Islam is neither a religion of peace, nor a religion of war, peace or war each may be the right choice for each specific case, although there are some general guidances as well among which are:
- Do not start the war.
- A problem solvable by speech should not be tried through war.
One thing that is over-clear in Shia Islam (I don't know about the Sunni Islam, maybe Sunni Muslims want to complete my answer) is that there are sins about which both the doers and the doeths are responsible, the doers for doing the sin and the doeths for remaining passive or mis-reactive. For example people during a colonialism shouldn't submit themselves to the authority of the outsiders, they should fight for their rights in anyway possible for them otherwise would be responsible, remaining silent (still not as passive, but fighting e.g. by boycotting the colonizer's goods and etc) may be forgiven or not. Actually, if they have enough power to fight, i.e. 1/10 of that of their enemies or at least 1/2 of them --according to Quran-- then it would be of course unforgivable as Jihad is already Vajib: (Al-Anfal:65,66)
O Prophet! rouse the Believers to the fight. If there are twenty
amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred:
if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the Unbelievers: for
these are a people without understanding.
For the present, Allah hath
lightened your (task), for He knoweth that there is a weak spot in
you: But (even so), if there are a hundred of you, patient and
persevering, they will vanquish two hundred, and if a thousand, they
will vanquish two thousand, with the leave of Allah: for Allah is with
those who patiently persevere. [Abdullah Yusuf Ali]
Returning back to your question:
Islam has a reputation as being a bit volatile, sexist, aggressive,
leaning towards genuine threat and violence - most typically towards
anyone whose views conflict with Islam (secularists, people supporting
the rights of homosexuals, feminists, ex-Muslim apostates, people who
think that freedom-of-speech includes the right to criticize religion,
etc). … Does Islam have a view on its external reputation?
I try my best here to show some aspects of Islam and that's you who should judge if the reputations are correct or not, albeit not only upon my writings.
1. First let me say that Islam is different than Muslim's beliefs and behaviors. Allah has ordered us to look at his prophet as one good symbol:
Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of
conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who
engages much in the Praise of Allah. (Al-Ahzab:21)
as Allah quotes from him:
"And I am commanded to be the first of those who bow to Allah in
Islam." [or probably translated more accurately as: I am commanded to submit myself to Allah more than any other person do, i.e., precess all the others and be the foremost] (Al-Zomar:12) -- (and similar to that in Al-Ana'am:163)
you want to learn about Islam you should study Quran (the prophet's miracle, albeit the original text and not similarly its translations) and the prophet's story of life, his sayings and behaviors. Only be warned that Quran has a key, stated in (Aal-e-Emran):
He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or
fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the
Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity
follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and
searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden
meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge
say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and
none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.
2. Then let me say something about the genders in Islam, their rights and rules. First have a look at this question. Men and women are certainly not the same and, therefore, it is not so wise to ask them equal tasks or admit equal rights for them, women being more sensitive and emotional, less bodily powerful, more flexible with respect to the conditions of living, more attention absorbing, less stronger in difficulties, better communications with children, and etc., however, these are all statistical. It is stated in Quran that human being is created in pair (And [have We not] created you in pairs; Al-Naba':78), that is, men for women and women for men, then why these much restrictions on their relations?
- to keep the families safe (family is the first community in which a human child is treated)
- the parents of each child should be known for at least two specific reasons (1. those who are Mahram to the child should be known as marriage between two Mahram's is forbidden; 2. legacy has its own rules and for that the child's parents should be known); this is partly the reason why men are allowed to have four wives whereas women can have only one husband at a time (the mother is always known but the father not!)
- men lose less in rapes than women lose, sometimes not compensable at all, so although men are commanded to control their sights but also women are commanded to wear Hijab, Hijab is partly to keep the women safe (so is a private rule for them) and partly to keep men away from incitation as much as possible, so that the atmosphere be more pleasant and salubrious. More focus on work in offices, less divorce, safer families, better treaded children, better future societies, less children with no known parents, less crimes and etc. NOTE. In Islam Hijab starts from nudity (between a wife and husband) to wearing only the special points (for Mahram's like parents, children, aunts and uncles, and some others) to the complete wearing of all body except some exceptions, without any incitation inductions in others who is to communicate with "she the human" and not "she the beautiful girl" or "she the body" or else. Hijab in western country also exist (except for nudists maybe) but with some differences: in Islam Hijab is largely w.r.t. people around somewhat (but obviously not completely) irrespective of the situation, whereas in western countries clothing is w.r.t. situation almost (but again not completely) irrespective of the people around, e.g. clothing in universities, in parties and in sea shores are different although people be the same around. Although the top limit of clothing is different between Islam and many western and eastern countries, but the question is that who is qualified to determine this limit, God the creator or the psychologists (trying to discover human what they are, studying it as a blackbox) and youths (living by their right and wrong wishes)? Certainly this limit has been lowered a lot in the western and eastern countries in the few past decades, maybe due to internet and satellites and movie making industry.
- even people of the same gender, which are considered also Mahram w.r.t each other, are not allowed to relate with each other in an offensive manner, be it seeing or touching or speaking and etc., be it between women alone or between men alone. This clearly reject the rights for homosexuals in Islam. The story of the prophet Lot (PBUH) in Islam specifically mention the homosexuality as a big sin, also see here for some probable scripture from bible about this behavior. Let me add something, until a few decades before homosexuality was considered a psychological disease, then it was omitted that you may think it be based on a mere scientific reasoning but I think it be mere political (zionism, freemasonry).
- and …
3. Then let me say something about the freedom of speech, commonly considered as a respected right of the human being. It is not strange for one to believe any misuse of the gifts given to him by Allah may be forbidden. For example, eyes are given to us to use them in the right way, but misusing it can be probably a sin. Among all the limbs given to us by Allah, eyes, ears, tongues and sexual organs are more probable to be misused, and among these tongue has a lot of misuses introduced to us: backbiting, lying, using smear words and libeling, abusive speaking, being earful, making joke of others and etc. . Who can ever allow what God has forbidden? Only people who are accustomed to misuse their tongues, or those who want be able to say anything wrong that they want may try to establish "freedom of speech" as a human right, otherwise they can say what they want and no one would be teased like now Muslims are teased of rude people not believing in anything but themselves and their own (dirty) politics. People have right to laugh at us and our beliefs and we should stay happy? Someone mock my father and I remain smiled is the reaction of a psychologically healthy person? Muslims respect their prophets more than they respect their fathers.
If thou dost question them, they declare (with emphasis): "We were
only talking idly and in play." Say: "Was it at Allah, and His Signs,
and His Messenger, that ye were mocking?"(Al-Tubah:65)
Freedom of speech is a respected right only if a question is asked to learn about something, be it God or the historic facts about our prophet and Imams, PBU. But there are times that someone ask not to learn but to make laugh of us, then the behavior against the questioner would be different as should be. To us most of the insults against Islamic values are just some (political, planned) examinations to see where is the Muslim's bearing threshold! Muslims be silent they would go further and further, but Muslims have proved to be zealous thanks to Allah, not allowing the United States and the global Zionism to reach their new world order that they intend.
Also in western countries they have given a controlled limited speech freedom, one can even make joke of Obama and think what a free country, but then he says something about zionism and one day all at once his body will be found in a river or else as if he was drunken and fallen in the river, or is introduced as a terrorist and the rest of story is clear. Introducing their counter ideas as terrorism and pretending like they are fighting for democracy (a mouthful phrase) are signs of freedom of Speech? Muslims are more honest in their beliefs, to be honest, I think.
4. Freedom of idea is accepted also in Quran, but let me clear the situation better. In Islam we are not created as free (in the sense that we are allowed to do whatever we may wish), but only able to make decision, with a piece of caution that be careful, you are responsible of your decisions, choosing among all the available options. We are not allowed to choose all the options, but only able to choose. We are not allowed both to believe in God and don't believe in God, or believe in badness of the sins and to deny them in our minds, we are only able to do such, but we should choose. Freedom of idea being accepted in Islam means no one is allowed to bothering someone with any different ideology (including the ones quitting Islam), however, there is yet two "but"s, (1) but as he is not allowed to have any ideology that he wish God may punish or forgive him depending on if he couldn't believe otherwise or wanted not to believe, (2) but this is true only as long as his idea remains in his mind and if it was stated then it will be a speech and not a personal idea any longer, it can have social effects now and so can be treated also by the society.
These were my personal answers with an eye open to Shia Islam, it is very probable that my explanations are lame or even partly wrong, so that maybe others would help complete it.