Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Cartoon Nonsense

But this time it's state-side, via the AP:
A student panel discussion that included a display of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons descended into chaos, with one speaker calling Islam an ''evil religion'' and audience members nearly coming to blows.

Organizers of Tuesday night's forum at the University of California, Irvine said they showed the cartoons as part of a larger debate on Islamic extremism.

But several hundred protesters, including members of the Muslim Student Union, argued the event was the equivalent of hate speech disguised as freedom of expression.

Although there were numerous heated exchanges, no violence was reported
Most of this stemmed from the ignorance of both the panel and its coordinators and Muslim-American protestors.
Tensions quickly escalated when the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of the conservative Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said that Islam was an ''evil religion'' and that all Muslims hate America.

People repeatedly interrupted the talk and, at one point, campus police removed two men, one of them a Muslim, after they nearly came to blows.

Later, panelists were cheered when they referred to Muslims as fascists and accused mainstream Muslim-American civil rights groups of being ''cheerleaders for terror.''

''I put out a call to Muslims in America: Put out a fatwa on (Osama) bin Laden, put out a fatwa on (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi,'' said panelist Lee Kaplan, a UAC spokesman. ''Support America in the war on terror.''

Thousands of Muslims worldwide have protested, sometimes violently, after the cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper and in other European newspapers. Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.

Osman Umarji, former president of the Muslim Student Union, equated the decision by the student panel to display the prophet drawings to the debasement of Jews in Germany before the Holocaust.

''The agenda is to spread Islamophobia and create hysteria against Muslims similar to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany,'' said Umarji, an electrical engineer who graduated from Irvine last spring. ''Freedom of speech has its limits.''
Look, to call Islam an "evil religion" is ridiculous on so many levels -- not least historically-- that it's a baseless claim. Historically, both Judaism and Christianity had their imperial and reactionary phases where the "evil" epithet could be applied. Does Islam have many teachings counter to liberal democratic norms? You bet. But even a quick, cursory reading of both the Old and New Testaments will provide you with the same hostility toward what we call today democracy. Liberal democracy can probably only take hold when religion becomes a private matter separate from practical and pragmatic governance based on individual rights protected by the rule of law. As much as Western Christian "true believers" everywhere hate to admit it, the United States is not a "Christian" nation, although it does have a Christian tradition that influenced much of its development.

And then there's the Holocaust card. Why do people everywhere feel that they have the right to compare their suffering to one of the worst genocides in human history? In a liberal democracy you have the right to practice any religion you want, which comes with a corollary: you can criticize any religion you like as well. If I can say offensive things about Jesus or the Torah, then why can't I say or do things that violate Muslim beliefs? Do Muslims have a monopoly on being offended?

The sign of a mature mind is its ability to question and to be skeptical of everything, particularly belief systems that have claim on the truth. Muslims living in a liberal society need to get used to the fact they're not immune from criticism, even at its most vile and antagonistic. With the specter of Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists lurking in the global shadows, Muslims everywhere need to be global ambassadors of their religion and respect our right to question their every belief in the common search for the truth or its closest approximate.

Remember, it's hard to kill, harm, or incarcerate someone for a belief when you can't be sure you hold the truth yourself. This intellectual modesty is what freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry make possible.