Against Blasphemy

Dr. Mead has a good point.
The Islamic value — and it a worthy one on its own terms and would certainly have been understandable to our western predecessors who punished blasphemy very severely — of prohibiting insults to the Prophet of Islam clashes directly with the modern western value of free expression. To the western eye (and it’s a perspective I share), a murderous riot in the name of a religion is a worse sin and deeper, uglier form of blasphemy than any film could ever hope to be. To kill someone created in the image of God because you don’t like the way God or one of his servants has been depicted in an artistic performance strikes westerners as an obscene perversion of religion — something that only a hate-filled fanatic or an ignorant fool could do.
In general I have little enough tolerance for that sort of person who wants to offend for the pure joy of showing how smart they think they are. It's hard not to sympathize with the Muslim over the atheist who decided it would be clever to portray "Zombie Muhammad," for example. These guys are jerks, and I have no desire to end up on their side.

This Coptic Christian fellow seems better placed, because he has a genuine grievance: the Copts have suffered badly (as, sadly, have Iraqi Christians in the wake of our invasion there). The Coptic position isn't just looking for trouble for the pure joy of hunting up trouble: they have been badly handled over the last few years, and especially since the fall of the Egypt we long knew. Yet all the same, he set out to make people angry, to blaspheme as hard as he could.

We're in a bad position: supporters of democracy, but holding some 'basic truths' about the necessary conditions for democracy that few in the region believe exist. The Establishment clause is ours, not theirs; although, as it appears, we may be on the verge of making an exception to it parallel to the one they want. Islam alone may be commanding a special place as worthy of state protection, even here.


E Hines said...

We're in a bad position: supporters of democracy, but holding some 'basic truths' about the necessary conditions for democracy that few in the region believe exist.

Not at all. For one, we're on our soil; we're not demanding that they accept the free speech rights of blasphemy on their soil. For another, we don't butcher others--anymore--for insulting us or our religion. For another, they invaded American soil for the express purpose of butchering Americans who had nothing at all to do with the insult, to destroy American property on American soil, to desecrate the American flag on American soil. All because someone else had done them insult somewhere else where the act was entirely legal.

They're not going after the insulter; they don't care whom they murder--they're just going to kill Americans, destroy American property, desecrate American symbols--just because they're American.

I disagree with their attitude toward blasphemy, but I'd be a lot less...dismayed...if Stevens had, in the public square in Benghazi, drawn an image of Mohammed and then urinated on it. That insult would have been on Libyan soil and subject to Libyan law and mores.

For all that, though, this--...we may be on the verge of making an exception to [Islam] parallel to the one they want[]--by a timid administration and court system, is the far greater danger than a few random murders and insults, or even widespread rioting.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I'm referring to the general problem we've had for a long time: we want to support democracy, but democratic choices often lead to regimes we find odious. Democracy, without protection of basic rights, is unpleasant. (That was a truth well-known to Aristotle and Plato, and even more to Socrates!)

For most of my life, and before, we had supported democratization in a kind of general way, but we'd often practically ended up supporting authoritarian regimes. Now we seem to have managed to make the shift to supporting democracy, but the cost is at times quite clear.

My fear is that we may be seeing a loss of our own freedoms as well. It's not just that they will live their way where they live. This kind of 'mob veto' may prove to be an infection that spreads from democracy to democracy, and even here. People often learn by example.

Grim said...

Which is not to say that I don't support democracy movements. I just think that we have to be extremely vigilant right now. The best case scenario, though, is that the administration is carelessly and sloppily allowing thing to slide the other direction.

E Hines said...

Yeah, but as with our administration's and our courts' treatment of Christianity, supporting democracy movements, and religious freedom, includes supporting our own.

When it's one-way, as this administration insists on doing, it isn't supporting democracy movements, and religious freedom, it's at best pandering. At worst, it's far more nefarious. In the middle is only the cowardice of appeasement.

Eric Hines

RonF said...

It seems to me that an examination of the culture of most majority-Muslim countries points to the issue here.

In those countries, the concept of an individual right that supersedes that of the group is foreign. Consider that in many of them a woman who behaves at variance with expected behavior can be killed by her family with little effective recourse from society. The family's right to uphold it's "honor" overrides the most basic right a human being can have. Their religion and their State (which in Islam are not separated) are the same; your right to life is inferior to Islam's right not to be defamed.

Now comes the West and says "No. Individuals have rights that are superior to that of society," and the East says "What are you talking about?" And then we say "What are YOU talking about?" This could be ignored when the two didn't have much cultural contact, but TV and the Internet have changed that.

The East says that our culture is invalid and demands we adopt theirs. The West says the East's culture is inferior, but we are content that they should retain it as long as they don't interfere with us. The former is far more disposed to use violence to obtain their ends than we are to obtain ours.