Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Islamic War on Free Speech

Once again the forces of radical Islam are waging war on the expression of free speech. On this passed September the 11th, several Americans including a diplomat were murdered at the U.S. Embassy in Bengazi Libya. Let's not forget that the U.S. has just helped rebels overthrow the dictator Muammar Gaddafi who ruled the country with an iron fist for 40 years. The murder of the Americans was allegedly sparked by an anti-Muslim film made in the U.S. Sources say that there have been attacks towards American embassies in several other Arab countries.

We have seen this type of reaction from the Islamic world over Western expressions of free speech in years past. There was the 1980s Salmon Rushdie affair over The Satanic Verses; the Danish Cartoon Controversy in 2006; and the recent accidental book burning of Qur'ans in Afghanistan, to name a few. It is incidents like these that better help me make my argument that the Western world, who cherishes free speech, and the Islamic world, who clearly does not, are not capable of living side by side with out inevitable conflict.

In Libya, you cannot say that the enraged Muslims are protesting a military occupation of the country by the U.S.(there is none), or that this is all over the state of Israel. I have a friend who blames every conflict that the U.S. has with the Islamic world to be over the state of Israel. I have acknowledged before that Israel is certainly a part of some conflicts the U.S. has had with the Islamic world, but it is definitely not the only one, and the current American embassy attacks going on now are not.

It seems to me that extremists in Islam want us in the West to compromise our freedom of speech, so as to not offend sensitive aspects of their faith. But I have always insisted that freedom of speech, inscribed in our first amendment, is not negotiable. It is not on the table for discussion. Freedom of speech must come with the license to offend, or else there is no point to it in principle. The idea that we can say whatever we want, as long as it does not offend Muslims, is to bend the constitution to the will of a theocratic fascist ideology. Why should we have to compromise our freedoms to those who want to see it disappear under the flag of Islam?

One of the criticisms of the West by some Muslims, is our anything-goes culture where people can say and do things deemed impious by Islamic standards. But freedom gives you choice. I can live a number of different lifestyles, but no one of them should be imposed on me. A Muslim in the West can refrain from every indulgence offered to them, and live a traditional lifestyle, and they are perfectly in their right to do so--as long as it doesn't impinge on my freedom and lifestyle. But if radical Islamists, like many of those violently protesting outside of U.S. embassies had their way, I would not have the right to life my lifestyle as I choose, which at times calls for a public discourse critical of many religions. This is the objective difference when one asks what are the philosophical underpinnings of my position on free speech against radical Muslims: If I have my way, we all can live our lifestyles as we wish; but if they have their way, I cannot live as I please, while they can. This imbalance is where I hold the moral high ground.

Free speech means being offended is guaranteed. If Muslims cannot stand criticism of Islam, too bad. There are parts of the Qur'an that offend me as a non-believer, that insult my character and status as a human being, but do I have the right to go into a mosque and kill dozens of Muslims when these verses in the Qur'an are read aloud or printed in books or on the internet? What about my feelings after being offended? I do not expect Muslims to be censoring their holy books out of respect for my feelings and others like me any time soon, and I wouldn't expect them to. The Islamic world should be free to criticize any and all aspects of the West as much as they please, and they do. I would not condone an atheist like me burning a mosque or killing Muslims if their feelings were hurt by Islamic doctrine, as I do not condone the violence coming from Muslims in this latest episode of conflict over free speech.

The idea of both of us compromising our freedom of speech, as a compromise, is itself appalling when you consider it: What would be on the table for limitations of criticism and who would decide and enforce it? Who could ever be trusted with the creation of legislation designed to tell us what we can and cannot speak about? It is obvious that large swaths of the Islamic world are no where near ready for a Western-style democracy with freedom of speech as one of its central principles.

In Europe, there is the small Mohammad is a Pedophile movement, designed to educate people on some of Mohammad's wives. The fact that Mohammad married a 6 year old girl is not denied by any Muslim, and this detail is considered part of the commonly believed life of Mohammad and is regarded as truth. So what is wrong with critiquing a historic figure, when that criticism is accurate? Muslims seem to not want truthful aspects of their revered prophet's life even mentioned in public if it is not done with fawning praise. Now I believe that nothing, especial religion, should be off the table for criticism. This is part of having a civil and rational society. The Islamic war on free speech means that we will have conflicts with people of this faith for generations to come.

So what can we do to mitigate conflicts with the Islamic world if we do not compromise our freedom of speech?

I went to a local meeting of atheists the other day and got into a discussion over atheistic evangelism. The question was whether atheists should be vocal and spread our beliefs like the religious do. I say yes, but not in the same annoying, guilt-inducing ways. I think that it is undeniable that the world is locked into a permanent ideological debate over politics, philosophy and religion among other things. If you want to win an argument, you've got to be vocal. There is a sizable population in the Islamic world, sympathetic to Western ideals and they have shown their public support recently countering the anti-U.S. demonstrations. This is due in large part to us in the West making our principles heard in the Islamic world. There is a silent opinion war for the minds of over a billion Muslims that is being waged that we must win. When enough Muslims embrace the types of freedoms that we cherish in the West, there will be a significant reduction in outbursts of violence over exercises in freedom of speech.

I am extremely critical of U.S. foreign policy towards the Islamic world, and want Muslims treated with dignity and their sovereignty respected. The forces of radical Islam will never succeed. It's the death metal of political philosophies--no matter how many people you try to convince to like death metal music, you will never get significant numbers because it's just too extreme. Therefore, the only realistic long term solution for better relations between the West and the Islamic world, is a steady embrace by the Islamic peoples towards Western-style democracies that include freedom of speech.

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