Why Islam must be Subjected to Scrutiny and Criticism – A Response to Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post UK

Given the volume of condemnation following the massacres in Paris I had decided against making any comment other than short condolences on Twitter and Facebook in which I quoted Winston Churchill: “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

But then today I stumbled across an article by the “political director” of the Huffington Post UK, a certain Mehdi Hasan, titled As a Muslim, I’m Fed Up With the Hypocrisy of the Free Speech Fundamentalists.  For those with a sufficiently robust digestive system, you can read the article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/charlie-hebdo-free-speech_b_6462584.html

Hasan’s diatribe reflects the farce into which the ‘debate’ has descended. But worse, the patent inability of Western commentators to articulate any proper justification for causing offence to millions of Muslims, other than a ‘right to free speech’, has provided precisely the kind of platform from which the likes of Hasan can spew forth their vile beliefs and opinions.

Which is why, for example, Hasan can feel confident comparing cartoons satirizing Mohammed with “cartoons mocking the Holocaust,” or “caricatures of the 9/11 victims falling from the Twin Towers”. And such ‘comparisons’ have been trotted out time and again on TV by Muslim ‘spokespeople’ who have been flooding the airwaves in Britain and, I suspect, across the world.

The troubling element in such ‘equivalence of victimization’ is that Hasan, and Muslims everywhere (if their ‘spokespeople’ do in fact speak for them), consider the ‘offence’ they feel at their prophet being ridiculed is of the same magnitude as the offence normal people feel when men, women, children, and even babies, are cast into gas chambers; or the ‘offence’ Muslims feel at their prophet being mocked is the same as the horror of those Jewish men, women and boys who had to drag the poisoned corpses of their fellow Jewish men, women, children, and even babies, out of the gas chambers and toss them into burning pits or ovens to be incinerated; or the ‘offence’ Muslims feel at their prophet being portrayed in an unflattering manner in a cartoon is directly comparable to the utter anguish and fear that drove people to throw themselves from the Twin Towers after they had been attacked by people proclaiming the greatness of their god. And for Hasan’s benefit, there were in fact many Muslims, especially in Gaza and the West Bank, who did rejoice at the horror of human beings throwing themselves from The Twin Towers to escape the flames.

But in any event, according to Hasan, it wasn’t the drawings of Mohammed that drove what he calls the “disaffected young men” to massacre the people in Paris. No, it was – yes, you guessed it – the “images of US torture in Iraq in 2004.” Why then, Mr Hasan, did these “disaffected young men” murder innocent cartoonists and Jews in Paris for something done thousands of miles away by others in Iraq? And what then, Mr Hasan, was the motive for the massacre of 2,000 people in Nigeria by the Muslim group Boko Haram at about the same time as the Paris massacres? Or the kidnap of schoolgirls in Nigeria? Or the daily atrocities committed around the world in the name of the Muslim god and his prophet? Or 9/11, which happened years before? And why then, Mr Hasan, did these “disaffected young men” proclaim that they had “avenged the honor of the prophet” after the massacre?

Frankly Mr Hasan, most of us are simply sick of hearing the excuses.

Muslims clearly think that their faith is so much more ‘profound’ that the faith of others that the ‘offence’ they experience by criticism of their prophet, their god, or their religion is of a depth unimaginable by non-Muslims. That in itself is deeply offensive to people of other faiths. But no doubt that is why Muslims see no offence in the Koran claiming that Jews and Christians falsified their Scriptures (Sura 2: 75; 5: 16 and 61:7); or why the Koran ridicules the virgin birth (Sura 4: 171 & 5: 19); or why the Koran proclaims that the belief in the deity of Christ is blasphemy (Sura 5: 19, 75 & 76).

And that brings me to the point of this short article – why scrutiny, criticism, and even ridicule of Islam and Mohammed is not only justified, but required, if human beings are to retain anything resembling freedom.

But let me say first that when I refer to freedom I am not talking about freedom of speech. As any lawyer will tell us, there are restrictions to freedom of speech. But contrary to Hasan’s assertion, those restrictions are not just for the preservation for “law and order”. That would be a licence for authoritarianism, which of course is what Muslims want to impose on the rest of us through Sharia law. The restrictions on freedom of speech are for the preservation of freedom itself by ensuring that those who would seek to impose their authority on others are exposed through scrutiny, criticism, and ridicule if necessary. So those restrictions certainly DO NOT apply to restrain or restrict criticism of any religion, and especially not Islam and Mohammed.

The principle is very simple. To a greater or lesser extent all religions proselytize in order to bring people to their particular faith. Muslims have a duty to attempt to convert people to Islam, and to retain people in the faith. Apostates do not get much sympathy. The objective of Islam is that all human beings should be brought to submit to Allah and Mohammed, and Muslims have a duty to strive to bring that about. Even if we ignore the verses in the Koran that specifically require even force to convert people to Islam, the fact is that it is presented as the true faith to which we should all submit.

In short, Muslims believe that everyone should submit to the authority of their religion. Islam means submission.

Now this is the important point. When someone seeks to persuade (never mind demand under threat) others to submit to the authority of some person, deity, ideology, belief or law, then we are free to evaluate what it is they are offering, and if we find it wanting, then we are free to express our opinions and views about what is on offer, and even ridicule it if we think it deserves ridicule. And if we assess what is on offer to be dangerous to those who would subscribe to it, then we even have a duty to dissuade others from falling into bondage to that ideology. And if that requires offending those who already subscribe to that persuasion, then that is the price they pay for proffering to others that which is found wanting.

Let me make the point more simply for the likes of Hasan who clearly have difficulty recognising simple principles: If you want to sell me a car, I will want to look under the hood. And if I don’t like what I see, I’ll tell you, and anyone else who may be interested in buying your car.

All religions have undergone such scrutiny. In his book “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, Albert Schweitzer well explained Christianity’s ‘baptism of criticism’ by Reimarus and David Friedrich Strauss when he noted that “It was HATE not so much of the person of Jesus as of the supernatural nimbus with which it was so easy to surround him, and with which he had in fact been surrounded. … And their HATE sharpened their historical insight … [which] … advanced the study of [Christianity] more than all the others put together. BUT FOR THE OFFENCE which they gave, the science of historical theology would not stand where it does today.”

Now why Muslims should think that their religion, their god, and their prophet, should be uniquely exempt from this simple principle of scrutiny, criticism, ridicule, and even hate, is quite curious, especially because what Islam has to offer is hardly unique, and hardly enlightening, as anyone who has ever objectively read the Koran will know.

To quote again from Albert Schweitzer, this time in his excellent book “Civilization and Ethics”, his assessment of Islam was that it shows “itself to be in all points unoriginal and decadent.” Perhaps that would be a good place to initiate a proper and open debate about what Islam is really all about.

But in the meantime, Muslims will simply have to brace themselves for the kind of scrutiny, criticism, ridicule and hate that even the most benign religions can attract in a free society, never mind a religion whose adherents, however few, proclaim to inflict unspeakable horrors on innocent people in the name of their god, and in the cause of defending the honor of their prophet. And if they can’t face the prospect, then there is always the old adage – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Joseph BH McMillan  http://josephbhmcmillan.com

Copyrigh © Joseph BH McMillan All Rights Reserved 2015

Joseph BH McMillan is the author of A ‘Final Theory’ of God

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