Ladies, if you were at a social gathering and met a gentleman who refused to shake your hand because you are a woman, would you be offended? Well, don’t be. It’s only because he’s a Muslim.

And Professor, if you were giving a lecture on World History and one of your students jumped up in the middle of your class and began screaming death threats because you accurately quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor, would you be offended? Please, professor, relax. It’s only because that student is a Muslim.

My gay friends, let’s say you were at Harvard a few days ago, listening to Iran’s “moderate” former president Khatami answering a question about the government execution of homosexuals during his term in office. If you happened to hear Khatami say that executing homosexuals is appropriate in some cultures, well, I hope you weren’t offended. It’s not because he’s homophobic. It’s only because he’s Muslim.

It’s a shame that there are so many misunderstandings in the world today. We Americans turn on cable news and see thousands of Arab Muslims marching in the streets or gunning down nuns over a university lecture, and we tend to think the worst. We generalize about the state of Islam, or we make judgments about the sanity of Arab Muslim culture.

This is simply wrong. We shouldn’t be offended by our Muslim brothers. We should understand them.

For example, should the Pope be beheaded for criticizing Islam? That’s a silly question — almost as silly as “Should a cartoonist be beheaded for drawing Mohammad?” The real question isn’t “Why behead the Pope,” but rather, “Why not?”

OK, so it’s not how we would run a culture. But isn’t that what tolerance is all about? Respecting the way other people choose to run theirs?

After the Pope’s recent insensitivity, the head of the Organization of Islamic Councils — the world’s largest Muslim organization — announced that the Pope should never make any comments of any kind that might anger Muslims. Now, we could get hung up on Western ideals like free speech or open dialogue. Or we could find a way to respect alternative opinions, like the ideal of “beheading people for having opinions Muslims don’t like.”

Really, isn’t it rather close-minded of us to say that countries where women are forced to wear burkhas, or where homosexuals are beaten and imprisoned, are somehow “wrong?”

Our problem is our narrow-minded insistence that Western values are the right ones. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe an anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist theocracy might be a good thing? Hey, who are we to judge?

That’s why I have so much admiration for American liberals. They are the one group who has thus far managed to avoid knee-jerk judgmentalism when it comes to the modern Muslim world.

Why, the liberal New York Times was the very first American newspaper to condemn Pope Benedict XVI. When the Pope pointed out that Islam was, at one time, spread at the point of a sword, the Times immediately demanded a “deep and persuasive apology” for hurting Islamist feelings. Not because the Pope actually said anything that was in dispute (“Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!” —Ayatollah Khomeini) but because the truth itself was offensive.

Can the truth that hurts the feelings of a bunch of screaming, hate-filled, illiterate thugs really be the truth? Something to think about, isn’t it?

Now you might assume that, given the attitude of Islam towards women, gays, and academic freedom (Iran’s government just fired thousands of professors for being too liberal), the American Left would be leading the outrage parade on behalf of their core constituencies. After all, here in the U.S., liberals are the first to protest over the number of ladies’ rooms in public buildings or the reading of Heather Has Two Mommies at the local kindergarten.

And yet, it’s liberal academics and editorialists who are attacking the Pope, and when President Khatami came to Harvard, some of his more ardent defenders were liberal Jewish lesbians — all of whom would be sitting in Iranian prisons today under his regime.

Ah, but this is why I admire liberals so much. They are prepared to abandon their most heartfelt ideals in pursuit of that highest ideal of all, tolerance. And what could be more tolerant than accepting intolerance itself? Why, the more liberals defend homophobic, women-beating nun-killers, the more truly “liberal” they become!

Which leaves these New York Times liberals free to condemn the true enemies to freedom, namely evangelical Christians who peacefully use the democratic process to vote against partial-birth abortion and same-sex marriage!

Now doesn’t it all make sense?