This post is now available in Polish translation at Racjonalista. Thanks once more to Malgorzata.
It is only fair to point out, as Tim Harris said in a comment the other day, that there are some people, at least in Libya, who are protesting against Muslim violence, and are opposed to terrorism. Of course, I had no doubt that there were, but there have been public demonstrations to this effect, and Elizabeth Reeve, over at The Atlantic, has reported on them. There are pictures too.
It’s encouraging to see a small sign that not all Muslims react with rage. But it has to be remembered that these protests are against the murder of the American diplomats, one of whom, at least, the ambassador Chris Stevens, was a friend to Libya and Libyans, and not against the protests that are taking place elsewhere in response to the perceived insult to Muhammad. And at least one of the placards made this clear:
The sign on the right translates as “We disapprove/condemn the humiliation of the prophet but NOT with Terrorism.” So the question of respect for free speech is still, apparently, not recognised even by these demonstrations opposing the violence against American diplomats.
The problem, in other words, is that it seems fairly generally to be true that Muslims on the whole resent what they take to be insults directed towards the prophet, and would support laws forbidding the criticism of Islam. This has effectively happened anyway. Notice that the only major criticisms of Islam, and of the Muhammad, are being made by marginal groups with a grievance. By making it virtually impossible for the criticism of Islam to take place in places where we can be assured that reasoned discussion of Islam is likely to take place; criticism has been pushed onto the margins where of course much cruder, less sensitive, more “Islamophobic” expressions of opinion can be expected. The major news outlets, as well as university and other presses have been put on notice that violence will meet any overt criticism of Islam. As Rushdie says, it is unlikely that a book like The Satanic Verses would find a publisher now. This being the case, no one should be surprised that Islam, when it is criticised — and it will be criticised — it will be done with a sledge-hammer and not with fine-tipped pen.
Tariq Ramadan, the suppose Muslim moderate, has an interview with Democracy Now which is remarkable for is extreme vagueness. Indeed, for all his many words, it is not at all clear what he wants to say. When he says, for instance, at the end:
A[nd] what I would like, knowing that in the Muslim-majority countries you can’t do without Islam, we can’t do without their culture, in which way they are going to come back to this Islamic reference to find a way to deal with the true challenges and not the superficial political questions
– he has said exactly nothing, and the whole interview is like that. As when he says, a few moments before:
[An] unsettled Middle East, in these times where the people are trying to find their way towards democracy, could be interesting for many reasons — for weapons to be sold, for new geostrategic interests to be protected, and something that we are not talking about, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The people who are lost in the whole discussion here are the Palestinians.
– which follows very nicely in the footsteps of his grandfather, Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a sense throughout the interview that there is an unspoken subtext, and it is not altogether clear what it is, which is the way it almost always is with Tariq Ramadan, who has just published a book entitled The Arab Awakening (anything that has erwachen in it we should be very chary about, remembering especially al Banna’s adulation of Adolf Hitler).
I think, despite the few ambiguous positive signs coming from Libya, the fury of the Muslim street over the silly “Innocence of Muslims” video should lead us to ask some serious questions about the capability of this religion to behave in an adult and responsible manner. David Aaronovitch has an interesting op-ed piece in the Times (unfortunately behind a paywall), in which he speaks about Islam’s adolescence. Possibly this is the result of the vast number of immature young men in Muslim-majority countries, who have nothing to do, and whose education is almost wholly based on the Qu’ran. But Aaronovitch’s closing paragraph, given considerable support in the article itself, is, I think, telling:
Of course Muslims are not the only people whose leaders harness and exploit the reactionary emotional power of grievance. But the idea of “global Muslim anger” relies on the seductive trick of placing yourself always in the position of the done-to and not the doing, even when you run a quarter of the countries on the planet. It’s not global anger. It’s global adolescence.
And the appeal of the Prime Minister of Turkey to have “Islamophobia” (undefined, except to say that your freedom to express your beliefs ends where my beliefs begin) made into a “crime against humanity” shows that what we are dealing with here is not a passing phase. According to Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister (was his remark about Turkey being united by one religion a mistake, as he claimed? ), his
government will immediately start working on legislation against blasphemous and offensive remarks. “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.”
When he addresses the United Nations later this month, this will be one of his proposals for the world body to consider. The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (the renamed Organisation of the Islamic Conference) has been appealing for such laws for well over a decade. It is clear that they still haven’t got the message. Freedom to criticise is a fundamental freedom without which people are in chains — and worse, if violence is the response to the exercise of this freedom.
Let’s not kid ourselves about this. This is not only people in the streets. This is governments expressing their concern, demanding suppression of Western freedoms. And this kind of thing is not going to end until Western presses are prepared, openly, and widely, to begin an open and free discussion of Islam, just as is done with respect to Christianity and Judaism, or any other world view. Throughout much of the Muslim world, as Jerry Coyne recently pointed out (warning: graphic and disturbing material), TV films and even film series, based on the discredited fiction of the Czarist secret police, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, are shown on public TV networks, and taught in schools. Jews are not protesting, and no one has been killed on account of them. Yet a stupid little video clip made by some disgruntled American citizens of Middle Eastern descent has been enough to cause the Muslim world to erupt into rage and fury. Not only that, but, just to turn the screw, Salman Rushdie has again been “fatwaed” to death by Iran, and it has even raised the stakes make the proposition a bit more attractive. Until the Western press and publishing industry makes Islam a matter for free and independent discussion, this kind of idiocy will not stop. Freedom is only won by exercising it, and it will be lost if it is not exercised. It’s time we stopped being afraid, and started to speak freely about Islam’s shady present, and its continuing to act like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. Islam is a religion in which a few are perfectly prepared to use violence to get their way. We need to say that this will not get them what they want, and people like Tariq Ramadan, but lets stick to him for now, for he is widely thought to be the voice of Muslim reason in the West, should know that his fuzzy speech is recognised for what it is: a laboured effort to conceal the truth rather than to speak it.