e g r e g o r e s

"Graciously bestow upon all men felicity, the summit of which is the knowledge of the Gods." [Julian, Oration to the Mother of the Gods]

>The right to oppose Islam

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“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
John Milton, Areopagitica

Lately, a lot of people have been inspired by the Ground Zero Mosque controversy to get all choked-up and teary-eyed about the right of American Muslims to practice their chosen religion. While it is certainly true that this right exists and must be defended, there are a few other truths that need to be remembered in order to keep everything in perspective:

(1) The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right to view pornography, to burn the American flag, to wave “God Hates Fags” signs at funerals, and to buy and read and praise Mein Kampf.

(2) There are serious precedents for restricting what can be built at specific historically important locations (such as Civil War battlefields, and former Nazi concentration camps), without in any way threatening the overarching principle of religious freedom (or property rights, either, for that matter).

(3) The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right to criticize the teachings and practices of Islam and to oppose the promotion and spread of Islam (or any other religion, or all religions altogether). In fact, many of the most important champions of religious freedom have also been outspoken critics of Christianity. Therefore there is no contradiction whatsoever between opposing Islam and supporting freedom of religion.

In 1927 Bertrand Russell wrote in his famous essay Why I Am Not A Christian:

“It seems to me that the people who have held to it [the Christian religion] have been for the most part extremely wicked …. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures . . . . I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”

Russell was a life-long political activist and all around trouble-maker. In 1916 he was dismissed from Trinity College, Cambridge (and fined 110 pounds) because of his involvement in anti-war activities. Following that he was offered at position at Harvard, but he could not accept because he was refused entry into the US as a dangerous subversive. In 1918 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for his pacifist writings. He wrote his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy in 1919 while serving his sentence. In 1940 his appointment at City College, New York, was revoked after a judge ruled that Russell was “morally unfit” to teach philosophy because he had advocated, among other things, sex before marriage. The campaign against Russell at City College was led by the Episcopal Bishop of New York.

But in addition to being attacked for his promotion of pacifism and sexual licentiousness, Russell was also lauded by many as a champion of human rights and social justice. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, he was hailed by the Nobel committee as a champion of “humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.” (For more on Russell look here and here.)

Today, however, those who level against Islam, which is no less deserving, the kind of criticisms that Russell aimed at Christianity, find themselves denounced as intolerant reactionary bigots. Just how recently this has changed is indicated by the fact that V.S. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001, despite the fact that his writings on Islam amount to a condemnation far more sweeping than anything Russell ever wrote about Christianity.

The fight against Islam is absolutely not a fight against religious freedom. This is a battle of ideas, and Muslims and their apologists must be, as indeed they are, free to articulate and defend their ideas. Islam will be defeated when both Muslims and non-Muslims freely decide, “according to conscience”, that it is an intrinsically intolerant, irrational and violent ideology that cannot play and never has played any positive role in human affairs.

In addition to freely and openly criticizing the Quran, Muhammed, the Hadith, Islamic history, and present day Islamic practices, opponents of Islam must also shine a bright light on the ideologies, affiliations, and sources of funding of existing and proposed mosques, “Islamic Cultural Centers” and all other Islamic projects, and the individuals and groups associated with them.

And such scrutiny is just as merited in the case of those who proclaim themselves to be “moderates” committed to “defeating extremism” as it is for anyone else. Those who wish to be praised and supported as the good guys should be able to demonstrate that they really are who and what they claim to be, especially when they themselves loudly proclaim that Islam has been “hijacked by the extremists”!

Muslims themselves have the most to gain from a free and open exchange of ideas, including ideas harshly critical of Islam. The vast majority of world’s Muslims have never known freedom and never will until they are able to raise their own voices to question and criticize and advocate for change from within Islam. But that freedom comes at the price of submitting their religion to the criticism of non-Muslims as well.

[See also: “Should the right to oppose Islam not exist?” & Melanie Phillips on Lars Hedegaard.]

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