Ayaan Hirsi Ali On The Right To Offend
While the worst of the storm surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed was raging, I remained uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. Truth be told, I was tempted to republish the cartoons on this blog, but I didn’t think that would warrant the problems it might unleash. This isn’t an anonymous blog, and it wouldn’t be hard for the odd nutjob to find me. So there it is: I allowed myself to be intimidated into not saying anything.
Now, the political posts on this blog will show that I lean towards the libertarian left. I dislike simpletons who paint the whole of the Islamic community with the brush of fanaticism and violence. I do not believe that individual bombers and terrorists should tarnish the reputation of an otherwise peaceful religion. Sadly, recent events have proven me wrong.
I do not believe the cartoon controversy to be an issue of freedom of speech. Rather, free speech is what allows us to debate this controversy in the first place. At issue here are principles of intellectualism and tolerance, both much more important cornerstones to our civilisation and the spirit of the enlightenment.
I have expected the westernised Islamic community to intercede and jump to the defence of these principles. They did not. The community in general proceeded to allow fundamentalists and demagogues to set the agenda for the whole Islamic world.
According to Private Eye magazine, among the cartoons circulated in the Middle East were several images which did not originate in Denmark, and which were included by fundamentalists wishing to inflame passions in Muslim countries. One image, for example, featured a pig with a man’s face, supposedly mocking Mohammed. In fact, the “pig” was a French farmer at an annual dress-up-like-a-pig-and-win-prizes agricultural fair.
Among the lonely voices of reason in struggle for rationalism has been that of the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
Today, the open society is challenged by Islamism, ascribed to a man named Muhammad Abdullah who lived in the seventh century, and who is regarded as a prophet. Many Muslims are peaceful people; not all are fanatics. As far as I am concerned they have every right to be faithful to their convictions. But within Islam exists a hard-line Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to destroy them. These Islamists seek to convince other Muslims that their way of life is the best. But when opponents of Islamism try to expose the fallacies in the teachings of Muhammad then they are accused of being offensive, blasphemous, socially irresponsible — even Islamophobic or racist.
The issue is not about race, colour or heritage. It is a conflict of ideas, which transcend borders and races.
Now is the time for moderate Muslims to prove that their allegiance to a world of peace and religious harmony is anything more than just lip service. It’s easy for a Muslim body to reject the actions of a single suicide bomber; true commitment to equality demands a stronger signal of compromise and tolerance.