Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sam Harris on Islamist Censorship

Sam Harris has published a provocative essay, at the Huffington Post of all places, on the recent controversy over Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders' film Fitna. Harris is one of several famous atheist writers who have recently published books attacking religion. As he points out in the following passage, drawing on his own experience, many Westerners are far more circumspect about criticizing one religion in particular than they are others:

Wilders, like Westergaard and the other Danish cartoonists, has been widely vilified for "seeking to inflame" the Muslim community. Even if this had been his intention, this criticism represents an almost supernatural coincidence of moral blindness and political imprudence. The point is not (and will never be) that some free person spoke, or wrote, or illustrated in such a manner as to inflame the Muslim community. The point is that only the Muslim community is combustible in this way. The controversy over Fitna, like all such controversies, renders one fact about our world especially salient: Muslims appear to be far more concerned about perceived slights to their religion than about the atrocities committed daily in its name. Our accommodation of this psychopathic skewing of priorities has, more and more, taken the form of craven and blinkered acquiescence.

There is an uncanny irony here that many have noticed. The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we will kill you. Of course, the truth is often more nuanced, but this is about as nuanced as it ever gets: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we peaceful Muslims cannot be held responsible for what our less peaceful brothers and sisters do. When they burn your embassies or kidnap and slaughter your journalists, know that we will hold you primarily responsible and will spend the bulk of our energies criticizing you for "racism" and "Islamophobia."

Our capitulations in the face of these threats have had what is often called "a chilling effect" on our exercise of free speech. I have, in my own small way, experienced this chill first hand. First, and most important, my friend and colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali happens to be among the hunted. Because of the failure of Western governments to make it safe for people to speak openly about the problem of Islam, I and others must raise a mountain of private funds to help pay for her round-the-clock protection. The problem is not, as is often alleged, that governments cannot afford to protect every person who speaks out against Muslim intolerance. The problem is that so few people do speak out. If there were ten thousand Ayaan Hirsi Ali's, the risk to each would be radically reduced.

As for infringements of my own speech, my first book, The End of Faith, almost did not get published for fear of offending the sensibilities of (probably non-reading) religious fanatics. W.W. Norton, which did publish the book, was widely seen as taking a risk--one probably attenuated by the fact that I am an equal-opportunity offender critical of all religious faith. However, when it came time to make final edits to the galleys of The End of Faith, many of the people I had thanked by name in my acknowledgments (including my agent at the time and my editor at Norton) independently asked to have their names removed from the book. Their concerns were explicitly for their personal safety. Given our shamefully ineffectual response to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, their concerns were perfectly understandable.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Ironically, Harris's point was proven by the Washington Post, which commissioned this piece but then refused to run it. Please read it all:

Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks

(Link courtesy of Hot Air)


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