Thursday, February 09, 2006

Free speech vs. fascism

WorkingForChange-Free speech vs. fascism:
Riots against editorial cartoons show scariest side of Muslim fundamentalism

I've been astonished at how little commentary there's been on left-leaning blogs and web sites in recent days concerning the worldwide protests, riots, and fires stemming from the printing of (originally) a handful of European newspaper cartoons that some Muslims find spiritually offensive.

Sorry, but I find riots and violence to be spiritually offensive. Am I the only progressive alive who thinks this?

While the Right goes apeshit on this issue, the Left's relative silence has been troubling. Me? I'm all for cultural sensitivity, and as a child of desegregation in the South Carolina of the late '60s, I'm fully aware of the power of words and images to wound.

But I've never been a fan of so-called "hate crimes" legislation, in which charges and sentences are increased when a defendant is allegedly motivated by racial, ethnic, religious, gender-based, sexual-orientation-based, or whatever-based hatred.

The problem with these laws is that it is inevitably the state -- people in power -- who are increasing penalties based on their interpretation of what someone else is thinking. Eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, the state (or the D.A.) realizes that this is a very handy tool for suppression of all sorts of untidy thought. Criticizing the state, magically, becomes a "hate crime," like when the guy in San Jose who defaced a statue of Christopher Columbus for being a genocidal bastard was charged with a "hate crime" for his purported unreasoning hatred of Italian-Americans.

It's a very, very slippery slope.

And now we are faced with one of the more fascistic tenets of Islamic fundamentalism, and one of its most terrifying -- their complete lack of interest in freedom of speech, and their complete lack of a sense of humor, respectively. Salman Rushdie knows what this is about. He had to live in hiding for years after some Muslim yahoo issued a fatwah against his life for having had the temerity to write a satirical novel about the prophet Muhammed. Rushdie's mistake, of course, was in thinking that because he lived in liberal, free-speech-loving England, he was safe from the Islamic censors.


And now a few European cartoonists and their publishers have discovered the same thing. Their admittedly tasteless, offensive depictions are worth condemning; they are not worth rioting over. The authors and publishers are being vilified by people whose own media frequently runs depictions of Jews and Christians that are as racist and offensive as anything imaginable. The Muslims' problem isn't with disrespect to religion; it's with disrespect to their religion. And in particular, pro-Western Arab dictatorships like Egypt and Pakistan don't dare let their populations demonstrate against the U.S. or Israel, but Denmark and Norway are nice, safe targets for the outrage of the masses. So cops normally inclined to crack open protester heads are encouraged instead to join the fun.

Regular readers of mine are well aware that I think George Bush's foreign policies are full of it. But when he and his fellow neo-cons warn that fundamentalist Muslims are fascists, they are right. They don't believe in freedom of speech, and they reserve the right to enforce their moral interpretation of the universe anywhere in the universe -- just like Christian fundamentalists. The difference is that while their religion is probably responsible for the spilling of more blood than any other religion in the history of the world, very few Christians issue death warrants or riot if someone draws Jesus or God. Even when it's not a very flattering drawing.

Muslim fundies are big on the being judge, jury, and executioner. And They're big believers in what they call "education" -- kids' memorizing of the Koran, or what we might refer to more quaintly as "brainwashing." I suppose that crack could land me on some fatwah list, too.

This isn't about "respecting cultural diversity." If someone wants to pray five times daily in the direction of a city in Saudi Arabia, that's cultural diversity. Fine by me. If someone wants to impose their religious beliefs on me, whether it's James Dobson or Mullah Omar, that's theocratic fascism. And it must be defended against.

That doesn't mean I want the U.S. to wage war, economic or military, in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, or any other Muslim enclave. It does mean I don't want them waging war on me, either, whether It's a bomb, an exploding jet liner, or someone's banned book list. The riots against these profane cartoons ought to inspire every newspaper in the Western world to print them, just to demonstrate that while we might have all the respect in the world for Islam (and some of our political leaders have a ways to go on that score), we won't be dictated to by any religion's lunatic fringe. Religion is the opiate of the masses -- and never more so than when it bans all those competing opiates.

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