Different Rules for Islam

Recent statements by various politicians in Germany demonstrate once again the effects of a "heckler's veto" exercised by various aggressive Muslims around the world.  In particular, such aggression is creating legal and societal inequalities between Islam and other faiths such as Christianity in democracies including the United States.  Sadly, many leaders of the free world are willing to sacrifice the freedom to discuss Islam in an ultimately vain effort to protect foreign and domestic interests against Muslim assaults.

The German minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union or CSU) party, indicated as much in a September 19, 2012, interview with the public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.  Commenting upon the German debate over banning showings of the Innocence of Muslims film, Friedrich said that in this controversy the "question, what uproar will be caused in the country, naturally plays a role."  Friedrich additionally cited the question of "which foreign policy interests are touched."  Specifically, Germany would "expend much money every day in order to present Germany positively in the world," only to have "this image of Germany suddenly destroyed by a few rightwing radicals" who might play Innocence of Muslims.

Yet an open letter the next day to Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei or FDP), questioned the propriety of the deference shown by leaders like Friedrich to Islam.  The letter's author was Bernhard Lorenz, the leader of the Wiesbaden city government representatives from the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich-Demokratische Union or CDU, the nationwide sister party of the CSU).  In Westerwelle's various discussions of Innocence of Muslims similar in tone to the comments of his cabinet colleague Friedrich, Lorenz found missing the "important element" that "all religions must be treated equally."  In particular, Lorenz cited the play Über das Konzept des Angesichts bei Gottes Sohn (Concerning the Concept of the Image by God's Son), the action of which included a Jesus figure smeared with feces and spitting upon a cross.  Incensed protesters at one production had stormed the stage and assaulted the audience with tear gas, stink bombs, and motor oil.  Yet no proposal to ban the play was forthcoming, and German authorities gave police protection to subsequent performances. 

The "signal effect" of Westerwelle's position appeared to Lorenz "devastating."  "Whoever," explained Lorenz, "exercises violence, takes the life of innocent people, may hope for a quick reaction by the state in his favor.  Whoever, in contrast, acts within the framework of the laws is forced to make do with a reference to freedom of opinion."  Lorenz's opposing position demanded a "binding agreement upon one position and no 'case by case observation.'"  Germany needed a "common code of behavior ... valid for all" and "may not allow any special treatments in case of violence."

Nor did the German double-standards end with Lorenz's letter.  The same day as Friedrich's Deutschlandfunk interview, the Berlin Cinema for Peace, a foundation dedicated to screenings and discussions of films involving global humanitarian issues, announced the cancellation of an Innocence of Muslims showing.  Cinema for Peace justified the cancelation because of the "controversial discussions and emotions" surrounding Innocence of Muslims.  The foundation stated that it "does not want to support any further reactions or a further circulation of the film." 

Cinema for Peace had intended to screen Innocence of Muslims during an October 1, 2012 event examining hostile cinematic treatments of religious groups.  The event would show as planned, however, the notorious 1940 anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film Jud Süss and Kevin Smith's 1999 film Dogma, a satire of Catholicism.  Not being completely hypocritical with respect to Islam, though, Cinema for Peace also planned to show the short 2004 Dutch film Submission about the mistreatment of women in Islam.  This film had previously incited the murder of its producer, Theo van Gogh, on November 2, 2004, in Amsterdam by a Moroccan-Dutch Muslim.

Such bending of a free society's standards and laws out of deference to possible Muslim reactions is in itself troubling.  This obsequiousness, moreover, will most likely fail to establish any long-term good relations with many Muslim communities around the world.  In the years following the mother of all terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, years that hardly exhibited any Islamic peace, many Muslims have manifested a capacity to take perpetual offense.  Particularly conspicuous in this regard were the 2005 Danish Muhammad cartoons.  The creator of the notable caricature of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, Kurt Westergaard, once received an honor from German chancellor Angela Merkel for his artistic independence, yet these Danish caricatures now often face German legal challenges concerning their use in political demonstrations.

Following the Danish Muhammad cartoons came more controversy in the form of Swedish Muhammad cartoons by Lars Vilks, excised American South Park Muhammad cartoons, and French Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons published in the middle of the Innocence of Muslims controversy.  Rumors of Korans flushed down toilets along with Korans burnt both intentionally and accidentally aroused Muslim passions globally.  The same has been true of films like Submission, Fitna, and Innocence of Muslims itself.  This list of items incurring the wrath of various Muslims simply keeps getting longer, to say nothing of the original cause célèbre of Islamic offense decades ago, Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.  

To think that the world's free societies can ever fully placate doctrinaire Islamic sensibilities without the rankest submission is simply delusional.  The appeasement of violence-prone Muslims shown by many politicians around the world in the Innocence of Muslims affair merely demonstrates that such force can achieve its goal of suppressing freedom.  The result is simply to encourage a vicious cycle of more such violence in the future. 

Remaining firm on the principle of protecting open debate and discussion, no matter how contentious, would, in contrast, send a deterring signal against those Muslims who seek to replace rules of order with the rules of the street and the strong.  There simply is an irrepressible conflict between freedom around the world and the centuries-old orthodox understanding of an Islamic faith claiming a right to use force in the name of a prophet.  It is time to take a stand.

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