Think Again: A double standard for IslamBy J. ROSENBLUM
Nor are those threats to be taken likely. More than 50 people died in violence triggered by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 edict against Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and all those connected with its publication or distribution. Dozens of Europeans are now in hiding or under police protection because of death threats from Muslims.
Sadly, the West has to a shocking degree acquiesced in this double standard. The Washington Post removed from its website a cartoon including the words “Where’s Muhammad,” even though it contained no depiction of him; South Park’s producers edit episodes mentioning Islam but not those ridiculing Christianity; Yale University Press deleted all the actual cartoons from a book on the Danish cartoon controversy. Australian preachers were fined for quoting the Koran, and leading Dutch politician Geert Wilders was put on trial for his strident criticism of Islam.
Hate speech laws are applied in Europe against those critical of Islam, but never against Muslim imams who mock Jewish or Christian infidels. Even here, Tatiana Susskind was sentenced to two years in jail for posting a cartoon of the face of Muhammad on the body of a pig, but preachers from the Islamic Movement can broadcast what they want about Jews and Judaism.
The double standard conveys to the Islamists two dangerous messages. First, violence works; the West is terrorized. Second, Islam is the one true religion: Behold, even Westerners treat it with a deference not shown to Christianity or Judaism.
INTELLECTUALS AND cultural elites have played a major role in fostering the West’s acceptance of voluntary dhimmitude by manipulating the level at which the debate takes place whenever it touches issues of Islam. In part, intellectual attitudes are motivated by fear; in part by a refusal to acknowledge a civilizational struggle between the West and expansionist Islam. For some, the frisson of seeing their own bourgeois society under attack contributes to the fun.
The recent uproar over the threat of an obscure Florida pastor to burn the Koran provides a classic example of the different ways the debate is framed depending on whether Islam is perceived as the “aggressor” or the “victim.”
The Koran burning would undoubtedly have been protected “symbolic speech” under settled First Amendment doctrine. Burning the American flag, another highly charged act, has been protected by the Supreme Court. At the same time, it must be conceded that the Koran burning is highly offensive to Muslims and has no purpose other than to offend.
Let’s compare the response to the threatened Koran burning to another recent hot-button issue: the Ground Zero mosque. In discussing the proposed mosque, President Barack Obama focused, or at least claimed to focus, on the impermissibility under the First Amendment of banning only mosques from a particular area. He expressed, or claimed to express, no opinion on the propriety of the project.
The issue of the propriety of the project or the implicit message it would convey to the broader Islamic world was beyond the pale of legitimate discussion, proclaimed New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He professed to be totally uninterested in the fact the project’s initiator, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an advocate for the spread of Islamic law (Shari’a) or that he has assigned America part of the blame for 9/11 or that he initially described the site of the mosque as so close to Ground Zero that debris from one of the hijacked airplanes fell on it. That the building of the mosque will be viewed by Islamists worldwide as an example of Islamic religious structures replacing those of the conquered infidels is irrelevant.
Pastor Terry Jones, by contrast, was immediately condemned by Obama (“un-American”), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (“disgraceful”) and Supreme NATO Commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus. The latter argued that the Koran burning would endanger allied troops and make the Taliban’s recruiting easier.
In short, critics of Jones – just about every single person in America – framed the discussion of his proposed action in terms of its propriety or impact, and ignored its protected status under the First Amendment, while defenders of the Ground Zero mosque talked only of the First Amendment, and ruled out of court issues of propriety or the boost the mosque would give to the Islamist narrative of Islam triumphant.
Even more striking is the contrast of the calumny heaped on Jones, with the public discussion of grossest offenses to Christianity. Christians who protested the taxpayer-supported Brooklyn Museum of Art’s display of a picture of Jesus’s mother on a background of buttocks and female genitalia or the use of a National Endowment of the Arts grant to produce a jar with a plastic crucifix in urine (Piss Christ) found themselves pilloried by their cultural betters as philistines and lectured on the privilege of living in a society in which even the most transgressive art can find a public forum.
Only transgressive art that might rile notoriously irritable Muslims gets a pass. US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer seriously entertained the idea, in response to a question from George Stephanopoulos, that Koran-burning might be compared to shouting fire in a crowded theater if Muslims in Afghanistan would go on murderous rampages in response. He thereby treated Muslims as possessed of rage response instinct that completely bypasses all higher brain function.
THE DISPROPORTIONATE media attention focused on Jones served the Islamist cause by giving credence to the charge of Islamophobia, which is constantly used to exclude discussion of Islam from the free marketplace of ideas. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, for instance, felt compelled to “apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness directed at you.”
Yet Islamophobia is largely a fiction. Jones, one person in a nation of more than 300 million, did not constitute a wave of anything. Hate crimes against Muslims are exceedingly rare in America – even after 9/11, the Fort Hood massacre, the attempted Times Square bombing and a dozen other foiled terrorist attempts. Hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions are eight times as common as those against Muslims.
The Western media consistently downplays the scope of Islamic threat, perhaps in an effort to calm its fears. The overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide are peace-loving fellows, we are assured, and only a handful of bad apples spoil the image of the rest. Ignored are the worldwide network of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi mosques and the vast number of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired offshoots – not just al-Qaida and Hamas, but groups in Western countries promoting Shari’a as the only legitimate system of law.
Endemic problems in virtually the entire Arab and Muslim world are ignored. On a Freedom House scale of freedom (on which seven is the least free) the median for Arab nations is 5.5. For the rest of the world it is 2.5. Whether it is child brides in Gaza, institutionalized selection of dancing pre-pubescent boys as mistresses by older males in Afghanistan or widespread clitoridectomy in much of the Muslim world, the media take a pass. All these phenomena deserve more attention than Jones’s antics.
When Khomeini pronounced it the duty of every Muslim to kill Salman Rushdie and all those promoting his book, British intellectuals rallied to his defense. Recently, when Mollie Norris, a cartoonist for a Seattle alternative weekly, had the misbegotten idea of promoting “Draw Muhammad Day,” she was advised by the FBI to change her identity and go underground. Her own paper contented itself with a laconic announcement, “Mollie Norris no longer exists.”
The story of an American journalist fearing for her life in America received scant coverage.
No wonder Paul Berman titled his recent book on Western responses to Islam The Flight of the Intellectuals.
The writer is the director of Jewish Media Resources. He has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.