the suppuration of free speech

Sarah's comments about consequences which are meted out to writers who dare to say anything critical of Islam -- by people who have no problem at all with vicious criticism of Christianity -- make me wonder about the nature of free speech.

We have the First Amendment, but that really does not guarantee free speech; it only guarantees that the government can't censor or restrict speech. If you say the "wrong" thing, you can be excoriated, denounced, boycotted, or fired. Who gets to decide what is wrong? Certainly not the majority. As we saw in the case of Juan Williams, these things are decided by small numbers of vocal activists. Their goal, simply, is to intimidate the majority.

But I shouldn't say that there are no critics of Islam who are not also critics of Christianity, because there are a few exceptions -- Richard Dawkins being one.

The 69-year-old author and scientist told of his 'visceral revulsion' when he sees women wearing the controversial Islamic clothing.


In 2008, he said: 'It's almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country, because you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.'

Of course, you can slam Christianity all you want. At least Dawkins has the intellectual honesty to be consistent; most atheists are intimidated by Islam and restrict their criticism of religion to Christianity.

The double standard is horrendous, and while it has to be expected in a country like Britain, it shocks me to see it in this country with its tradition of free speech.

While I can quote him here, people who are in positions of leadership or responsibility are simply not free to quote Dawkins on Islam. Nor can they quote de Tocqueville:

I studied the Koran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.

* Letter to Arthur de Gobineau, 22 October 1843, Tocqueville Reader, p. 229

Will they demand the firing of de Tocqueville for saying that?

Or will his words be made to disappear by airbrushing?

It really doesn't matter whether I agree with Dawkins or de Tocqueville. Frankly, I don't like seeing people hiding under burkas any more than Dawkins or Williams does, and while I don't know whether "Islam" was the principal cause of the decadence in the Muslim world in de Tocqueville's time, I think that in modern times when Islamic theocracy is implemented, the results are deplorable. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan under the Taliban are examples. The other night I watched a horrifying documentary about coerced genital mutilation which is routinely performed on effeminate gay men in Iran (under the euphemism of "sex change surgery") and it gave me nightmares. The men who were facing this surgery admitted in interviews that they did not want it, and one of them poignantly mentioned the United States as a place where people can live any way they want. The alternative to having the surgery is of course the death penalty. I saw the film as supplying more evidence that Iran is, like other Islamic theocracies, a savage and evil place. Yet to the left -- and unfortunately to most gay activist groups -- it is the United States which is evil, and Christianity which is the greater oppressor. What happens to gays under Islam is downplayed. And that's just one aspect of life under Islamic rule, which I'm mentioning only because I happened to stumble upon the movie on HBO. At the rate things are going, it wouldn't surprise me to see films like that suppressed, lest some Americans get the idea that life under Islam might just suck.

We're still allowed to think that life sucks under Islamic law, aren't we?


But if you dare to say so in public, better make sure you don't have an employer (or editor or publisher) who can be bullied by the activists who devote themselves to ensuring that criticism of Islam is marginalized, and kept out of the public square.

The result is the decay in free speech that we have been witnessing.

Maybe de Tocqueville had a point about decadence.

MORE: Matt Welch has an interesting take on Islamophobia in the context of the Williams firing:

Williams' firing is a clarifying moment in media mores. You can be Islamophobic, in the form of refusing to run the most innocuous imaginable political cartoons out of a broad-brush fear of Muslims, but you can't admit it, even when the fear is expressed as a personal feeling and not a group description, winnowed down to the very specific and nightmare-exhuming act of riding on an airplane, and uttered in a context of otherwise repudiating collective guilt and overbroad fearmongering.
What would we call this fear of admitting Islamophobia?


UPDATE: Regarding the refusal to run the most innocuous imaginable political cartoons, I think it's fair to point out that M. Simon linked and discussed the cartoon here -- a full two days before Matt Welch did.

Sometimes my memory is more selective than it should be. My bad!

posted by Eric on 10.22.10 at 10:31 AM


'What would we call this fear of admitting Islamophobia?'

Cowardice. Or dhimmitude.

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon   ·  October 22, 2010 3:22 PM

What they do to young girls is already so horrendous -- and I had no idea that they mutilate men, too. When are we going to stand up and say that we've had enough?

Mary in LA   ·  October 22, 2010 4:20 PM

"What would we call this fear of admitting Islamophobia?"


NotGump   ·  October 22, 2010 5:13 PM

"To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab"

General George S. Patton

M. Simon   ·  October 22, 2010 6:59 PM

I am very worried by this trend- the marginalizing of anyone who raises any valid criticism of Islam and the behavior of it's adherents. Looks like some kind of collective stupidity has overcome the societies in western Europe and here in North America.

Daniel Fielding Smith   ·  October 22, 2010 7:50 PM

I don't go along with those who condemn Islam outright, though. I think Islam needs secular reformers who believe in the separation of mosque and state, and scholars to reinterpret the Koran in a non-fundamentalist manner. Every effort to modernize the religion in a more enlightened manner should be encouraged, and I think lumping the more secular Muslims in with the radicals and declare them all the enemy is very shortsighted.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 22, 2010 9:34 PM

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