In response to a request from Benjamin Weinthal to an article about Muslims shutting down Christian churches in Iran, I wrote the following, which the Jerusalem Post article quoted in large part. For anyone who might have found it difficult reading, I unpack and elaborate what I was trying to say in a sound-bite.
On one level, the closure reveals the insecurity of the Muslims who carry it out, re-emphasizing (if that were necessary), the profound lack of confidence that Islamists in power have in a free market of ideas. And of course, this affects not only the specific [Protestant] church, but any kind of dissident, infidel or Muslim. This is classic pre-modern political behavior.
Modernity, and the world of freedom and abundance it makes possible (even without exploiting others), depends on an ability to self-criticize and recognize fault. This is built into every monotheistic religion: atonement, mercy, forgiveness. The Joseph and his brothers cycle (co-starring Judah) represents the highest expression of these traits. Christian and Islamic literature are full of this complex of cognitions and emotions so prized by demotic religiosity.
The role of the dhimma in suppressing criticism from non-Muslims, however, reflects the opposite: a drive to humiliate and subordinate others (and their dissent) as a sign of the “truth” of Islam (i.e., “might makes right”). This attitude and its institutional forms play a central role in the shaping of Islamic thought. It’s part of a very difficult relationship that Muslims have traditionally had with diaspora existence, difficulties enduring the blows to honor that come with not being the dominant force in shaping public discourse and public transcripts.
In a larger sense, this raises the issue of reciprocity. At a time when Muslim spokesmen and women make strong demands to be treated by the highest standards of “human rights” in the West,
The efforts to criminalize what aggressive Muslim spokespeople define as Islamophobia operate precisely on the axis of making demands about “respecting” the touchy honor of Islam, a matter of “human rights.” It is a hate crime to stereotype or defame “us,” by a definition “we” give. Western or global legislation (e.g., through the UN), against Islamophobia as hate speech, is a form of global dhimma which infidels willingly accept upon themselves.
neither these Muslim spokespeople, nor those who trust them in the West, demand any kind of reciprocal restraint from Muslims in Islamic countries:
Nor from Western Muslims, who can tolerate a vast fund of demonizing and essentializing discourse as long as it is aimed at its enemies – Israel and the West – but have no tolerance for the slightest criticism sent their way… And, as part of the same failure to demand reciprocity, we find that one of the greatest flaws of the progressive left in this tale of demopaths and their dupes, has been their unwillingness to demand the slightest self-criticism from Palestinians (and more broadly speaking) from Muslims (which would mean testing, and possibly finding wanting, the moderation they insist is there). Instead of telling the Turks to grow up and learn to live with people you are having honor-shame spats with, the US tells Israel not to come to the meeting in Istanbul.
“Who are we to judge?”
This is one of the great millennial memes that currently inhabit our brains like the dicrocelium dendriticum that drives the ant up the blade of grass to be eaten. We Westerners are, in fact, excellently well placed to judge, precisely because we have acquired over the centuries, a great restraint in judging (as becomes a civil polity; also known as anger-management). Whence the meme in question as a kind of millennial perfectionism. As a kind of personal mysticism, a style of tikkun olam, this meme can be very powerful and very productive. The folly of our generation is that it has become a collective trope of people far from the requisite levels of vulnerable engagement with the outside world that can effect such a tikkun. From the sublime heights to the depths of folly. The reverse of Blake’s proverb of Hell. Rather than report on Turkey’s turn to religious fanaticism (by our standards certainly), the Washington Post’s David Ignatius prefers a puff pieceon Obama and the moderate Islamist Erdogan as fast friends despite their different “styles.”
This failure might seem to the human rights activists who look the other way, as a sign of generosity towards a morally challenged part of the world from whom we cannot expect anything like reciprocity;
An allusion to the embedded racism of the Human Rights Complex.
but it seems to “them” as a sign of our moral cowardice, that we proleptically accept the dhimma.
From the point of view of Islamists, our accord with their demands for a public manuscript that doesn’t criticize them out of “respect,” represents the obvious product of intimidation. We, in advance of conquest, have accepted the rules of the dhimma: if you criticize Islam, or the prophet, or a Muslim whose honor can be tied to the larger sacred cows, you lose protection and are justifiably subject to unlimited violence. As a PA official said to APon 9-11, “if you don’t remove the pictures of Palestinians celebrating in the streets (including men in PA uniforms), we will remove our protection from you reporters.
At a time when Turkish Islamists seek to undo the secularization of the Hagia Sophia in order to return it to a triumphalist mosque,
which, of course, would be a clear statement that at least these Muslims believe in the law of conquest, that Sultan Mehmed II’s conquest of the city in 1453 meant that they had the right to turn one of the most astonishing accomplishments in late Roman imperial architecture, Hagia Sophia, into a Mosque. Ataturk secularized and ecumenized the site: a museum for people of all faiths. Now, under Erdogan’s brand of Islamism, the blood is up, and the street demands a re-Islamization.
it behooves the Western world to make clear to Muslims that we do not consider them incapable of adhering to global norms of religious tolerance and the maturity of restraint.
So, for instance, in this case, the world community should be saying to Muslims, that if you do not rise up, protest, and prevent this act of regression to a “might-makes-right” theocracy, then Islam must expect to have the same rules apply to them. As a result, immediately, they must surrender any claim or control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (which, right now, they administer very aggressively against infidels). Not to mention Muslim claims to Ayodhya in India. Freedom demands reciprocity. If you want to benefit from the generosity of those who conquered you, you must show similar generosity to those you have conquered. Of course this response to Islamism is a fantasy in 2012. Hopefully not too long into the future, it will become a demotic consensus on what a global civic culture has a right to ask from Muslims who demand high octane civil rights.
Not to do so would betray both “them” as a potentially mature culture, and “our” most cherished values of freedom and respect.
Not to do so shows no real commitment to the values of freedom we claim to represent; it empowers demopaths; and it saps the strength of genuine moderates. It not only encourages further aggression, it places us on our heals, open-mouthed, inhaling, when that aggression occurs.