Tolerance and intolerance: the anti-cartoon jihad
So far I haven't written about the recent uproar sparked by the publication of cartoon depictions of Mohammed. It's been covered so thoroughly by others that there wasn't anything I felt I needed to add.
Especially good roundups and discussions are to be found at Michelle Malkin's blog (just scroll down; there are quite a few), at Alexandra's All Things Beautiful (see this and this), as well as at Gates of Vienna (scroll down for many posts).
But it seems I feel the need to add a few thoughts of my own.
What percentage of European Moslems is represented by the fiery protesters, the ones calling for death and destruction? (Please take a look at these photos to see the sort of thing I'm talking about). I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows. I tend to think most people lack a natural bent for fanaticism, so my guess is that they are not in the majority.
But that's just a guess. More importantly, it may be irrelevant. If an extremist minority is sizeable enough, angry enough, active enough, and well-armed enough, it can do a great deal of harm; especially if the majority is silent, and is cowed by that minority.
So I'm really not interested in speculating on what the majority of Moslems in Europe or even in a moderate country like Indonesia believe, and I'm even willing to concede for the sake of argument that they're not in sympathy with the more extreme protestors. What's far more important is that the movement which--for want of a better term--I'll call fanatical Islamicist jihadists (I tried "Islamofascists" for a while, but I've since decided to abandon it as an imprecise use of the word "Fascist") is plenty large, active enough to be a force, angry enough to be taken seriously as a threat, and appears to be seeking to enhance its weaponry (Iran, for example).
So we need to pay attention, and not make excuses or stick our heads in the sand.
I remember back when the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was issued--oh, those innocent days when my ignorance was bliss!--the calls for his death seemed to be a mysterious and surprising anomaly. It was declared by the mullahs of Iran, after all, strange figures who didn't seem at the time to represent much of anything except their own medieval ways, the law of the land only in Iran.
But that fatwa seems to have represented the rumblings of a strain of Islam that has since become bolder, more widespread, and more vocal. In Europe in particular, this strain has been widely catered to in the name of tolerance and diversity. But the Europeans should have recognized far sooner that this may be another case of feeding an alligator in hopes that it will eat you last.
And that's because alligators are never sated; they just grow stronger and hungrier when fed. Islamicist fanatics in Europe have sensed that they themselves just might be (in Bin Laden's memorable phrase) the strong horse and the Europeans the weak. Secular liberal Enlightenment notions of freedom of speech have not caught on with the fanatic Islamicists (no surprise there), probably much to most Europeans' shock. Or, rather, to fanatic Islamicists, European freedom of speech is a useful tool--good when it supports Moslem causes, bad when it does not.
I've written before that one pitfall of tolerant societies is tolerance of the intolerant. When all alternate beliefs are respected and supported, what happens to those who, in the name of the tolerance of others for them, seek to impose their beliefs that freedom of speech be limited to that which does not offend them?
At that point a society must choose, and that's the point Europe is facing at the moment. I have written about this "tolerance of intolerance" question before, here. But I think it bears repeating:
Tolerance should not be tolerant of intolerance, or it sows the seeds of its own destruction.
Why do I call the Moslem demonstrators "intolerant?" Well, take a look at the posters and their slogans, for starters. For an offense of "mere words," they are demanding the death penalty (unlike, for example, demonstators against the "piss-Christ" art exhibit in Brooklyn. The "piss-Christ" controversy, however, is the closest analogy I can think of in which Christians are making the demands. I hope to deal with the similarities and differences between the present controversy and that earlier one in a subsequent post; the issues involved are so huge that if I were to discuss them here, it would make this post even more unwieldy than it's already turning out to be).
The intolerance of Islamicist extremists runs very deep: they feel that they should be able to impose their own standards on the European societies they have entered but not embraced. In their successful attempt--encouraged by European tolerance--to keep their own customs and religion and culture, they have failed to adopt the most important tenet of Enlightenment thought: the idea that they cannot dictate their own mores to others.
There are extremists in every religion, to be sure. These extremists ordinarily believe that others who don't follow their extreme ways are sinners. Often, they also believe that others who don't follow their ways will be punished, either in this life or the afterlife. But even among these religious extremists, the vast majority believes that each individual decides these things for him/herself, and that the extremists cannot demand that others follow their ways or die. The extremists may indeed feel morally superior to others in their customs and beliefs, and seek to convert people to those beliefs. But that's where it usually ends.
For example, some religions prohibit card-playing or dancing, but only for those who have embraced that religion. The esoteric and doctrinal rules of conduct for each religion are ordinarily limited to practitioners of that religion, and enforcement is ordinarily through persuasion and threats of divine punishment, as well as ostracism at times.
Fanatical Islam is quite different. It is the only religion I'm aware of that offers death as the punishment for apostasy (this offense, as well as blasphemy, was the reason behind the anti-Rushdie fatwa). And please don't bring up the fact that in medieval times there were similar penalties against blasphemy in Christianity; we are not talking history here, we are talking about the present. There is no modern movement of any size in any other major world religion that has failed to embrace tolerance of other religions to the degree that Islam has failed to do so, and none that prescribes the Draconian death penalty for leaving the fold.
Because Islam is a religion, its extremists have gotten a great many passes in the name of tolerance. But not everything about a religion must be tolerated, simply because it is a religious belief (in fact, I've written an entire post on this topic). However, many fanatical Islamists feel they should not only be tolerated, but that the secular societies in which they live have a duty to accede to the demands of Islam--for example, that the prophet Mohammed not be depicted in a cartoon in any way that could be construed as negative.
That this demand conflicts with freedom of speech is of no import to those who are demonstrating. They believe their cause to be a higher one which trumps freedom of speech. They either do not understand--or do not care--that the societies in which they live disagree.
But we shouldn't be too surprised that they think they can make these demands, and that Europe will listen. And indeed, who could blame them? Everything in their experience has led them to that notion. In retrospect, the furor over the alleged Koran-abuse incidents at Guantanamo was merely a warm-up act. Islamicist extremists not only think that their beliefs should triumph over the Enlightenment beliefs of their new countries for reasons of moral and religious superiority, but they believe that their beliefs will do so because their experience has been that Europeans will almost always capitulate.
Whether this capitulation by European countries is in the name of tolerance and respect, or of fear of the consequences, is probably not of great importance to the Islamicist extremists. What's important is that they think they have found the soft underbelly of Western Enlightenment nations, and plan to exploit it.
As I wrote earlier:
It's like one of those brain twisters--those paradoxes or syllogisms or whatever they were called--in a course I took so long ago and dropped before I flunked it: symbolic logic. The idea is that, if one takes a certain principle to its extreme, it very often will be found to contain an internal contradiction... Tolerance applied without any distinction can become a trap. That way lies madness--not to mention the seeds of the destruction of tolerant societies themselves.
There are certain universal legal principles that are based at least partly on religious ones: the prohibition against murder, for example. But our Western society has separated church and state, and therefore those religious rules that have not been adopted into the secular legal system are not going to be enforced by that system. Blasphemy has not been a crime in the US for an awfully long time, for example.
Likewise, those acts that violate that secular legal system--for example, polygamy in Utah; or the refusal of some Seventh Day Adventists to allow their children needed blood transfusions --are, at least theoretically, prosecutable, even though those practicing these acts may be citing religious beliefs in their own defense. Although people in our society are most definitely entitled to their religious beliefs, they are not entitled to act on those beliefs in ways that violate secular law.
Similarly, they are not allowed to forcefully and violently impose those beliefs on others who do not share them. Abortion is a good example. Those who oppose abortion out of religious conviction are allowed to preach and to speak out against abortion, and also to peacefully demonstrate against it. Most certainly, they are allowed to refuse to have abortions themselves--no one is forcing abortions on them. But when a few--a very few--religious extremists cross the line into the murder of or injury to abortionists or their clients, then those religious extremists are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The bottom line is that members of a society must adhere to the rules of that society or face the consequences. Islamicist fanatics in Europe see their opportunity to remake the rules, and see a chink in the armor of Europe's Enlightment secularism. How Europe chooses to respond will help to determine the course of its own future, and perhaps much more.