Left-leaning journalists don't just pull their punches when it comes to criticizing liberal politicians, they also seem paradoxically inclined to do so when it comes to discussing radical Islam. This curious phenomenon (curious in that modern liberalism is highly secular and radical Islam decidedly is not) has repeated itself many times over the years and is really one of the most bizarre behaviors I've seen in politics.
As strange and morally obtuse that we on the center-right believe the western liberal press to be on this issue, surely the more frustrated people have got to be clear-thinking liberals like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens who face the task of trying to get their ideological compatriots to stand up for rationality and civil society. It's a difficult task made even more frustrating by the high degree of self-censorship among liberal media elites. Writing earlier this week at the Huffington Post, Harris (an equal opportunity critic of all religion) recounts how the Washington Post refused to run an article he wrote on the "Fitna" movie that the paper deemed "too critical" of Islam.
Such behavior originates in not just the usual double-standard westernized religion faces but in a very real fear among left elites that criticizing Islam is a physically dangerous endeavor. Unfortunately, as Harris writes, this behavior just exacerbates the problem:
Our capitulations in the face of these threats have had what is often called "a chilling effect" on our exercise of free speech. I have, in my own small way, experienced this chill first hand. First, and most important, my friend and colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali happens to be among the hunted. Because of the failure of Western governments to make it safe for people to speak openly about the problem of Islam, I and others must raise a mountain of private funds to help pay for her round-the-clock protection. The problem is not, as is often alleged, that governments cannot afford to protect every person who speaks out against Muslim intolerance. The problem is that so few people do speak out. If there were ten thousand Ayaan Hirsi Ali's, the risk to each would be radically reduced.
As for infringements of my own speech, my first book, The End of Faith, almost did not get published for fear of offending the sensibilities of (probably non-reading) religious fanatics. W.W. Norton, which did publish the book, was widely seen as taking a risk--one probably attenuated by the fact that I am an equal-opportunity offender critical of all religious faith. However, when it came time to make final edits to the galleys of The End of Faith, many of the people I had thanked by name in my acknowledgments (including my agent at the time and my editor at Norton) independently asked to have their names removed from the book. Their concerns were explicitly for their personal safety. Given our shamefully ineffectual response to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, their concerns were perfectly understandable.
Nature, arguably the most influential scientific journal on the planet, recently published a lengthy whitewash of Islam (Z. Sardar "Beyond the troubled relationship." Nature 448, 131-133; 2007). The author began, as though atop a minaret, by simply declaring the religion of Islam to be "intrinsically rational." He then went on to argue, amid a highly idiosyncratic reading of history and theology, that this rational religion's current wallowing in the violent depths of unreason can be fully ascribed to the legacy of colonialism. After some negotiation, Nature also agreed to publish a brief response from me. What readers of my letter to the editor could not know, however, was that it was only published after perfectly factual sentences deemed offensive to Islam were expunged. I understood the editors' concerns at the time: not only did they have Britain's suffocating libel laws to worry about, but Muslim physicians and engineers in the UK had just revealed a penchant for suicide bombing. I was grateful that Nature published my letter at all.
In a thrillingly ironic turn of events, a shorter version of the very essay you are now reading was originally commissioned by the opinion page of Washington Post and then rejected because it was deemed too critical of Islam. Please note, this essay was destined for the opinion page of the paper, which had solicited my response to the controversy over [Geert] Wilders's film. The irony of its rejection seemed entirely lost on the Post, which responded to my subsequent expression of amazement by offering to pay me a "kill fee." I declined.
I could list other examples of encounters with editors and publishers, as can many writers, all illustrating a single fact: While it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in general, it is considered especially unwise to criticize Islam. Only Muslims hound and hunt and murder their apostates, infidels, and critics in the 21st century. There are, to be sure, reasons why this is so. Some of these reasons have to do with accidents of history and geopolitics, but others can be directly traced to doctrines sanctifying violence which are unique to Islam.
A point of comparison: The controversy of over "Fitna" was immediately followed by ubiquitous media coverage of a scandal involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). In Texas, police raided an FLDS compound and took hundreds of women and underage girls into custody to spare them the continued, sacramental predations of their menfolk. While mainstream Mormonism is now granted the deference accorded to all major religions in the United States, its fundamentalist branch, with its commitment to polygamy, spousal abuse, forced marriage, child brides (and, therefore, child rape) is often portrayed in the press as a depraved cult. But one could easily argue that Islam, considered both in the aggregate and in terms of its most negative instances, is far more despicable than fundamentalist Mormonism. The Muslim world can match the FLDS sin for sin--Muslims commonly practice polygamy, forced-marriage (often between underage girls and older men), and wife-beating--but add to these indiscretions the surpassing evils of honor killing, female "circumcision," widespread support for terrorism, a pornographic fascination with videos showing the butchery of infidels and apostates, a vibrant form of anti-semitism that is explicitly genocidal in its aspirations, and an aptitude for producing children's books and television programs which exalt suicide-bombing and depict Jews as "apes and pigs."
Any honest comparison between these two faiths reveals a bizarre double standard in our treatment of religion. We can openly celebrate the marginalization of FLDS men and the rescue of their women and children. But, leaving aside the practical and political impossibility of doing so, could we even allow ourselves to contemplate liberating the women and children of traditional Islam? [...]
Have you seen the Danish cartoons that so roiled the Muslim world? Probably not, as their publication was suppressed by almost every newspaper, magazine, and television station in the United States. Given their volcanic reception--hundreds of thousands of Muslims rioted, hundreds of people were killed--their sheer banality should have rendered these drawings extraordinarily newsworthy. One magazine which did print them, Free Inquiry (for which I am proud to have written), had its stock banned from every Borders and Waldenbooks in the country. These are precisely the sorts of capitulations that we must avoid in the future.
The lesson we should draw from the "Fitna" controversy is that we need more criticism of Islam, not less. Let it come down in such torrents that not even the most deluded Islamist could conceive of containing it. As Ibn Warraq, author of the revelatory Why I Am Not a Muslim, said in response to recent events:
It is perverse for the western media to lament the lack of an Islamic reformation and willfully ignore works such as Wilders's film, "Fitna". How do they think reformation will come about if not with criticism? There is no such right as 'the right not to be offended; indeed, I am deeply offended by the contents of the Koran, with its overt hatred of Christians, Jews, apostates, non-believers, homosexuals but cannot demand its suppression.
It is time we recognized that those who claim the "right not to be offended" have also announced their hatred of civil society.
Read the whole thing. Hat tip: Gateway Pundit.