“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” – President Obama
By Qasim Rashid
Bill Maher & Richard Dawkins continue to disparage a religion that, in all honesty, they know little about
As a practicing Muslim, I don’t believe Islam is above criticism. I do believe that Islam backs free speech. I also believe that Islam champions secular governance. But what’s significant about my beliefs is why I believe them — which is because they are precisely what the Qur’an teaches, and what Prophet Muhammad exemplified.
Perhaps this is why I find arguments like the one put forth by Jeffrey Tayler in Salon earlier this month — written in the aftermath of the “Draw the Prophet” shooting in Texas and Charlie Hebdo’s controversial PEN award — to be yet another straw man, one that avoids three realities critics of Islam continue to ignore. For example, Tayler’s claim that “Prophet Muhammad was a triumphant warlord leading military campaigns that spread Islam throughout Arabia” is but one example of the numerous historical fantasies he writes; a fantasy that is wholly contradictory to Prophet Muhammad’s well established rules of war. (SPOILER: Islam forbids spreading faith by the sword and permits fighting only in self-defense).
Had Tayler presented his arguments as a criticism of several Muslim majority political regimes — Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia to name a few — I would have largely agreed with his claims. He runs into trouble, however, when he unwarrantedly conflates political regimes with the religion of Islam as a whole. Further exacerbating Tayler’s position is his reliance on comedian Bill Maher and internationally recognized hatemonger Pamela Geller as presenting some sort of authentic reality of Islamic teaching. Maher, I’ve heard, is actually a nice guy in person — but that characteristic does not somehow make his commentary Islamic scholarship. Geller, meanwhile, is on hate watch lists for both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and is banned from the United Kingdom for her hatemongering; she has zero academic credentials on the subject of Islam. And lest there be any confusion, the United Kingdom is definitely not an “Enforcer of Shariah” — a term Tayler uses to describe the 204 authors who signed a letter dissociating themselves from a free speech award given to the surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo.
Indeed, the United States has a proud free speech model — one I support as an American, as a Muslim, as an attorney and as a person who regularly receives death threats for speaking my mind. America’s current free speech model is not only unique in its own history, but unique when compared to the contemporary developed world.
And here is the first reality critics like Tayler ignore: Most of America’s staunchest allies enforce speech laws much stricter than what Islam teaches — yet no one accuses such Western nations of being free speech obstructionists.
For example, Article 415 of the Italian Penal Code states, “Whoever publicly incites… hatred between the social classes, shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years.” Likewise, Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code states issues up to a three-year prison sentence for anyone who “publicly disseminates, organizes, or encourages participation in events promoting ideologies that have as their object the systematic denigration or defamation of the members of a race, ethnic group or religion.” Our neighbor Canada’s Criminal Code Section 319 offers a two-year prison sentence for anyone who “wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group [by] communicating statements, other than in private conversation.”
I could go on with Denmark, Poland and Spain, among other Western nations that enforce speech restrictions that not only mimic blasphemy laws in nations like Pakistan, but would also clearly violate our First Amendment. Yet, we see no outcries of oppression from these laws in these Christian-majority nations. Meanwhile, Islam is somehow blamed when nearly the exact same laws are promulgated in Muslim-majority nations. The double standard is astounding.
And Western nations — not Shariah — in fact enforce such laws restricting speech. Germany rewards Holocaust deniers with a five-year prison sentence. Two years before the horrific Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack a French judge ordered Twitter to hand over identifying information of users engaging in anti-Semitic and racist comments. Where was the outcry of free speech oppression then?
The second reality critics like Tayler ignore is that they insist on viewing terrorism done by Muslims in a vacuum and unique to just Muslims — both of which are false positions.