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Sara, I must also disagree

Reader comment on item: Cartoons and Islamic Imperialism
in response to reader comment: From another perspective, muslims in the Western world are suffering

Submitted by Jeff (United States), Feb 20, 2006 at 21:05

Dear Sara,

Please don't think me too horribly rude in this response.

Yes, our freedom of speech is tricky business and we've argued about it among ourselves in the USA since about as soon as the ink was dry on the Bill of Rights. As court cases expanded freedom of speech to freedom of expression, to include strip clubs and Nazi marches, many of us became uncomfortable, but we generally come back to the same conclusion: If I take away someone else's freedom of expression, then who's will be next? When will my turn come?

So we put up with a lot of very low class expression, to ensure each of us has the freedom to express ourselves. The price seems very high sometimes. But what have we bought? Well, for example, our narrow-minded FBI director in the 1960's, J. Edgar Hoover, could not silence Martin Luther King, thanks to freedom of speech. Try as they did, racists in state and local governments could not hold back a civil rights movement born and nurtured with free speech. Voila the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Regardless of what Al Sharpton screams about (with his freedom of speech) the fact remains that no nation on earth has succeeded in turning its back on a racist past. No, I'm not claiming we're perfect. But we've come very far from white-only restaurants in under just 50 years, and our freedom of speech was instrumental in that process. So, where will it bring us in the next 50 years? Put another way, where will we be in 50 years without it? None of us wants to find that out.

Messy and unpleasant as freedom of speech can get, it promotes a freedom of inquiry that has produced a marketplace of ideas that drives ongoing technological progress, for example the computer I'm at and the system that allows us to communicate (I hope that's what we're doing).

Don't forget, if something on TV offends me, I can change the channel or turn it off. If something in the newspaper offends me, I can put it down. Or I can write to that same newspaper and express my point of view. They'll print it. Or I can decide never to buy that newspaper again; if enough of us do that, they're out of business.

So, we stick with our freedom of speech, despite all the warts, because, on balance, we all win.

You say, just because we value freedom of speech does not mean it is a priority to Muslims. That's fine. Honestly, Sara, we understand that. We don't expect other cultures to share or practice all our values, including this one. We only ask a little understanding back that different cultures play by different sets of rules. This, I think, is what Mr. Clark is getting at, if I may be so presumtuous as to speak for him.

I think the problem Mr. Clark is getting at is, many of us perceive a double standard in the blame game and it's starting to get to us. We feel that every non-Muslim in the Western world is supposed to share the blame with a few Danish cartoonists we've never heard of and can't name. (Sorry to say, plenty of Americans couldn't find Denmark on a map.)

But we're constantly reminded that no Muslims anywhere ever, ever share any blame with the perpetrators of 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the murder of Father Santoro, the murder of Nicholas Berg, the murder of Daniel Pearl, etc. etc.

We don't understand why one group's rules apply to everyone else. I am Catholic. As a Catholic, I am obligated to certain rules. Some of them are pretty universal, but we have rules that I don't expect any non-Catholic to follow. But it seems I'm suddenly supposed to be obligated to follow Muslim rules in addition to my own. Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.

I'm not sure folks in the Middle East understand that newspapers in the west are not controlled by the governments of the countries they're in. If I grew up in the Middle East, perhaps a free press would be unimaginable to me, too. But the fact remains; it is pointless to ask a government to apologize for the actions of an independent newspaper over which it has no control.

I think our biggest disappointment is not with the violent reaction in the Middle East, but rather, those of European cities. If I move to Brazil, I'll learn to speak Portuguese and I'll follow the laws and cultural norms of Brazil. If I decide those laws and norms are unbearable, I'll return to where I feel relatively at home. I won't demand that everybody change now that I'm there, and I won't murder any Brazilians. Surely you see where I'm going with this. Why does it appear that so many Muslims endure the hardships of emigration to get to places whose laws and norms they abhor? And then complain about their host country, just for enforcing its own laws? And if they didn't know before they emigrated, OK, so they got duped, but they know now, so isn't the obvious solution to return to the much better culture they emigrated from? Why stay and suffer with, say, England's freedom of speech, with all its messiness, when you could be safe from all that back in Egypt, Syria or Pakistan?

I don't mean to trivialize the hardship involved in emigration, or with the decision to reemigrate, nor do I wish to imply that immigrants have no freedom of speech or of peaceable assembly. But, believe it or not, we do have limits on our freedom of speech, and threatening to murder someone is not protected speech. Also, when someone is invited to live in another country, particularly someone who pleaded to be allowed in based on humanitarian grounds, is it so much to ask him to put up with the rules of the country he petitioned to enter?

If you invite me into your home for dinner, I'll eat what's put in front of me, you know what I mean? I won't complain about your generosity and I won't trash your living room.

You tell me that Islam is a religion of peace; I'm sure for you it is, and I want to believe you, very much. But I also hear learned Muslims quoting the Koran to tell me something very different. You say Islam was the first religion to outlaw slavery. But again, I hear learned Muslims say something very different. Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, Imam of the Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh, and professor at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, recently said "Slavery is a part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam." Mr. Al-Fawzan wants to bring an end to Saudi Arabia's 44-year experiment with abolition of slavery.

So, as an outsider, who claims to know nothing about Islam, whom should I believe? Please believe me, I want to believe you.


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