As you are aware, back on September 11th, 2012, Islamic fanatics calling themselves Ansar al-Shariah (a group heavily influenced and perhaps financed to some degree by al-Qaeda) attacked the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, murdering Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, members of his staff, and a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.
I’m not interested, at the moment, in the intricacies of the attack, or the hysterical, FOX News-inspired, who-knew-what-when gibberish that has somehow taken over the conversation. No, I’m interested in a different aspect of the story.
When news of the atrocity broke it was widely reported that the attackers had been moved to their deeds because they had been outraged by the 14-minute trailer for a ridiculous movie called Innocence of Muslims. It quickly became apparent, however, that even if the group of some 100-150 armed thugs were enacting a vengeance-oriented attack on the US embassy, it had little or nothing to do with that stupid movie. It was an act of terrorism perpetrated by Muslim fanatics with no other goal than the death of “infidel” Westerners.
Knowledge of the actual motivations for the attack did not stop religious leaders across the globe from blaming the movie for it, and using their outrage (which is probably real, but who cares) to get the ball rolling behind one of their primary world-wide goals. And here we arrive at the crux of what I want to talk about.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation stepped up their demands for the United Nations to criminalize what the group termed “defamation of religions.” The vice-chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars proposed that the UN “criminalize the denigration of religious symbols.” (Yeah, “Muslim” and “Scholar” in the same sentence. What do they study? How big should the excision knife be? Or, maybe, how they might explain away the fact that the Prophet Muhammad raped a nine-year-old girl?) The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, suggested blasphemy should be made illegal world-wide, because blasphemous statements “endanger world security by freedom of expression.”
Other Muslim reactionaries have been busy reacting, but I’m not going to bother with further quotation, as it is obvious what they want: the criminalization of speech that upsets the pious. And while that notion is alarming enough in and of itself, what really freaks me out is the number of Americans who have lined up behind the noisy Muslim nutjobs.
Take the following two (of many) examples. The noted University of Pennsylvania professor of religion studies, Anthea Butler, called for the arrest of the above-mentioned filmmakers on the grounds that the movie doesn’t qualify as free speech since it “denigrates…religion.” And University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner made the sinister claim that “blasphemy could function as some small, manageable exception to our national guarantee of freedom of expression and belief.”
Many of the Americans who have come out in favor of anti-blasphemy legislation—too many, in fact—share a troubling commonality. They are academics. And worse yet, they are left-leaning academics.
I’ve been a liberal pretty much since the womb. (And I mean liberal. I hate the word “progressive” for reasons I’ll get into some other time.) But it’s getting so I don’t understand some of what passes for liberal thought these days. Yes, we seem to still be in favor of aiding the less fortunate, those who are the lamentable by-product of capitalism. Yes, we still wish to create a level playing field for minorities. Yes, we continue to believe that people are free to fall in love with whomever they wish. And, yes, we are at the forefront of the necessary fight against the corporate takeover of our country. But at the same time too many of us, mostly out of a commendable desire to act with tolerance toward those with whom we share the planet, are much too willing to grant that tolerance to totalitarian governments and religions—regimes and religions, remember, which will never, ever, return the courtesy.
The brand of misguided tolerance I’m talking about has, I believe, slithered into liberal discourse from the blinkered confines of the academy, specifically the humanities branch and its bizarre fealty to the “tenets” of “postmodern” moral relativism. Every belief system, they claim, is as impeccably true as any other. You say the moon is a millennia-old body of rock orbiting the Earth. I say that it appeared in the sky the day before yesterday and that it’s made of Cool-Whip. In the postmodern world, we’re both right. They aren’t saying that we are each entitled to believe whichever moon story we wish. No, what they are saying is that my version of the moon story, and your version of it, are both unalterably true. The fact that we can verify one version and not the other means nothing to the postmodernists. There are no such thing as facts, you see. And any claim that your “facts” outweigh my “facts” is simply an example of your ugly adherence to the tropes of Western intellectual tyranny. When we apply this thought process to moral questions then nobody can ever be on the wrong side of anything, and we might as well stop talking about “morality” at all, and keep the conversation focused on where it will inevitably lead: nihilism.
If a god-poisoned twenty-something from Saudi Arabia straps dynamite to his chest and blows himself up, along with the preschool he was visiting at the time, is there any meaningful way to define his actions other than with the word wrong? Of course not, and no sane person would assert otherwise. But among certain influential segments of the academic left it is better to tread cautiously lest we, consciously or not, marginalize some non-Western group. It’s almost as if they want us to feel bad for our condemnation of a suicide murderer.
And so, even though our “facts” are of no consequence, our right to free expression needs to be restricted so that those same inconsequential “facts” don’t hurt anybody’s feelings.
Makes perfect sense, right?
A few weeks after the murders in Benghazi, President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly. After his speech, various conservative politicians and bloggers began accusing the President of kowtowing to his Muslim friends by stressing the need for anti-blasphemy laws. He did nothing of the sort, but that didn’t stop dipshits like John Bolton and Jennifer Rubin from intentionally misinterpreting (read: lying about) President Obama’s speech to make him appear weak and a friend to extremists.
What President Obama did say was that the precepts of freedom of speech “are not merely American values, or Western values—they are universal values.”
And he was right.
Curtailing our liberties for the sole purpose of protecting those whose “faith” is so fragile that it cannot stand up to scrutiny or ridicule—i.e. blasphemy—simply cannot be tolerated. And if the “progressives” in this country want to stop looking like idiots, they’ll get on the right side of this thing in a goddamn hurry.