So what are we supposed to do? If we accept the idea that challenging Islam inevitably means challenging the followers of Islam, i.e. Muslims, what are we to do about that? Stop challenging Islam, in order to avoid giving pain to Muslims or pleasure to people who like to bully Muslims?
The concern is a real one. It is of course true that challenges to a religion will give pain to some of its followers, assuming they are aware of them. We don’t know how large a fraction of those followers, or how severe the pain will be, but we can be reasonably sure neither number will be zero. It’s also true that challenges to a religion will give a nasty form of pleasure to people who like to bully its followers. Again we don’t know the numbers, but we know from observing people like Pamela Geller that they’re not zero.
So should we observer a precautionary principle, and just decide to refrain, to be on the safe side?
We could, but the trouble is, there’s harm in the other direction too. There’s harm in making a religion immune to challenges, because religions by their nature wield massive arbitrary unaccountable power over their followers. If nobody challenges a particular religion, its power becomes even more arbitrary and unaccountable. That power is most thoroughly exercised on its own followers.
Most religions are intended to be closed circles. It’s not supposed to be easy to leave; it’s supposed to be very difficult. Putting a religion beyond the reach of challenge makes it that much harder to leave; it also makes it harder to interpret in a liberal direction, or modify, or cherry-pick.
People who challenge religion can be a nuisance to religious believers but they – I mean we – can also be their allies. We’re on the outside showing them where the doors are and how easy it is to open them.
So I don’t think we do even devout followers of religions a real favor by refraining from challenging their religions.