Guest post from Robert Spencer.
“It is too bad,” says Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, that Charlie Hebdo publisher Stephane Charbonnier “didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death.” In other words, as Donohue argues in an extraordinarily irresponsible article, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered by Islamic jihadists yesterday have no one but themselves to blame – and to avoid such incidents in the future, non-Muslims should be careful not to offend Islam.
Donohue bases these grotesque assertions on what he characterizes as Charbonnier’s “narcissistic” statement that “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Charbonnier, says Donohue, should have known better: “Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.”
That, for Donohue, is the heart of the matter. “What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo,” Donohue asserts, “is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.”
But what if someone does insult Muhammad? Should he be killed? Islamic law mandates death for blasphemy, as the British jihadist Anjem Choudary explained in Wednesday’s USA Today: “The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, ‘Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.’”
Donohue doesn’t go that far. He assures us that “killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated.” The only remaining option, then, is for non-Muslims to stop insulting Muhammad: “Madison was right when he said, ‘Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.’”
Liberty may also be endangered by the voluntary abandonment of liberty, and that is what Donohue is calling for. The Sharia death penalty for blasphemy is the heckler’s veto enforced with a Kalashnikov. It encompasses not just the deliberate mockery of Charlie Hebdo, but also far more innocuous and even unintentional insults. The Qur’an says that those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (that is, essentially all Christians) are under Allah’s curse (9:30); thus to express this basic aspect of the Christian faith is arguably blasphemy by Islamic standards. And indeed, Christians in Muslim lands have more than once been victimized and brutalized simply for affirming this and other elements of the Christian faith.
A Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, is on death row now for the crime of responding to Muslim women who were insulting her and Christianity by saying: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”
For that, she is going to die. Bill Donohue disagrees with her being put to death, but he wants non-Muslims to respond to Muslim claims that they’re insulted by curtailing their own speech. Thus he would have Asia Bibi and other threatened Christians in Pakistan not make the slightest, most innocuous expression of their faith. He might argue that there is a world of difference between Asia Bibi and Stephane Charbonnier, and that is no doubt true, but where and how does one draw the line? How does Bill Donohue propose to distinguish between intentional and non-intentional insults?
Would he would leave this task up to Muslims? Groups like the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), recently designated a terror organization by the United Arab Emirates, have cultivated the politics of insult, and regard as insults to Islam and Muslims virtually every counter-terror measure that has ever been enacted or even just proposed, and every honest examination of how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism. They have skillfully wielded the claim of being insulted to shut down the NYPD’s legal and effective surveillance program in Muslim communities, and to foreclose on honest public discussion of the jihad threat by getting speakers canceled and making people afraid to explore these issues for fear of charges of “bigotry” and “Islamophobia.”
To rule Charlie Hebdo’s mockery of Islam (and other religions) out of the realm of acceptable discourse is unavoidably also to rule out any criticism of Islam, jihad, and Sharia oppression at all. The Leftists and Islamic supremacists who for years have consigned all examination of the motives and goals of jihadis to “bigotry” have made it so. Bill Donohue, by calling upon non-Muslims to avoid insulting Muslims, has strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel. If his advice were heeded (and Western media outlets are already hastening to do the jihadis’ bidding by declining to show the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons), not only would Charlie Hebdo be stopped, but also legitimate counter-terror investigations and expressions of Donohue’s own faith.
As annoying as its manifestations may be, the freedom of speech is the fundamental bulwark of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can work his will unopposed and unimpeded. And in a society in which people of good will differ about what is the ultimate good, the ability to put up with insults patiently and without resorting to violence or threats is key to the peace and stability of the society. Donohue shows that he knows this when he says: “Anti-Catholic artists in this country have provoked me to hold many demonstrations, but never have I counseled violence.” Instead of preaching to non-Muslims a self-censorship that would only enable Sharia oppression and tyranny, he should try to spread among Muslims the idea that one need not, and indeed should not, respond to provocations with violence.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We’re In. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.