Yesterday I reflected on the fact that my local newspaper chose not to publish a well-written, interesting letter that happened to call attention to the political aspect of Islam.
They do not hesitate to print relatively obnoxious left- and right-wing screeds, as well as ones so poorly written as to be almost unintelligible. Sometimes they print long endorsements of obscure candidates for minor local offices, by unknown writers. Almost every day there is the obligatory ad hominem attack on Victor Davis Hanson (today there were two).
But the letter I posted yesterday apparently crossed a red line for them: it suggested that Islam is more than a religious faith — which, in today’s America, means ‘something having to do with food and what days a person takes off from work’ — but is a movement with a political purpose.
This is unacceptable to the newspaper, because you are allowed to criticize political movements. But in the America of 9/11 plus nine years, you may not criticize Islam.
Just in time comes a description of this phenomenon which absolutely nails it. I can’t urge everyone strongly enough to read “Two Decades of the Rushdie Rules,” by Daniel Pipes:
From a novel by Salman Rushdie published in 1989 to an American civil protest called “Everyone Draw Muhammad Day” in 2010, a familiar pattern has evolved. It begins when Westerners say or do something critical of Islam. Islamists respond with name-calling and outrage, demands for retraction, threats of lawsuits and violence, and actual violence. In turn, Westerners hem and haw, prevaricate, and finally fold. Along the way, each controversy prompts a debate focusing on the issue of free speech.
I shall argue two points about this sequence. First, that the right of Westerners to discuss, criticize, and even ridicule Islam and Muslims has eroded over the years. Second, that free speech is a minor part of the problem; at stake is something much deeper – indeed, a defining question of our time: will Westerners maintain their own historic civilization in the face of assault by Islamists, or will they cede to Islamic culture and law and submit to a form of second-class citizenship?
One of the most fascinating points Pipes makes is the change in Western attitudes, particularly on the Left, since 1989:
At the time, François Mitterrand, the socialist president of France, called the threat to Rushdie an “absolute evil.” The Green Party in Germany sought to break all economic agreements with Iran. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, endorsed a European Union resolution supporting Rushdie as “a signal to assure the preservation of civilization and human values.” The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that declared its commitment “to protect the right of any person to write, publish, sell, buy, and read books without fear of intimidation and violence” and condemned Khomeini’s threat as “state-sponsored terrorism.” Such governmental responses are inconceivable in 2010.
Indeed. And not just governmental responses, but in the media as well. Recently I wrote about the surprise I felt watching a 2002 episode of the TV drama “West Wing,” which sharply criticized Saudi Arabia’s prevailing (misogynist) mores. I can’t imagine this sequence being produced today.
So while I’m disappointed in my newspaper, I’m not surprised. Why shouldn’t it take part in this widespread psychological defense mechanism, in which the unattractive emotion of simple fear of violence is transmuted — first into ‘respect’ for Muslim culture, and finally into submission to it?