I hate being called a coward.
But that is exactly what I suppose I would be in the eyes of Sam Harris. Also, I would be a proponent towards the infringement on free speech around the globe. Why? Because I refuse to fall into the same Islamic hatred that he does.
It’s an interesting essay, to say the least, and one that fails to see the forest from the trees at just about every bend possible. The basic premise of it being that Islam really is evil, and that it is a crime, an act of cowardice, and an infringement upon the freedom of speech that authors and cartoonists and film makers can’t use their mediums to point this out.
About the only actual valid point that he does make is that on freedom of speech. In some countries, actual anti-Islamic sentiment has been banned, but even this is blown out of proportion in that he is lumping his own struggles to publish his own book, along with other difficulties faced by other authors and such who have met with equal or more difficulties, with that of true restrictions on the freedom of speech.
Now, look, I’m the biggest freedom of speech guy there is. In no way do I ever condone the government to keep people from speaking what’s on their minds, and I’m very absolutist on this. But what has to first be understood is that freedom of speech does not equate to a mandate to be heard, which is one of the many problems that Harris has with his essay.
Despite the fact that I write upwards of ten articles a night, I continue to not be published in such esteemed journals and newspapers as Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, and so on and so forth. Is my freedom of speech being infringed upon? No; these institutions simply don’t see me as being profitable enough to hire me, or, more likely, don’t see me at all (their loss, totally).
This much like Don Imus’ “nappy headed hos” comment. it was a disgusting and unacceptable comment, and I feel that deeply, but I also think that the government had absolutely no right whatsoever to do anything about it. The broadcaster that fired him, though, was well within his right, and was not infringing upon his freedom of speech in the slightest. Instead, they had assessed his message and determined that they did not wish to promote it any longer (Or, from the more cynical point of view, they were pulling their hands out of the fire while they waited for the situation to cool off).
The point of this being that while governments banning films like “Fitna” is a legitimate gripe, going to war against the publishing industry isn’t; that’s what true freedom of speech entails. You get to say what you want but you have to be willing to take whatever the outcome for your words or works will be. If what you say means you can’t get a publisher to pick up your book, than that’s just how the system works, and you better start reading “Publishing for Dummies” if you want to have a prayer of seeing your books on book shelves. If book stores won’t carry your self published book, get used to selling copies out of your truck.
No one is beholden to promoting your views, and any reason at all, from thinking you’re being disingenuous and dangerous, to the possibility that your breath smells like a cat box, is perfectly acceptable and just.
But Harris’ misunderstanding of free speech is hardly the worst of this essay. As the Newshoggers point out, the very double standard that Harris claims Islam enjoys, is actually the double standard that does them so much injustice.
It’s not that hard to see, really. Whenever some lunatic Christian group goes off and does something like start up a bizarre polygamist cult, or bomb an abortion clinic, or anything for that matter, it is quickly denunciated as just a lunatic fringe group. No one looks at the hate filled spew from people like the late Jerry Falwell or John McCain’s bestest buddy John Hagee and concludes that Christianity is inherently evil, and that all followers of Christ must also, by necessity, be just as looped and fanatical. People don’t look at the KKK and decide, oh, man, all Christians are racists, and people don’t look at Fred Phelps and think that all Christians are homophobic assholes.
Christianity gets a pass that is spared when it comes to Islam.
And the real shame about this is that we can’t learn the right lessons from this perspective. The reason why the ideas that Harris put forth are so dangerous is not because, as he implies, the Muslims will kill us all if we speak up against Islam, but because it prevents us from learning the real lessons of what we are seeing from the rise of radical Islamic terrorism, and despotic Islamic states.
It prevents us from seeing that the phenomenon that we are seeing here is not unique to the faith in question. Instead of being the ends, religion in such instances is the means, a tool, as faith is a very powerful part of many people’s lives.
Which is why this modern era has become a cautionary tale about religion in government. The basic precepts and tenets of Islam are not what create the problem that we see, but instead a deeply and widely held belief in a faith that motivates large numbers of people to bend to the will of the few. That the Muslim world is antagonized on all sides merely intensifies the effect by creating a back against the wall mentality.
We see a much smaller version of this in America with the current running battle of creationism and evolution. Many Christians feel as though the exclusion of their religion in the classroom is an attack on their faith, so they get their backs against the wall and they fight back. Take the uproar that this debate in this country has caused, and now multiply it by a pocket of countries against the world, and you might begin to see what I’m getting at.
But, as I say, this isn’t Islam, this is faith thrown in a specific set of circumstances from economic doldrums among the populace, to antagonism all about. it begs the question that, if roles were reversed, would Christianity be any different?
It’s difficult to say, though many I’m sure would instantly rise to the defense of Christianity, and I am not attempting to disparage the faith. In fact, that would go exactly to my point. It’s possible that in the right circumstances Christianity could provide as massive and as deadly a movement as Islam, and historically it has definitely provided some analogous examples. But in such cases, it would not be because Christianity is a violent faith, but because violent people exploit it for violent causes.
It goes from God, to the prophets and clerics, to the people. It is as simple as that. God, in this discussion, is irrelevent, for it is the interpretation of the prophets and clerics that becomes the message to the people, and it is the faith of the people in the prophets and clerics that determines their actions.
When people believe in a God, and they put their faith in the spiritual advisors of that God, those spiritual advisors wield an awesome power over the minds of the zealous. This is true regardless of the name of the God, and the book that carries His word. This is the truth that we have seen throughout our existence, and yes, to claim that Islam is uniquely dangerous, that it is unique among the exploitation of faith by the few, is highly irresponsible, and it takes the focus away from this greater reality of the human condition.
Call Islam evil all you want, you are free to do so, but understand that stamping out the religion will not make the problem go away, but only make room for a new problem using the same basic principles that saw the rise of radical Islamic terrorism.
(edited by DrGail)