The characterization of Islam as a “religion of peace” is getting to be a harder and harder sell. It was bad enough a while back when death-threats were issued against a cartoonist who used an image of the “prophet Mohammed” in a cartoon; but now, in the wake of a lecture in which Catholic Pope Benedict XVI quoted a historic exchange between an ancient Pope with a Muslim cleric, Muslim extremists have done everything from promise to go to war over the offending remarks, to issuing an outright death threat to the pontiff. (Just a second… aren’t we already at war against Islamic extremists? Hmm.) Anyway, while I’m no Catholic and have no vested interest in defending the Pope’s remarks, it seems to me the public response of Islamic extremists is giving an even blacker eye to the world’s many rational and non-radical Muslims. The question is, when is someone from within the world of Islam going to step up and tell such radicals to pipe down?
The sympathetic liberal media plays a big role in stirring the pot, giving plenty of publicity only to the loudest, most radical voices. And such comments are not coming from crackpots, as the media would like to portray. Anjem Choudary, 39, is a lawyer in Europe, highly educated, and has been the driving force behind both death-threats. And yet, despite making calls for the executions of a cartoonist and the Pope, London’s Scotland Yard has presented an impotent response, remarking that the demonstrations organized by Choudary have not resulted in any violent acts at such rallies, nor have any complaints been lodged. Could that be, perhaps, because giant crowds of people calling for people to be assassinated are maybe, just maybe, a bit intimidating to call in a noise complaint on?
Now, some will say that freedom of speech is at stake here, but hold on a second, those of you who fail to understand the Constitution. First of all, Choudary is doing all this in Europe, not the U.S., so the United States Constitution simply does not apply. Second, even if it did apply, there have always been recognized limits on the freedom of speech, such as the theorhetical “Is it okay to shout, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theatre, when in fact there is no fire?” The answer to that one has always been, “No!” because the result of such speech would lead directly to a panic in which folks might get hurt. Certainly, calling for the assassination of a cartoonist or the Pope falls into a similar category.
The prohibition against inciting violence has always been a tricky one to enforce, especially in the wake of so many lawsuits claiming to be protecting free-speech rights. While freedom of speech is a valuable and essential right, surely some common sense must come into play. If a man like Choudary gives a speech that calls for the Pope to be killed, how much time must pass before such an assassination occurs before one can clear Choudary of personal responsibility for such a killing? By the so-called standards of political liberalism, about the only way he might be even remotely considered responsible is if the Pope were in attendance at the speech and was struck down within a few seconds of the remark. And that’s just plain insane. While folks are “free to express their opinion,” at some point taking responsibility for what you have said has to play into the picture.
And remember, this is all over what? A cartoon, in the case of the cartoonist, and a quote, in the case of the Pope. And for this, Choudary claims, they or anyone else who insults Islam must be, “subject to capital punishment!” Some “religion of peace!” Now, Choudary is only one guy, but it must be remembered he is hardly alone and he is hardly some uneducated hick. He’s a well-educated lawyer who should know better.
In my life, I’ve run into several members of the Muslim faith. While my own religious beliefs do not mesh with theirs, on the whole the folks I’ve been around have been calm, rational people who don’t go around issuing death-threats over knock-knock jokes. They’re not extremists. They’re just plain folks, like any others; some good, some unpleasant, some indifferent, just like any other group of folks you might encounter anywhere you go in the world. That’s why folks like Choudary are such a cause for concern; they make all members of Islam look bad by their irresponsible actions.
That said, it does need to be pointed out that the liberal media’s nonstop pandering to Islamic extremists (rather than mainstream Islamics) is tiresome and often borders on outright falsehood. The media, and political liberals, are always quick to claim that there’s just as much violence and done in the name of other religions as there has been in the name of Islam.
Now, if you want to go back in history and talk about the Crusades, yeah, you have some pretty bloodthirsty acts done in the name of Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular; but remember, the Crusades went both ways and it’s not like the Muslim side fought back by handing out flowers, hugging trees and singing sappy 1970s Coke commerical jingles. It was a pretty bloody series of conflicts that left both sides looking pretty shameful. It was a war over the holy land, and it was anything but holy. There’s plenty of other historical periods that make religions other than Islam look bad.
But here’s the point: it’s not the 10th century anymore. Nor is it the 16th century. Or any other. Let’s stay on point, shall we, and talk about the events of the past, oh, decade or so.
Yes, modern Christianity has extremists. When they get upset over a TV program or a newspaper editorial, what do they do? Umm, let’s see… write an angry letter to the editor? Maybe even refuse to buy products made by advertisers who support such content? But, last I noticed… nope, no calls for assassination that were glamourized, ballyhooed and lauded by the liberal media. The worst example I can think of is a couple of abortion clinics where insane folks either planted a pipe bomb or shot a doctor in the name of his or her religion. Dispicable? You bet! And in those cases, such actions were universally rejected, despised and disassociated by Christian leaders.
Yes, Judaism has extremists. Somewhere, I’m sure. Can’t really recall anything they’ve done, though, that remotely approaches that level of violence, unless, of course, you count the movie The Hebrew Hammer, which mostly was a violet assault on anyone who has a sense of humor… since the film simply wasn’t that funny. Most Jewish extremists, however, are they type who work for universities in Israel and spend their lives cooking up theories about why patinas on ancient relics prove the inscriptions are fake. In general, saying something unkind about Jewish folks or history gets you nothing more than an unkind letter from Jewish Anti-Defamation League honcho Abe Foxman, demanding a sincere apology. But calls for your assassination? Nope. And the Jewish community is pretty responsible about condemning anyone of their community who goes too far… take a look, for example, at the dreadful box office receipts for The Hebrew Hammer.
Only in Islam does one find an extremist community (tiny though it may be) that actually issues death-threats and means it. That’s unforutnate. The real problem is not so much that someone like Choudary is out there calling for people to be killed. The real problem is that no one within the Islamic community is condemning, disavowing or even disapproving of his comments. And in the end, that deafening silence is what makes it seem as though Islam is more violent in the modern world than other religions. Calling for war and assassination, simply because of a quote in a lecture? If that were a universal standard, very few college professors would be left alive when the dust settled.
So I hope that Muslims with some common sense eventually speak up and admonish the loudmouths like Choudary. Otherwise, the image of all Muslims is tarnished, and the idea that anyone who prays to Allah is just waiting for a chance to fly a plane into a building is spread even further. That’s not what the Muslims I’ve met in my life are like, not even remotely. It’s time for the common, average, non-extremist Muslims to speak up and tell the extremists to pipe down. Such violent responses to a few words only serve to foster a negative image, not reverse it.