Friday, September 14, 2012

Respect the religion of peace

This cartoon would be funnier if the situation weren't so tragic. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, this isn't all Muslims. These were extremists, and there are extremists in pretty much every religion. Heck, there are extremist atheists, for that matter. It's just bigotry to tar everyone with the same brush.

Look at Libyans demonstrating in the street, denouncing the people who attacked our embassy and killed Americans.

When bigots assume that all Muslims are alike - or all of any group, for that matter - that benefits the extremists. When you treat ordinary Muslims like terrorists, you don't strengthen the moderates among them. Just the reverse, in fact. You just end up showing them that they can't get a fair deal from Christians.

Of course, I'm not a Christian. And I'm sure this cartoon would offend many Muslims. But that's the other part of this. You don't have the right not to be offended. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion mean that you might hear or see something offensive. Tough! After all, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion work in your favor, too.

You want offensive? Check out my next post. But the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech. And if your speech is also offensive to some - perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not - well, at least we've got a dialogue going. It's a lot better than mutual murder, don't you think?

Right now, we've got a presidential campaign here in America, and one candidate chose to use the murder of American diplomats for personal political gain. Indeed, Mitt Romney is even lying about the sequence of events. At the same time, he's saying pretty much exactly what the Obama administration is saying - and was saying, even before the attacks:
Romney said that the film is clearly legal under the Constitution.

“Of course, we have a First Amendment, and under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do,” he said. “They have the right to do that, but it’s not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film.”

The Republican nominee also condemned Florida pastor Terry Jones, whose burning of a Koran sparked deadly attacks abroad in 2011, for promoting the film.

“I think the whole film is a terrible idea,” he said. “I think him making it, promoting it showing it is disrespectful to people of other faiths. I don’t think that should happen. I think people should have the common courtesy and judgment —- the good judgment — not to be — not to offend other peoples’ faiths. It’s a very bad thing, I think, this guy’s doing.”

Romney’s comments denouncing the film while simultaneously standing up for freedom of speech were nearly identical to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statements in the wake of the deadly attacks on Libya and Egypt (although it is not yet clear in Libya how much the film contributed towards the crisis).

Clinton called the film “disgusting and reprehensible” on Thursday, but also called on national and religious leaders around the world to denounce violence in response to it. She added that in America, “we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”

Now, here's the original statement from our embassy in Cairo, the one that Romney claims to be an "apology" to the embassy attackers - even though it was issued before the attacks:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

How does that differ from what Romney himself says? And as I noted, that was issued before the attacks, in an attempt to calm the waters. Obviously, that's what diplomats do. That's the whole point of diplomacy.

(Of course, the Obama administration has disavowed it, because... well, because Democratic politicians have no spine at all. We all know that. One complaint from Fox 'News' and they all grovel on the ground in apology.

(But note that they don't apologize to America's enemies. And they don't apologize to terrorists. Ask Osama bin Laden about that, why don't you? Barack Obama might be a timid politician, always bending over backward to appease Republicans, but he's sure as hell not timid in America's foreign policy! You can ask al-Qaeda about that, if you can find one of their leaders still alive.)

My point is, not only is Mitt Romney lying about what happened, he's lying about the content of the statement, too. Look at it yourself. And again, that was issued before our embassy was attacked and our people were murdered.

Now me, I'm not a diplomat. It's not my job to calm hurt feelings, and I don't mind offending people. Well, if you've read much of this blog, you'll know that. But the fact is, that anti-Muslim film was a deliberate attempt to provoke just this kind of reaction (just like when Pastor Jones made such a big deal about burning a Koran).

There are religious nuts on both sides who have the same goal - to promote violence, to incite hatred, to encourage a holy war between Christians and Muslims. I have no problem denouncing that, even though violence is not an appropriate response anyway. Deliberately inciting a riot is wrong, and it remains wrong even though actually rioting is even worse.

But "Muslims" didn't riot and murder our American diplomats, people did. If a Christian committed a murder, would you blame all Christians? Even if he did it for religious motives? You might point out the dangers of faith-based thinking - I certainly would - but you wouldn't lump all Christians together as murderers. So why lump all Muslims together now?

One of the problems in Libya and other majority-Muslim nations is that their citizens have never lived in a society where it's safe to have unpopular beliefs. They've never really experienced free speech.

Of course, many of them understand the idea - the internet is nearly everywhere - but riots are led by people who want to cause riots. They're not spontaneous. There's almost always a political and/or religious motive behind them, and they're just looking for an excuse.

Still, we need to keep explaining Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. Just because you get your feelings hurt, that's not a valid excuse for violence. Besides, modern democracies can't do anything about it, anyway. Individual speech is protected in our Constitution, and so is individual freedom of conscience.

And Muslims, note that Christian religions have done very, very well in America under these conditions. Christians get their feelings hurt, too (as I say, take a look at my next post), and I'm sure they don't like it. But all the criticism in the world doesn't lose them their believers. Faith-based people generally stay faith-based.

Islam, too, can survive in the 21st Century. I wish it wouldn't. I wish Islam and Christianity would both just fade away. But so what? We can all live together in peace, nonetheless. And we don't have to respect each other's beliefs. We just have to respect our right to differ.

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