Monday, April 03, 2006

Q&A with an Islamist

Last week, I blogged about the UK-based "Muslim Action Committee's" attempt to shut down the NYU Objectivist club's panel discussion on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Over the weekend, Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi, one of the group's spokesmen visited CAC's website and sent us some questions that he wants the Center to answer.

Please help us to understand your concept of free speech by answering our questions[.] [D]o u (sic) believe freedom of speech includes the following:

1) The right to insult the Queen?
2) The right to divulge state secrets?
3) The right to incite racial hatred?
4) The right to incite murder?
5) The right to incite religious hatred?
6) The right to glorify terror?
7) The right to slander people?
8) The right to promote communism?
9) The right to question the official record of the holocaust?
10) The right to demonise (sic) religious/ethic communities
After searching his name on the Internet, I found that Hijazi apparently presents his laundry list of questions to many of his opponents, seemingly to show that the right to free speech is not absolute and he and his fellow Muslims are just in their attempts to forbid the public display of images that blaspheme the prophet Muhammad.

Of course, such a position is wicked. The right to free speech is absolute. Life requires the mind and ideas are the currency of one's mind; no government may come between a man and his ideas. Yet by his questions, Hijazi seemingly seeks to conflate the expression of an idea with the initiation of force. That's why he puts "divulge[ing] state secrets," "slander" and "incit[ing] religious hatred" on his list of questions, even though each are plainly very different things.

For example, if one divulges state secrets, such as when the notorious spy John Walker gave Soviet agents the keys to decrypt US military codes in the 1970s and '80s, one is hampering the government's ability to carry out its mission of protecting its citizens. If one slanders another individual, one is telling deliberate lies for the purpose of impugning another's reputation. Both are acts of force against the undeserving.

Yet if one "incite[s] religious hatred" (as Hijazi puts his question) because one holds religion to be a philosophically bankrupt means of defining one's place in the universe and one's moral code for living, how has one harmed the rights of the religious? The religious are still free to practice their faith without any fear of anyone else. But by Hijazi and his Muslim Action Committee's reasoning, no one should be free to impugn the mystical beliefs of others.

Hijazi and his committee ignore that free debate over the validity of religion and the conduct of its adherents is of vital importance to one's life. If a person is not free to assess religion's impact upon their life and the larger culture for the mere reason that some people's sacred cows are tipped in the process, the religious are literally forcing their creed upon all our minds. The religious, nor anyone else has a right to coerce anyone's mind, yet at root, this is what the Islamists (and by definition, all mystical creeds) seek.

So now we can expose Hijazi's gimmick for what it is: an attempt to hide his ultimate aim by equating mere criticism of Islam with the use of actual force against its adherents. No one is the US has been convicted of "glorying terror" but they have been convicted of using terror to destroy lives and advance their benighted cause. No one has been convicted of "promot[ing] communism" although communists have been convicted for attempting to overthrow the government and instill a communist dictatorship. No one has been convicted for "incit[ing] racial hatred" but there have been convictions for lynching and cross-burning on private property. One can freely "insult the Queen," yet no one is free to kill her or make believe their choice of religions. And one can deny the Holocaust, but they do not have the right to inflict a new one upon anyone.

The difference in each of these comparisons is the difference between advocating an idea and the initiation of force-a distinction Hijazi and his Muslim Action Committee seeks to dissolve.

Will the West let Islamists like Hijazi succeed? I am deeply concerned for the future. No American politician has made a statement unequivocally defending free speech in the face of the Mohammad cartoon controversy. This failure to defend our fundamental rights is unacceptable, and if our government won't take a stand, we must.

Accordingly, it is my intention to give a speech showing the Mohammad cartoons and discussing their larger implications at a Washington, DC-area university within the next 30 days. If freedom of speech falls, America falls, and none of us can afford to allow that to happen.

More to follow on my activism ideas in the next day or two.

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