Last night I watched CNN coverage of a shaken Kurt Westergaard, after he survived an attempt on his life by a crazed axe-wielding Muslim. Westergaard entered his panic room and called police. When cops showed up, the intruder threw his axe at them, and they shot him.
The courage demonstrated by a mild-mannered cartoonist in the face of global Islamic death threats is an inspiration. I wish I could say the same about our supposedly ‘free’ press. As the camera followed Westergaard around his home, it passed a framed image on the wall of his studio of the now infamous cartoons.
Damn if they didn’t blur the image! That single act speaks volumes about our collective cowardice in the face of a threat we neither fully understand nor have the courage to confront.
Fifteen minutes of the global newscast was filled with numbingly familiar stories of the ongoing terror and violence committed by Islam. It wasn’t just the attempted Al Qaeda Christmas bombing of a US jet, but the despicable slaughter of over 100 people at a volleyball tournament in Pakistan. On the prior program, Christiane Amanpour was interviewing various Islamic scholars and radicals to determine whether Islam was a “religion of peace” and whether or not the Quran “justified violence.” This is the most ridiculous discussion of all.
But back to Westergaard. In the wake of the spasmodic 2005 Muslim tantrums over his cartoons–the torching of buildings and the killing of upwards of 50 people, the Western press decided the story was just too hot to handle.
Bad, bad idea.
The cartoons should have been published again and again until we were all sick of seeing them–by everyone who cares about a free press. Let the Muslims rage. Let them rage. Like any two-year-old throwing a tantrum, they would eventually have recognized they weren’t going to get anywhere. By not doing so, we capitulated, and the attention was directed back on Jyllands-Posten and Westergaard, who–incredibly–remain in fear for their lives five years after the event.
By blurring a passing shot of cartoons in the home of a cartoonist who’s just been attacked for drawing the very same images, we give tacit consent to the idea that there must be something wrong with what he did. We admit that there are some ideas which are just too dangerous and some groups (notably radical Islam) for which the price of criticism is just too high. We have completely given in.
Make no mistake, this is a desperate world war between Islam and human rights. At this stage, Islam is winning. Let’s call Amanpour’s question what it is: a variation of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. In other words, it doesn’t matter how many Muslims are moderate, and who think they are a “religion of peace,” a great many others use violence to get what they want.
They are all Muslims, so Islam cannot be considered a “religion of peace” until the moderates convince every last extremist to renounce violence. Prominent Islamic leaders could speed this along by issuing a fatwa disavowing violent passages in the Quran, and by loudly and publicly condemning each and every act of violence. This is altogether too rare. Which puts the ball back in the West’s court as to how to deal with the problem.
We can rightly try to isolate extremists and court moderates. But we must never forget that they all take their inspiration from the same book. It is the book which is the problem, and the book which must be de-legitimized.
One Muslim scholar quoted Jesus saying “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And he is correct. Jesus was quoted as having said that. (Matt 10:34) Both the Bible and the Quran clearly have violent passages. Far fewer Christians than Muslims act on those words. But that’s missing the point. Christians who justify violence with scripture are just as crazy and morally bankrupt as Muslims. The key is to reject scripture as the arbiter of any moral standard, and treat it like the ordinary work of literature it is.
We must judge religions and the actions of their adherents based only on a standard of universal human rights.
Since we guarantee press freedom, there is no reason any cartoon should not be published. Someone said to me, “but there are a billion Muslims, and they’re not going away.” Precisely. Which is why in order for the West to coexist with people with such wildly different values, we need to strictly enforce and promote our own values, in our own societies. Let them flog and behead people in their homelands. Let them censor. Let them rage. We will have no part of it, nor will we participate in their idolatry of their ‘Prophet’ by making special exceptions to the rules governing public personas in how we portray him.
If we allow Muslims to impose their totalitarian rules in democratic countries, we have become cowards who don’t deserve to enjoy the hard-won freedoms we take for granted. And we endanger courageous commentators who are only stating the obvious in an undeniable way. We should ask ourselves if Muslims would be so upset about the cartoons–if they weren’t right on the mark.
The truth hurts, and it also has the potential to set Muslims free. All we need is the courage to keep telling it.