The Western reaction to the recent call by Al-Qaeda-in-the-Arab-Peninusla (AQAP) for the killing of those who have — in the eyes of Muslims — blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammad underlines the apparently unbridgeable gulf between the contemporary West and the Islamic world; indeed, between the West’s elites and any thoroughly religious community. The West’s reaction also highlights the self-righteous and self-defeating nature of Western cultural imperialism, a creed that brooks no challenge whatsoever toward any of the tenets it holds as universal absolutes, and arrogantly and foolishly assumes that those people the cultural imperialists offend will meekly accept the affront.
In Islam, blasphemy merits the death penalty — period. The blasphemer may be Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, an atheist, or a snake worshiper; it does not matter, to blaspheme Allah or His prophet is to put one’s neck squarely on the chopping block. And this is a universally known fact. Those in Europe who caricatured the Prophet knew this, and the American cartoonist who sponsored “Draw-a-picture-of-the-Prophet Day” likewise knew how Muslims would react. The bold-brave blasphemers who have taken on more than a billion Muslims now screech in horror, like the feckless cowards they are, over the call for their demise, and, I suppose, expect all of us to rally to their defense.
Well, I guess we are indeed obligated to at least defend the American cartoonist, although I myself believe any form of blasphemy is a despicable, unnecessary, and trouble-causing activity that contributes nothing to society except hatred, and bears testimony only to the blasphemer’s poor upbringing and vacuous education. But because I know of no acceptable short-term way of returning to what the Founders’ intended the First Amendment to protect in terms of speech, the great mass of adult Americans who would never blaspheme the beliefs of either their fellow countrymen or foreigners are forced to hold their nose and bear the burden of defending the putrid few who find their identity, their art, and their freedom in denigrating the faith of others.
That said, we also must accept that just because our elites have decided to call a thing a “human right” or a “universal right” does not make it so. Much of the world’s population is not ready for a picture of Jesus to be submerged in urine; the Torah to be pictured as a version of Mad magazine; or the Prophet Muhammad to be talked about and drawn as a pedophile bomb-maker. That is, several hundreds of millions of people outside Western Europe and North America take their religion very seriously and will almost reflexively react to defend it against blasphemers. And some will react with violence.
This is a reality. We may not like it, perhaps would should not like it, but, as my kids say, it is what it is. Does that mean we in the United States must silence those whose life would be a tragedy if they were not free to blaspheme? Certainly not. We must allow them to keep spewing their bile and protect them as best we can from reprisal.
But we must also realize that, at least in terms of the Muslim world, the blasphemers are playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter that has three of its six chambers loaded. One or more of the merry blasphemers is going to get blown up or have their brains blown out, but at least when they go out, they’ll go as a martyr to the right to blaspheme that made their life complete, if some what shorter than expected.
The more important aspect of the problem is for Americans, Europeans, and other folks is to recognize that blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad is nothing less than act of war in the eyes of untold numbers of Muslims. It also is a rather vicious form of cultural imperialism, amounting to a statement that in essence says: “Your religion and its attendant beliefs, personalities, traditions, and history are garbage, and we Westerners want you Muslims to know that this is what we think and that we expect you take our abuse and like it.” Again, if sadly, Western blasphemers have every right to say this, and, again, the rest of us are on the hook to protect them. But for our own safety we must not expect that Muslims will huff and puff and then simply walk away and pout, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops whenever the mainstream U.S. and Western media practices that socially acceptable and virulent form of bigotry known as anti-Catholicism.
No, Muslims are going to strike back against what they view as an intellectual attempt to destroy Islam, one that goes hand-in-hand with the same goal they believe is inherent in the conduct and impact of U.S. and Western foreign policy toward the Islamic world. In a variant of that tired old slogan that declares “freedom isn’t free,” it probably is fair to say that we all will soon learn that “free speech isn’t free” when the speech at issue is blasphemy and the cost of it is death.