In 1988, Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was published in its English-language original edition. Its publication led the Iranian state and its revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, to issue a "fatwa" against Rushdie and offer a hefty bounty for his murder. This triggered several attacks on the novel's translators and publishers, including the murder of Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi. Millions of Muslims around the world who had never read a single line of the book, and who had never even heard the name Salman Rushdie before, wanted to see the death sentence against the author carried out -- and the sooner the better, so that the stained honor of the prophet could be washed clean again with Rushdie's blood.I sure hope we aren't marching backwards into a new Dark Age. But the inability to distinguish between free expression and murderous atrocity is unsettling. That some would argue there is a "moral equivalence" between expression and act is insane. We must be tolerant of opinion but intolerant of intolerance. To let fundamentalist fanatics to define "acceptable thinking" is unthinkable. That was the atmosphere of Medieval Europe and pretty well the rest of the world. The outbreak of tolerance, democracy, and science in Europe is not an accident. It was a result of breaking the mental chains that an intolerant Church had on the Medieval mind.
In that atmosphere, no German publisher had the courage to publish Rushdie's book. This led a handful of famous German authors, led by Günter Grass, to take the initiative to ensure that Rushdie's novel could appear in Germany by founding a publishing house exclusively for that purpose. It was called Artikel 19, named after the paragraph in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees the freedom of opinion. Dozens of publishing houses, organizations, journalists, politicians and other prominent members of German society were involved in the joint venture, which was the broadest coalition that had ever been formed in postwar German history.
Seventeen years later, after the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published a dozen Muhammad cartoons on a single page, there were similar reactions in the Islamic world to those that had followed the publication of "The Satanic Verses." Millions of Muslims from London to Jakarta who had never seen the caricatures or even heard the name of the newspaper, took to the streets in protests against an insult to the prophet and demanded the appropriate punishment for the offenders: death. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden even went so far as to demand the cartoonists' extradition so that they could be condemned by an Islamic court.
This time, however, in contrast to the Rushdie case, hardly anyone has showed any solidarity with the threatened Danish cartoonists -- to the contrary. Grass, who had initiated the Artikel 19 campaign, expressed his understanding for the hurt feelings of the Muslims and the violent reactions that resulted. Grass described them as a "fundamentalist response to a fundamentalist act," in the process drawing a moral equivalence between the 12 cartoons and the death threats against the cartoonists. Grass also stated that: "We have lost the right to seek protection under the umbrella of freedom of expression."
"I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," commented then-British Home Secretary Jack Straw, referring to the decision by several European media organizations to republish the caricatures. ...
Very few people showed a willingness to break ranks. Among them was comedian Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean"), who in the context of a debate over British proposed incitement of religious hatred legislation, declared that "right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended." And Somalia-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a secular Muslim woman then living in the Netherlands, responded with a manifesto that began with the words: "I am here to defend the right to offend."
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Henryk M. Broder has written a very important editorial in Der Spiegel. He points out that the Muslim fanatics are slowly winning their war and closing down minds by smothering free speech and unfettered opinion: