Roger Cohen on Islam for the 21st-Century
'The State of Things'
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
New York Times
The violent and threatening Muslim reaction to this stupid film The Innocence of Muslims is forcing the hand of several prominent columnists, both liberals and conservatives, and writing in "A 21st-Century Islam" (NYT, September 21, 2012), Roger Cohen's turn has now come:
The Muslim world cannot have it both ways. It cannot place Islam at the center of political life -- and in extreme cases political violence -- while at the same time declaring that the religion is off-limits to contestation and ridicule.An excellent point. Politics proceeds by debate, so if Islamists and other pious Muslims want to engage in the political process, they'll have to grow tougher skin elsewhere than the middle of their forehead! Or as Cohen puts it:
Politics is a rough-and-tumble game. If the emergent Islamic parties of nations in transition -- like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia -- are to honor the terms of democratic governance they will have to concede that they have no monopoly on truth, that the prescriptions of Islam are malleable and debatable, and that significant currents in their societies have different convictions and even faiths.They have no choice, for the Islamist alternative is unworkable:
The world has tried Islamic republics. It found them oxymoronic. As Iran illustrates, they don't work: Republican institutions, shaped by the wishes of men and women, fall victim to the Islamic superstructure, supposedly shaped by God.That Islamic superstructure, of course, is the fundamental, ultimate aim of Islamists, and the West must deal prudently, in full awareness of this goal, with such Islamists:
But the West will not do so by compromising its own values. The porn-grade American movie that started the unrest was pitiful. The murderous violence that followed from Cairo to Benghazi was criminal. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, then had a strong editorial case for mocking the religious fundamentalism that produced the killing; it chose to do so through caricatures of Muhammad.As I was telling my wife last evening, the film is so stupefyingly stupid, I couldn't even endure watching the trailer on YouTube -- I had to exit that virtual cinema after only a minute and a half! Nonetheless, violent Muslim reaction to the clip has had the beneficial result of goading many, from the political spectrum's rebel-red left to its true-blue right, into affirming explicit support for freedom of expression, probably because the film is so monumentally stupid, no Westerner would possibly imagine that anyone could be legitimately offended.
Gérard Biard, the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo, put the case well: "We're a newspaper that respects French law. Now, if there's a law that is different in Kabul or Riyadh, we're not going to bother ourselves with respecting it." Alluding to all the violence, Biard asked: "Are we supposed to not do that news?"
He is right. There are too many hypocrisies in Islam -- deploring attacks on it while often casting scorn on Judaism and Christianity, claiming the mantle of peace while inspiring violence -- for it to expect to be spared the cartoonist's arrows.
No true Westerner, anyway . . .