A Florida newspaper suspended its political columnist because of a private e-mail that offended a Muslim reader.

In a letter of apology to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, Tallahassee Democrat Executive Editor John W. Miller expressed remorse to his readers and “members of the Islamic faith everywhere” for “the intemperate e-mail comments of political writer/columnist Bill Cotterell.”

Just two weeks ago, the Muslim lobby group CAIR mounted a campaign against Miller and his newspaper for political cartoonist Doug Marlette’s depiction of a terrorist driving a nuclear bomb-laden Ryder truck under the headline “What would Muhammad drive?” In that instance, Miller said in an editorial he would not apologize because the cartoon was not printed in his paper but showed up online accidentally. Nevertheless, Miller said “to anyone who was offended by Doug’s cartoon, I’m sorry.”

Cotterell was suspended for one week without pay, beginning today, for writing to a Muslim: “Except for Jordan and Egypt, no Arab nation has a peace treaty with Israel. They’ve had 54 years to get over it. They choose not to. OK, they can squat around the camel-dung fire and grumble about it, or they can put their bottoms in the air five times a day and pray for deliverance; that’s their business. … And I don’t give a damn if Israel kills a few in collateral damage while defending itself. So be it.”

Miller said those views “absolutely do not represent the views and sensitivities of this newspaper. Worse, they run counter to many of the values we hold dearest, among them tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.”

The newspaper editor explained that Cotterell, who has been with the Democrat for nearly 20 years, “spoke, via company e-mail, in anger and frustration to a reader. Shortly after he sent the message, he realized his mistake, and he has since apologized to all of his colleagues for the hurt and embarrassment he knows he caused.”

“I was wrong and I am sorry,” Cotterell said in an unsolicited statement to his editors. “My remarks were grossly inappropriate and do not reflect my views toward Muslim people. It would be bad enough if my comments reflected only on my own lack of judgment, but I realize that I have embarrassed the newspaper.”

CAIR board chairman Omar Ahmad said in a statement, “We thank the Tallahassee Democrat for its swift action in response to this troubling issue. The newspaper’s forthright apology goes a long way toward re-establishing its journalistic credibility with the Muslim and Arab-American communities in Florida.”

Ahmad added that he hoped the Muslims in Florida could now enter into a more constructive and reciprocal dialogue with the newspaper’s editorial board.

“We will continue our strong support for the First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. “But we also believe that with freedom, comes responsibility.”

Awad, CAIR’s founder, previously was public-relations director for the Islamic Association of Palestine, a front group in the United States for the terrorist group Hamas, according to the FBI.

Some counter-terrorism experts say CAIR and similar Islamic lobby groups in the nation’s capital are gradually gaining political power in pursuit of their ultimate agenda of making the United States a Muslim nation.

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper indicated in a 1993 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he supports that aim.

“I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future,” Hooper told the Star Tribune. “But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.”

Related story:

‘What would Muhammad drive?’

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.