Muslims around the world have expressed outrage over 12 cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper last September. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador. Muslim groups have called for boycotts of Danish goods and stores in the Arab world pulled Danish products off of their shelves. Some groups such as the Mujahedeen Army called for attacking Danish interests wherever possible and placed a bounty on the cartoonists who created the drawings.
Last night, the newspaper apologized saying that “offending anybody on the grounds of their religious beliefs is unthinkable to us.”
Let us assume that a group of Nazis get the idea that Hitler was a prophet and that Mein Kampf was the Newest Testament. Clearly, it would continue to be appropriate to denigrate Hitler, to count him evil, and to condemn those who idolize him.
We have every right to distinguish a religion that demands its followers do harm to others from one that demands that its followers live in peace with others. It is absurd to say that, if a religion demands that its followers do harm to others, that those others have an obligation to suffer harm, rather than condemn that religion and those who embrace it as a threat. Just as we have a right to distinguish different religions based on whether they embrace doing harm or bringing peace, we have a right to distinguish between sects within a religion. Claiming that all followers of a religion are alike when simple observation shows that this is false is simple bigotry. We must recognize distinctions where they exist.
This was where the Danish cartoons have problems. They lumped all Muslims together, failing to distinguish Muslims who stresses peace and tolerance from those who embrace violence.
However, the sects that preach peace and tolerance were not the ones calling for the destruction of all things Danish, or threatening the lives and limbs of Danish citizens. Only a Muslim who belongs to a cult of hate and violence would embrace these options. These are the Muslims as deserving of contempt and condemnation as the Hitler cult mentioned above.
A Muslim truly interested in peace and tolerance should recognize that Muslims who preach hate and violence are more of a threat than those who print cartoons in a newspaper. If a given Muslim sect finds that it is heartened by the violence that other Muslims preach, then they are also to be considered a family of the cult of violence, not a sect of peace.
Civilized people recognize that appropriate response to speech is with counter-speech that points out the malicious and bigoted nature of the original claims.
Yesterday, I responded to an online article that equated atheists who "get [atheism] right") with sociopaths. Specifically, he wrote of the atheist who “gets it right” that, “Some people already do that. We call them sociopaths.” There is no difference between this and a cartoon that equates Muslims with terrorists.
I responded as a civilized person should respond, with a letter posted on my blog and sent to the offending parties indicating the moral depravity in that original article.
According to the principles of some Muslim sects, I should have called my fellow atheists to attack, whenever or wherever possible, anybody having anything to do with the state of Wisconsin. We would place a bounty on Mr. Reich. Yet, clearly such a response is so morally depraved to be worthy of any serious consideration.
If any atheist had gone beyond speech and proposed violence -- particularly if they had proposed violence against people for no reason other than that they come from the same state as the bigot who produced the original article, I swear I would have had a post on my site within the day condemning them.
Furthermore, I would have expected to be trampled by the stampede of electrons from other atheist writers who would have also been quick to condemn the atheist who made such a call for violence. I would have been sorely disappointed if this was not the case.
Yet, I know of no such atheists to condemn. They are so rare, at least around here, that I can only talk about the hypothetical atheist making such a call to do violence. The reason they are rare is probably due in no small measure to the fact that they know how few allies they would have.
This does not mitigate against the original wrong. Publishing an article that equates atheists with sociopaths, or Muslims with terrorists, is an act that deserves the harsh condemnation. I am not inclined to take back a single word that I had written in response to that article.
However, civilized people agree to moral limits to the responses they give to offensive speech. When any group goes beyond those limits, then the target of that outrage should shift. The wrong of the offensive speech is orders of magnitude less than the wrong of making calls to violence.
Civilized people can understand the difference.