Before events regarding the Danish cartoons that have incited violent reactions by Muslims in the Middle East wind down (or expand?), I felt I should briefly share my own feelings about it. Many other writers frame the debate better than I can and there isn’t much to excuse the acts of either the cartoonists or the protesters/arsonists. I don’t at all enjoy childish provocations that belittle anyone’s religious belief, even as I come to expect it more and more, especially if one is a Christian like me. Every story and character in the Bible has been employed by creative types to make all sorts of points irrelevant to their religious origin. Sometimes it is fine and I applaud the new take on an old story, but other times its just plain crass. My reaction is that of pity for the person who is so intent to trash religious figures. I never wish ill on such people but hope that they will discover somewhere along the way a greater respect for religious belief.
Still a society that abides to the principle of freedom of expression will have to tolerate all ideas regardless of their unpopularity. Insults and other verbal offenses are to be dealt with civility, as is common to any civilized place. To respond with violence is therefore un-civilized and resembles the kind of conflicts that generate intergenerational blood-feuds. I had learned that Islam was quintessentially an urban religion, one that enabled the organization of a wide multitude of peoples under a set of coherent rules for daily conduct. I don’t see where arson and dressing up children as future martyrs advances this enlightened civilizing order that is Islam.
In determining who the winners and losers in the Danish cartoon fiasco, right now things don’t look good for Muslims who want no part in the violence and would rather more sensibly protest or debate peacefully about it. I’m awaiting evidence that shows moderate Muslims are committed to extinguishing their fundamentalist detractors’ political and media influence. But with every public eruption, incessant terrorist activity within Muslim areas, with numerous incidents of torture supposedly sanctioned by sharia, I lose my patience and am forced to reassess the actual intentions of moderate Muslims. I know there are many of you out there, currently enjoying life and indulging in the same pleasures all other dhimmis do. What are you going to do when the most radical elements of your religion have taken over its major megaphones and have taken over most regimes in the Middle East, subjecting everyone to strict social and legal codes?
National Review’s Jim Geraghty, who currently lives in Turkey, sums up my general feelings best when he writes:
I know, from my experiences, that there are significant numbers of Muslims who have no beef with the West, who want to live the American dream, who can practice their faith and coexist with other religions. I’ve documented their efforts to take back their faith from the bin Ladens of the world. But apparently they are too quiet.
I wonder how many Muslims understand how the actions of the embassy-torching maniacs define their faith to so many. I wonder how many don’t know, how many don’t care, and how many do know and care but are too scared of the consequences to stand against the violence committed in their name. I’m trying to articulate my positive experiences with Muslims over here to my readers, but it’s not as powerful and penetrating an image as screaming lunatics burning down embassies and threatening to behead anyone who they believe has insulted them. And frankly, I’m not all that wowed with the reaction of moderate Muslims. I’m not sure how much further I want to stick my neck out defending a faith community that won’t loudly and firmly police or rebuke its own members. It’s depressing, but maybe we've got to go through this... delaying a clash might be just postponing the inevitable...
It’s not enough for some Western-based moderate cleric or even a chic young attractive Muslim woman to appear on a television talk show to say that what the terrorists are doing is against Islam. Within a secure country where everyone’s dignity and individual rights are respected (E.U., U.S.), that kind of message is almost mandatory but changes little the threat posed by radical Islam on Muslims. Saying this same message in the many parts of Middle East appears to require a lot more courage, and it’s telling that we don’t hear near enough from people who bring a sound understanding of Islam to hostile places. Where are the emerging political parties in the Middle East that preach a tolerant Islam, democratic government and intellectual freedom? Politics is a vacuum and competing powers are quick to cover as much of the vacuum as possible. It does not necessarily reward the parties that have the good sensible ideas. It rewards the party that organizes itself the best. This is the time for the moderates to take charge and organize, because it will be close to impossible to have a chance under the dominion of the Islamists.
Update: I just found this in which Canadian columnist David Warren crystalizes what I was getting around to say never did:
"Every time we refuse a radical Muslim demand, by sticking to our sound Western principles, we strengthen reasonable Muslims against the fanatics. Every time we relent, we strengthen the fanatics."