a missing piece in the free speech/Islam discussion
Travis Kavulla, writer for the fledgling conservative Red Ivy blog, is right about one thing. Liberals ought to be outraged about the violent responses among many Muslims to 12 Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad, one showing him with a bomb in his turban. Such reactions choke free speech and trample the ideals of intellectual freedom that liberals claim to cherish. Conservatives are right to condemn these hateful acts. But by viewing condemnation as the only important response to this situation, we succumb to a myopia that hinders us from defending liberal ideals. (more in expanded post)
Denouncing dogmatic overreactions only gets us so far in stopping and preventing them. Blaming Islam as a religion for the violence, as Travis does, get us nowhere. Many liberals rightly recognize the hypocrisy in passing judgment on Islam itself for the violence committed in its name, given how much destruction and injustice has been spread worldwide, historically, in the name of Christianity--through murders, prosyletizing enslavement, and missionary-led colonialism. Unfortunately, this insightful recognition makes us hesitant to comment negatively whatsoever on the recent upheaval. Instead we silently shake our heads or immediately begin searching for nuanced causes of fundamentalism-fueled riots and terrorist threats, without first acknowledging that such violence both saddens and frustrates us.
Liberals need to force-feed political dialogue a dose of nuance by realizing that condemning these reactions, while appropriate, is only part of the struggle. Booing a speaker doesn't accomplish as much as finding your own soapbox to stand on; this is a major principle of democratic dialogue. So in addition to calling for an end to suppression of free speech, we also have to call for a resurgence of energies dedicated to expanding freedoms of expression, not only in Europe but in predominantly Muslim nations. The fact is, the majority of Muslims are not violently fundamentalist; yet, repressive governments stamp out moderate and progressive Muslim voices by keeping a stranglehold on civil liberties. Plus, Western media sometimes fixates on extremist elements to the exclusion of progressive forces. If we are committed to supporting people's struggles for civil rights worldwide, times like this are critical moments to demonstrate our solidarity with Muslims around the globe who want peace as much as we do.
Actively lending support to moderate and progressive Muslims--not by speaking on their behalf, but by offering to publish and translate their works; by lending vocal and financial support to certain organizations and leaders; and by strengthening our own Islamic and Middle Eastern studies programs--this positive democratic action is a crucial component conspicuously absent from Travis's argument.
It's time we used liberal ideals of democracy to make real efforts at breaking the cycle of violent Islamic fundamentalism. We need to demonstrate a sincere commitment to collaborating with Muslim supporters of democracy. We need to educate ourselves as individuals and as a community about Islam and the positive elements of the histories and ongoing struggles of Muslim societies. We need to issue vehement outcries against anti-Muslim violence in the U.S. and around the world. And we need to show appreciation for the Muslim members of our own progressive community.
Since one reader actually asked that we start a thread on this topic, many of you probably have lots of thoughts and opinions to contribute, and hopefully some information from which we can all benefit. So let's get it started--as always, please share some wisdom.