Monday, September 17, 2012

The Muslim world's excuse

I had hoped the crackpots who went after South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone a couple of years back were the exceptions rather than the rule. They, proclaiming themselves devout Muslims, declared that the satirical TV show's purported depiction of Muhammed not only was blasphemous, but worthy of retributive violence.

Now we have the spiritual leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood demanding a change in U.S. law, according to the New York Times:

In his statement after protesters breached the walls of the United States Embassy last Tuesday, the spiritual leader of the Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that “the West” had imposed laws against “those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not a sacred doctrine.”

In fact, denying the Holocaust is also protected as free speech in the United States, although it is prohibited in Germany and a few other European countries. But the belief that it is illegal in the United States is widespread in Egypt, and the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, called for the “criminalizing of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.”

As I wrote about the intolerant yahoos who threatened Parker and Stone:
A religion that requires fealty -- not just respect -- from non-believers challenges the very idea that different belief systems may coexist. That, in turn, begs the question of how such a religion can be accommodated within a pluralistic society, since pluralism only works if people are free to choose what to believe.

As a matter of courtesy, most of us refrain from willfully insulting the religious beliefs of others. However, I'm glad there are those who feel free to violate that and other taboos. Sometimes you only find your own limits if someone else steps beyond them. And sometimes, the only way to stumble onto wisdom is to stray off the path everyone else is following.

A law such as Badie demands would not only be unconstitutional on its face, but totally at odds with the core principle embodied by the First Amendment: the idea that freedom of expression is absolutely vital to preserve freedom of thought. Freedom of thought is, in turn, absolutely vital to the survival of the human race. Foreclosing any avenue of inquiry because of religious objections is not just a repugnant idea, it is flat-out dangerous. We simply do not know enough to be so close-minded.

By the way, it's striking that the calls for "jihad" against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses quite clearly focused on him rather than his country of origin or his then-current country of residence. It raises the question: why aren't today's protesters making the same distinction? After all, the man purportedly behind the film that has so angered the Muslim world is as much solely responsible for his creation as Rushdie was for his novel. Why, then, scream bloody murder about the U.S. being collectively responsible for the outrage?

The only plausible answer is that there are people who benefit by demonizing the U.S. as a whole. Did they orchestrate these supposedly spontaneous protests? I doubt it. Did they set the stage for such protests by fomenting simmering resentment and hatred of the U.S. for its real and imagined misdeeds? That, I don't doubt. This offensive film, if it exists (I haven't seen authoritative evidence that it does), was simply a handy excuse for angry people to lash out. They were ready to do so anyway, having been primed by years of inflammatory rhetoric — backed, unfortunately, by the U.S.'s heavy-handed foreign policy since the end of World War II. (And you thought I was going to pick on G. W. Bush again. Sadly, there's plenty of blame to go around, and though W made things much worse, he alone didn't dig us into the generations-deep hole we're in vis-a-vis the Muslim world.)

I have scant patience or sympathy for Muslim outrage in this case, considering that these same Muslims — the ones who hew to a narrow and intolerant vision of Islam — have absolutely no use for the likes of irreligious me. I think Muslims in much of the Middle East have a great many legitimate grievances against the industrialized West as well as their own leaders — but don't ask me to get up in arms because they're unhappy with the religious sensibilities of infidels. I am not about to recede from my principles because they bother Muslims who do not respect my right to live my life as I see fit.

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