. Pipes' warning about glib references to the Clash of Civilizations is important, and in fact even most prominent Muslim leaders have been issuing pro-forma admonitions about avoiding violence and protesting respectfully. Whether those are sincere or not, they at least show some acceptance of civilized norms of behavior, which is another big contrast with the situation in 1989.
Interestingly, I came across a weirdly prescient comment Rushdie made in the nineties:
"When it's Danish feta cheese or Irish halal beef against the European Convention on Human Rights, don't expect free expression to win."
Back in August, Shikha Dalmia interviewed Rushdie right here at Reason.