Sunday, June 24, 2007

No Western Outcry Against Islamic Intolerance?

In his "Regarding Media" column yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten asked where's the West's outcry over Islam's violent intolerance and bigotry? Rutten notes that it's been 19 years since Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Kohmeini, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie upon the publication of "The Satanic Verses," a novel deemed blasphemous to Muhammed. Now with Queen Elizabeth II granting knighthood Rushdie, Islamic anger has flared, with renewed calls for his death:

When news of knighthood spread last weekend, the flames of fanaticism rekindled. An Iranian group offered $150,000 to anyone who would murder the novelist. Effigies of the queen and the writer were burned in riots across Pakistan. That country's religious affairs minister initially said that conferring such an honor on Rushdie justified sending suicide bombers to Britain, then — under pressure — he modified his statement to say it would cause suicide bombers to travel there. Pakistan's national assembly unanimously condemned Rushdie's knighthood and said it reflected "contempt" for Islam and Muhammad. Various high-ranking Iranian clerics called for the writers' death and renewed their insistence that Khomeini's fatwa still is in force. Riots spread to India's Muslim communities....

If you're wondering why you haven't been able to follow all the columns and editorials in the American press denouncing all this homicidal nonsense, it's because there haven't been any. And, in that great silence, is a great scandal.

Is there something beyond the solidarity of the decent that ought to have impelled every commentator and editorial page in the U.S. to express unequivocal support for Sir Salman this week?


IT'S no coincidence that one analyst who saw that clearly was Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the guy who, not long ago, commissioned those cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that convulsed so much of the Muslim world in obscurantist apoplexy. You may recall that most of the American news media essentially abandoned Rose and the Danes to the fanatics' wrath, receding into cowardly silence, as mullah after mullah called for the cartoonists' death, mobs attacked diplomatic and cultural offices and one Muslim country after another boycotted Danish goods.

In a column posted on the L.A.-based Pajamas Media website late this week, Rose began by reminding readers of legal scholar Ronald Dworkin's admonition that "the only right you don't have in a democracy is the right not to be offended," then went on to decry the pernicious consequences of a "misplaced respect for insulted religious feelings," now all too common in the West, including the United States. "This respect is being used by tyrants and fanatics around the world to justify suicide attacks and to silence criticism and to crush dissenting points of view," he wrote.

Rose also pointed to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which less than three months ago "passed a scandalous resolution condoning state punishment of speech that governments deem as insulting to religion." The council's decision went all but unmentioned in the American press, but Rose correctly argues that passage of such a resolution "means that the U.N. is encouraging every dictatorship to pass laws that make criticism of Islam a crime. The U.N. Human Rights Council legitimizes the criminal persecution of Sir Salman Rushdie for having insulted people's religious sensibilities…. The fact of the matter is that by adopting the resolution against 'defamation of religion,' the U.N. has tacitly endorsed the killing of Rushdie's colleagues in parts of the world where no one can protect them."
Rutten asks is this hyperbole for the sake of argument? The answer is no. Rutten cites Sonni Efron's Thursday Los Angeles Times article, "Dead Reporters and the Information Gap," which highlights the statistics on journalists who have been killed in Iraq since March 2003 (it's more than double the number of those who were killed during the Vietnam War, 1962 to 1975). But there's been little media attention to this toll.

What masquerades as tolerance and cultural sensitivity among many U.S. journalists is really a kind of soft bigotry, an unspoken assumption that Muslim societies will naturally repress great writers and murder honest journalists, and that to insist otherwise is somehow intolerant or insensitive.

Lost in the self-righteous haze that masks this expedient sentiment is a critical point once made by the late American philosopher Richard Rorty, who was fond of pointing out that "some ideas, like some people, are just no damn good" and that no amount of faux tolerance or misplaced fellow feeling excuses the rest of us from our obligation to oppose such ideas and such people.

If Western and, particularly American, commentators refuse to speak up when their obligations are so clear, the fanatics will win and the terrible silence they so fervently desire will descend over vast stretches of our world — a silence in which the only permissible sounds are the prayers of the killers and the cries of their victims.
Rutten's case is compelling: There truly are some ideas that are "no damn good," and we empower the world's forces of darkness with our appeasement.

For more background information (in the objective, non-critical journalistic format),
see this report on the Rushdie knighthood from the Washington Post. Also, see this excellent post from Stogie at Saberpoint, which examines the alleged blasphemies found in "The Satanic Verses." Stogie's not the only blogger who's outraged over Islam's intolerance, so we do have a large cadre of non-establishment writers who recognize and reject Islamic bigotry.

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