The three Muslim gunmen who killed 12 journalists in Paris targeted not just those people and their satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but a core ideal and human right of the West––the right to free speech in the public square defined by tolerance for different opinions.
That’s why the killers, after they had called out the names of their individual victims before they shot them, bragged as they made their escape that they had “killed” Charlie Hebdo. That’s why they also cried, “The Prophet has been avenged,” since the magazine had frequently spoofed Mohammed, most famously in its reprinting in 2006 of cartoons parodying Mohammed. Apparently President Obama was prescient, at least in the case of the twelve dead Parisians, when he warned in 2012, “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.”
Our leaders regularly scoff at the notion of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam, as Secretary of State John Kerry did when he said the attacks were “part of a larger confrontation, not between civilizations, no, but between civilization itself and those who are opposed to a civilized world.” The jihadists know better, and like all enemies, they get a vote. They don’t just want to brutally kill people in order to terrorize us into appeasement of their demands. They want to kill our fundamental principles.
And central to the political order of Western liberal democracies is freedom of speech. If the citizen masses are to have the right to participate in the political process, they must be assured that their opinions can be expressed freely without fear of retaliation. And given the great diversity of opinions, beliefs, and characters to be found among the people, this expression will often be indecorous, rancorous, and hurtful to those who disagree. But hurt feelings or wounded amour propre cannot function as a veto on public expression, which is the foundation stone of political freedom. As Sophocles said, “Free men have free tongues.”
Yet we in the West, with our “hate speech” legislation and rules that demonize “Islamophobia,” and our universities that disinvite critics of Islam like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, have given such a veto to the jihadists, and in effect validated Islamic blasphemy laws as superior to our right to free speech. After all, for Muslims who aspire to be “slaves of Allah,” free speech cannot trump traditional Islamic notions of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death according to the Koran. That’s why the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 56 Muslim nations, has actively been trying to make blasphemy a crime in international law. That’s why it’s a Muslim majority state, NATO member Turkey, that has jailed more journalists than any other country. And that’s why anything Muslims perceive to be blasphemous––whether Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the Jyllands-Posten cartoons making fun of Mohammed, or Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech––is met by riots and murder on the part not just of jihadist groups, but also ordinary Muslims.
The truth is, many Muslims see the whole Western political order as radically different from––and in their view, inferior to––that of Islam. The cultural cargo of human rights, tolerance of confessional diversity, individual autonomy and self-determination, and political freedom is incompatible with the traditional Islamic doctrine that a divinely bestowed shari’a law is the only legitimate social-political order that can create the best life in this world, and ensure the enjoyment of paradise in the next.
But this truth about Islam’s conflict with liberal democracy––a truth documented in 14 centuries of Islamic history and doctrine, and supported by majorities of Muslims worldwide–– is repeatedly denied by Western governments and intellectuals. White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeated this false knowledge, saying after the killings that Islam is “a peaceful religion and it’s terrible that we are seeing some radical extremists attempt to use some of the values to [sic] that religion and distort them greatly and inspire people to commit terrible acts of violence.” Thus the illiberal, totalitarian nature of shari’a evident in sex apartheid, honor killings, enslavement of girls, persecution and murder of religious minorities, destruction of churches and synagogues, and chronic jihadist violence is attributed to anything and everything other than the role of sacralized violence in Muslim history and theology, a patent fact dismissed as Islamophobic slander. Meanwhile, jihadist slaughter continues worldwide, with almost 800 killed and wounded just in the last week of 2014.
Yet the greater irony of the reactions to the attack is that it took place a few days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s New Year’s Day address,reported by Shillman Fellow Raymond Ibrahim. The mainstream media ignored this important and astonishing speech, but we need to ponder these words now, while our leaders continue to deny the Islamic roots of the latest jihadist murder:
It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible! That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!
Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible! I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now. All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.
I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move … because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.
So the leader of the Middle East’s largest Muslim country admits the link between “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” and jihadist aggression. No mention of Israel and the worldwide Zionist conspiracy, no mention of imperialism, colonialism, poverty, Islamophobia, or any of the other specious excuses Western apologists trot out to rationalize jihadist violence. No, the community of believers is “being lost by our own hands.” Nor is the solution a Palestinian state, or more “respect” for Islam, or more appeasement and concessions from self-loathing Westerners. No, Muslim theologians and scholars must start a “religious revolution,” and figure out how to reconcile their faith to modernity.
But that revolution is the business of Muslims, particularly all those “moderate” Muslim masses we keep hearing about but who are oddly silent about these serial jihadist “distortions” of their faith. This country’s responsibility is to protect our citizens and interests, and to do that we must awake from our delusional slumbers. We must stop apologizing for our alleged historical crimes, stop the self-censorship and agonizing over the hurt feelings of those trying to kill us, stop peddling “religion of peace” fairytales, and stop indulging the “profiling” angst and Islamophobia canard. Most important, we must start basing our policies on truth and common sense, and start taking action to defend our political principles like freedom, individual rights, and tolerance, rather than just talking about them.