21 September 2012

Do American Muslims have a right to riot?

Before going further, let me note that, to my knowledge, few if any American Muslims have expressed any interest in violently protesting the "Innocence of Muslims" film or the new Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and my purpose here is not to encourage them to do so. However, should they suddenly feel a compulsion to do so, can Americans say no? Specifically, can those Americans most likely to say no on reflex, conservative Christian Republicans, say no? It would seem more difficult for them to do so now. Many of them have asserted a First Amendment right, as part of their freedom or religion, to discriminate against homosexuals. They claim a religious duty to denounce homosexuality and resist the equalization of status of homosexuals and heterosexuals. Their right to perform their religious duty, they claim, trumps any political argument for equal protection under law. By privileging religious duty they threaten to push the nation onto a slippery slope. Around the world, Islamist preachers assert a religious duty for Muslims to protest if not to punish the perpetrators of "Innocence of Muslims." Each Muslim, they argue, is obliged to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, and by extension the honor of all Muslims. If some Christians believe that their religious duty overrides any obligation to respect a national consensus (such as it is) on gay rights, how can they argue against anyone else's appeal to religious duty when that duty conflicts with the national consensus? I'd expect most conservative Christians simply to refuse to recognize the equality of religions, to scoff at the idea that Muslims have the same rights of conscience as Christians, but some may attempt to draw a distinction between the mere civil disobedience they propose to practice regarding gay rights and the violence Muslims might be presumed to perpetrate. But it's hard to say that civil considerations determine the validity of appeals to religious duty when you've already asserted that religious duty trumps civil considerations. The whole point of asserting religious duty is that God's law somehow trumps civil law. Once you've taken that step, how can you appeal to civil law to determine when obeying God's law is wrong? This really is an either/or issue. Either no one can appeal to a divine law above civil law, or anyone can. If God's law exempts you from respecting the rights of homosexuals, it exempts Muslims from respecting the property or persons of those who offend them. Some American Christians scream about the impending imposition of sharia law in their country, but one way to prevent that from happening is to not set an example.

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