New article on Secular Voices

Secular Voices has just accepted my first article, “The Biggest Victims of Muslim Fanaticism: Muslims”. Getting a good number of views will help my future chances, so pleaseMuhammad saying "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons." spread the word if you like it.

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1000 Lashes

Yesterday I picked up Raif Badawi’s 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think. It took me less than an hour to read the 60-page book, and I’m not a fast reader. You might not consider it a good value per word until you remember that he paid for each word in blood.

Raif BadawiBadawi is a rarity in Saudi Arabia, a liberal who hasn’t kept silence or fled the country. For his criticism of authority, the government sentenced him to death. This was commuted to a thousand lashes, to be delivered at fifty a week, and ten years in jail. That is, death by torture instead of a clean sword blow. So far, he has received only the first fifty lashes, likely because of heavy international attention. 1000 Lashes is a collection of some of his blog posts, translated from the Arabic. When identifying him as a liberal, I don’t mean it in the degraded Democratic-Party sense but in its older meaning:

Liberalism means to simply live and let live. We should all acknowledge our respect for the traditions and personal behaviors of others, as long as they don’t cross the line for others and invade their personal space. It’s a natural human right to say what you want and do what you want, as long as this freedom is ruled by laws; your freedom ends on the outskirts of the freedom of others.

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The Tyranny of Silence

Jyllands-Posten page with Muhammad cartoonsI’ve just finished Flemming Rose’s The Tyranny of Silence, a book that needs to be widely read. Rose is an editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published twelve cartoons portraying or relating to Muhammad in 2005. This provoked fury not just in fanatical Muslims, but in political fanatics for the “right” not to be offended. An assailant invaded the home of Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, and tried to kill him. Rose and the cartoonists were subjected to threats and verbal abuse, though none of them have been killed.

In discussing the “Cartoon Crisis,” Rose takes a broad look at the issues of free speech, with examples from Calvin to the present day of deadly violence against heresy. His examples show that Muslims out of power in their own countries are often the targets; when fanatics have gotten rid of all the unbelievers, there’s nothing left but to turn on their own people. This has led to the upside-down situation where people like Raif Badawi, who criticize the Saudi government’s brutality, are “oppressors,” and the Saudi rulers who sentenced him to a thousand lashes are the “victims.”

We can see an important thread in European thought which isn’t much found in American thought. Many in Europe believe that freedom of speech in the Weimar Republic allowed Hitler’s rise, and that “hate speech” laws would have prevented it. In fact, there were laws restricting attacks on people’s religion; the Nazis simply adapted by focusing entirely on racism, on which there was no ban at the time. Today much of Europe has laws against Holocaust denial, yet levels of anti-Semitism are much higher there than in the US.

Today, those who are most violent are granted the strongest claim not to be offended. A museum director declared, “We have no right to offend one another. You don’t have the right to say what you want about other people.” The context was an exhibit that had provoked threats of violence from Muslims. In the next breath she said, “we show a lot of extremely offensive stuff here, and we’re not a fearful gallery.” The people you have no right to offend are just the ones who might kill you, and that has nothing to do with fear.

Something besides fear is involved, though. I’m afraid it’s the idea that Muslims just can’t be expected to behave like civilized Europeans and shouldn’t be held to blame for their violent responses. This amounts to regarding them as animals who just are naturally going to bite you if you touch them the wrong way. This is a horribly condescending view and can only encourage increased hostility in both directions. Rose doesn’t talk about the European movement to keep Muslims out, but it comes out of the same attitude.

The current state of the Middle East is a lesson in what happens when dogma ousts freedom of speech. No one is safe, regardless of their beliefs. A lot more people will die before the lesson sinks in, though.

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