Free Expression: Rage, Respect, Reading, and Rights
That image above comes from the cover of this week's Newsweek, or so the internet informs me, for my hard copy has a cover image of a Myanmar Punk, replete with colorful Mohawk haircut! But inside the magazine that arrived by Korea's postal service is the same article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, though I have yet to read it because I'm preoccupied with thinking.
I'm thinking about hypocrisy.
My mind turned to cases of this deceptive gesture toward virtue as I was reading the words of one Muslim protester outside the American Embassy in Cairo, who said:
We never insult any prophet -- not Moses, not Jesus -- so why can't we demand that Muhammad be respected? (David D. Kirkpatrick, "Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Angry at Online Video," NYT, September 16, 2012)Never? Really never?
But in a collection of Hadith by Sahih Bukhari (Volume 4, Book 55, Number 657), Abu Huraira reports Muhammad foretelling that when Isa (Jesus) returns, "he will break the cross," which means that Isa (Jesus) will personally destroy Christianity. From a Christian perspective, that's certainly an insult to Jesus, for it has him destroying what Christians hold as their faith's most crucial symbol for depicting the manner in which Jesus became the sacrifice for sins.
And what about this kind of behavior?
A Muslim imam called Abu Islam took part in a protest in Cairo and destroyed a Bible, as reported by Mary Abdelmassih in "Muslim Cleric Tears Bible At Protest Outside the US Embassy in Cairo" (Assyrian International News Agency, September 14, 2012)?
He starts tearing the bible and throwing the leaves towards the mob, amid chants of Allahu Akbar and . . . saying: "To all the cross worshippers around the world we will not keep quiet . Today, we tore it." [Also,] a man in blue beside him burns the bible raising it for everyone to see.This desecration of Christian scripture would surely constitute an insult to various prophets, or such would be the view of Christians -- derogatorily called "cross worshippers" by the imam -- and note that this same imam added these words, "Next time I will urinate on it [i.e., the Bible]," thereby compounding the insult.
So much for Islam's reputed respect toward what Muslims call a "prophetic" religion. Now what about Islam's treatment of a non-Christian religion, say, the Taliban's destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas?
Was that respectful? Or is respect due only to Islam's sacred symbols?
The list of insults and destructive violence could extend to accounts of Muslim attacks against various religions, with the list going on and on . . .
Of course, these insults and attacks are solely the actions of a tiny minority of Islamists who claim to represent Islamic orthodoxy and cite authoritative texts as proof but are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who regularly oppose the Islamists in peaceful counterprotests aimed at demonstrating that Islam actually is a religion of peace, as everyone says.
Be that as it may, my view, as readers already know, is that speech -- even insulting speech, whether uttered by Muslim or non-Muslim -- must be protected speech, so I agree with the author of The Satanic Verses, the controversial Salman Rushdie, who lives under a fatwa of death and whose position on free expression is reported by Michiko Kakutani in "Rushdie Relives Difficult Years Spent in Hiding" (NYT, September 17, 2012):
Gradually, . . . he came to see that "the violence and menace of the response" to his novel "was a terrorist act that had to be confronted," and that he "wanted the world's leaders to defend his right to be a troublemaker."Like Rushdie under a death threat but regaining his nerve, we simply must raise and protect our free, unintimidated voices.
It was about more than his book. It was about "the era of fear and self-censorship that the fatwa [against Satanic Verses] had brought into being." It was about standing up for literature, which "encouraged understanding, sympathy and identification with people not like oneself," at a time when "the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, toward narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war."
He was fighting, he realized, for "freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art" of storytelling, "of which he was privileged to be a practitioner."