29 December 2010
Lessons for militant Muslims
If the Danish police are to be trusted, it appears that they've broken up yet another plot by militant Muslims to attack the newspaper that printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad a few years back. Some Muslims believe that their religion compels them to punish anyone who insults its founder or otherwise violates its taboo on "idolatrous" human imagery. In their minds, their duty to uphold the "honor" of their religion outweighs any the laws of wherever they reside. I can empathize with that feeling. Whenever I see a story like this one, I grow convinced that Islam is the special enemy of civilization and human progress. I feel like giving militants some taste of their own medicine by having a mosque burnt, or at least a Qur'an desecrated, every time someone even threatens harm to the cartoonists. I get the notion in my head that Muslims should be driven from every secular nation if they can't take a joke, or an insult, or can't accept that they can't unilaterally dictate the terms of public discourse. I get a lot of the same ugly feelings that certain Muslims experience when their values are insulted. The difference is that I do believe in the rule of law. I don't assume that because many if not most Muslims idealize a less free society than I'd like that I'm entitled to drive them from my midst or terrorize them into endorsing my values or renouncing their own. I also realize that the congregation in the mosque I'd burn most likely had nothing to do with conspiracies against cartoonists, and that burning their holy book might offend people who may well have had no opinion whatsoever about the cartoon controversy. I know that Islam itself isn't necessarily my enemy, though militant chauvinists definitely are. Even then, I have no right to kill a militant Muslim, even if I consider him a threat to my freedom. My feelings must defer to the law. So must everyone else's feelings -- and their religious sentiments. Unless you live in a sharia theocracy, the law comes before the claims of your faith. If you put faith first, you are an outlaw and it's up to society to determine what to do with you. Otherwise, you're stuck living like the rest of us who have to deal daily with insults to our intelligence, our aesthetic sense or our sense of decency. If you can get others to do something legally about what offends you, fine. If not, you accept that you can't get your way all the time but you're still free to practice your religion and speak out in its defense. If caricatures are intolerable to you, then you're probably living in the wrong place -- and if caricatures in another country's newspaper offend you where you are, you're probably living on the wrong planet. But I don't have the right to act on that assumption and remove you from the planet or my own neighborhood. Muslims in the West perhaps don't appreciate enough that they live and work in the developed countries through the sufferance of non-Muslim majorities who, were they to act on their own fears and prejudices, could easily wipe Islam off the map of Europe. My point isn't to scare Muslims into tolerance, but to remind them of the benefits of tolerance and respect for law that they already enjoy. Throwing tantrums about cartoons is an act of ingratitude as well as a display of objective barbarism. In fact, it's an insult -- and what would you say we should do about that?