Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Daniel Pipes offers his post mortem of the latest wave of Moslem
savagery to use the exercise of free speech by a Westerner as a pretext. His
analysis is mostly spot-on, but I found myself momentarily perplexed about and wanting to
comment on the following point:
The movie really did matter: The Obama administration dishonestly skirted responsibility for the murder of four Americans in Libya by claiming that the attack was a protest that got unpredictably out of hand against the "Innocence of Muslims" video. In response, leading analysts have concluded that the video hardly mattered anywhere. Barry Rubin scorns the video as a "phony excuse for the demonstration" in Egypt. ... Lee Smith speculates that "blaming the video is part of some complex public diplomacy campaign." Cliff Kinkaid flatly calls the video "a diversion intended to save Obama's presidency."I had to regain my bearings after reading the first line, since I do not regard someone else's mere words as an excuse to harm others, much less commit murder. But do note the oddball interpretations in this paragraph. Pipes has a point, on which he elaborates further after admitting that some cynical elements in the Moslem world probably did use the video to fan discontent:
The person of Muhammad has acquired a saint-like quality among Muslims and may not be criticized, much less mocked. German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel pointed out (in her 1985 study on the veneration of Muhammad) that his personality is, other than the Koran, "the center of the Muslims' life." Outrage among Muslims over insults to his person is sincere; note, for example, the notorious section 295-B of Pakistan's Criminal Code, which punishes any defamation of Muhammad, even if unintentional, with execution. These regulations have so much support that two prominent politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 merely for voicing opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Their murders had nothing to do with the West and certainly were not diversions in a U.S. presidential campaign.I hardly think Pipes is excusing the kind of savage behavior we keep seeing any time someone makes a critical comment about Mohammed and some Moslem feels like the "prophet" is thereby being defamed. (I will also add that even out-and-out mockery of Mohammed does not justify any of that.) Nevertheless, I think Pipes narrowly misses something here: Why have so many otherwise thoughtful commentators twisted themselves into contortions to see a conspiracy where none exists?
I can see two things at play. One, many people are blind to the role of ideas in motivating actions. Many Moslems not only regard Mohammed as above judgement, they regard speaking ill of him as worse than (and justifying) the murders and other crimes they commit in response. They feel this way because they have internalized the teachings of Islam, without any moderating influence, such as Enlightenment values. This conclusion -- when anyone draws it -- necessarily impugns Islam. (Many Westerners, steeped more in relativism than in the values of the Enlightenment, will be loath to make such a judgement.) Two -- and feeding off both the relativism and the success of religious pluralism in the West -- many Westerners have a reflexive reluctance to criticize the religion of another. Regarding how pluralism plays into this, religious Westerners, used to ignoring the teachings of their religions that would cause them to harass or harm "blasphemers", are too quick to assume that Moslems will generally do the same, when they are even aware that religions generally call for such behavior.
I think these things not only help explain how so many missed (or tried to tiptoe around) how the movie was used as an excuse for barbarity this time; they also help explain the timidity of Western political leaders that Pipes notes as an overall trend.
10-3-12: Corrected a misspelling and a typo.