You can never satisfy religious fanatics


So now a key figure in Iran’s Islamic hierarchy has said that the reason that the film Innocence of Muslims was even produced was because Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to execute novelist Salman Rushdie was never carried out, thus emboldening critics of Islam. Yes, he seems to feel that the fear of summary execution is a worthy threat to hold over anyone who even thinks of offending his sensibilities.

Note that Rushdie’s 1988 book The Satanic Verses did not have pictorial representations of Mohammed or god, which is supposedly what is severely forbidden by Islam. I have read the book and it portrayed a fictional version of events surrounding Mohammed and the writing of the Koran, similar to the fictional alternatives written about Jesus.

NPR had an interview this morning with Rushdie and while he said many good things, pointing out that within his lifetime there was a time when cities like Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Teheran were cosmopolitan and modern, but lately have been sliding backwards into a state of thin-skinned paranoid medievalism. I was disturbed that he said that it was wrong for these violent people to injure and kill innocent people who had nothing to do with the film that offended them. This left open the implication that it would be acceptable to exact retribution on the filmmakers themselves. I doubt that he actually thinks that (since that is what made him a target at one time) and he has been quite outspoken in his belief that nothing should be off limits, but we should be careful to make clear that the filmmakers were well within their rights to make it.

You will never be able to satisfy religious people’s prickly sensitivities. If you give in to their threats on films, they will threaten cartoons. If you give in to threats on cartoons, they will threaten novels. If you give in to threats on novels, they will threaten documentaries. If you give in to threats on documentaries, they will threaten histories. They will never be satisfied until you do and say exactly what they allow you to do and say.

Free speech must be defended even when the speech itself is of poor quality. As much as we would like to defend free speech in cases where it is high-minded and noble, to defend the likes of James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, the reality is that it often requires taking the side of those with whom we would normally have nothing to do with, like Nazis or the KKK, because on those occasions the fair-weather defenders of free speech will often take cover and either stay silent or even call for censorship.

As hard as it may be for people to work up the enthusiasm to defend the rights of people to produce such an atrocious piece of filmmaking as this latest film, it may turn out to be a watershed event in determining who gets to decide what can and cannot be said in the public sphere when it comes to religion.

Comments

  1. thewhollynone says

    I agree, and I might add that it seems to me that those who are so prickly about everyone “respecting” their religion feel that way because they know deep down that their mythology has little or no basis in factual history, and they must know deep down that the implications of their mythology must offend the rights of more than half of humanity.

  2. Jared A says

    A Muslim coworker told me that the ban on pictorially representing Mohammed isn’t even universal to Islam, with many different groups believing that it is allowed. As is usual, the most extreme beliefs tend to be the loudest.

  3. slc1 says

    pointing out that within his lifetime there was a time when cities like Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Teheran were cosmopolitan and modern, but lately have been sliding backwards into a state of thin-skinned paranoid medievalism.

    Unfortunately, Jerusalem may also be headed in that direction as the Jewish Taliban seem intent in turning that city into another Kabul.

  4. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    On the contrary, you most certainly can satisfy religious fanatics. The Muslim fanatics who have been instigating the recent rioting were undoubtedly extremely satisfied when the first viewed The Innocence of Muslims. The American religious right fanatics who made and distributed it are undoubtedly extremely satisfied with the rioting, and the deaths of American diplomats. See here and here for information on who is behind the film, and how it came to be seen in the countries where rioting has taken place.

    we should be careful to make clear that the filmmakers were well within their rights to make it

    Their legal rights, yes, I’m assured by those who know about American law that they were (well, except for the fact that convicted fraudster Nakoula Basseley Nakoula may have violated his probation conditions in doing so). If you think they had a moral right to set out to cause widespread death and destruction – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they did – then you’re a moral imbecile.

  5. Rodney Nelson says

    I was disturbed that he said that it was wrong for these violent people to injure and kill innocent people who had nothing to do with the film that offended them. This left open the implication that it would be acceptable to exact retribution on the filmmakers themselves.

    I don’t see that. I see Rushdie saying that killing people because of some vague, extremely distant relationship to other people is wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>