UPDATED: April 8, 2015, at 1:37 p.m.
If some (or, rather, many) were to have their way, they would amend the First Amendment to this: Your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. As per usual, the proponents of the “feelings” standard would persist in leaving it undefined. After all, why bother with that antiquated requirement for precise definitions when, nowadays, the “progressive” West is (all too) experienced at predicting and prohibiting the kind of speech that, under the latest implicit standard of feelings, would be deemed beyond the pale?
By the West, I don’t mean the judicial and legislative branches of the governments of the United States and European countries; no longer is it trendy to settle on judicial and legislative experts to determine the bounds of liberties. Instead, the up-and-coming de facto judge, jury, and executioner are Muslim extremists—a three-in-one package deal—who, in effect, enforce the “feelings” standard with a bombing here, a beheading there, and fatwas everywhere. Western political puppets are, then, clued in to what that standard is, and tacitly comply by lending their authority to the prohibition of any speech not congratulatory of Islam. Meanwhile, they diligently remind their people that the barbarism has nothing to do with Islam.
It has been a busy year for Nothing-To-Do-with-Islam. Two Japanese hostages, two British aid workers, two American journalists, and, most recently, 21 Coptic Egyptians, are among many victims who either appeared to have been or were in fact beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Not to worry, though. Contrary to what one might intuit from the self-described Islamic group, the beheadings have nothing to do with Islam, according to Islam experts British Prime Minister David Cameron and United States President Barack Obama.
Cameron and Obama are also relentless champions of the disenfranchised. One would think, then, that they would have sympathy for a female, atheist, black, immigrant, feminist, as per the progressive Western tradition of the multiculturalist hierarchy.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fits this description to a tee, seems to have been left out. Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islam and Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, was born into a Muslim family in Somalia, and, as a young child, was subjected to female genital mutilation. To escape an arranged marriage, she fled to the Netherlands, where she was given asylum and then citizenship. After earning her MA in political science, she worked in the Dutch Parliament, where she campaigned to raise awareness of violence against women. She must have lost her female, atheist, black, immigrant, feminist appeal and outgrown the favor of the multiculturalist cabal after she associated honor killings and female genital mutilation with Islam.
Last year, Brandeis Univeresity rescinded an offer for an honorary degree from Hirsi Ali for her statements that Islam is not a religion of peace and tolerance. In her book “Infidel” she writes that “Westerners are the ones who misunderstand Islam. The Quran mandates these punishments. It gives a legitimate basis for abuse.” Hirsi Ali then asks “secular, non-Muslim people to stop kidding themselves that ‘Islam is peace and tolerance.’”
Whether one agrees with or is offended by Hirsi Ali’s reading of the Quran is not the issue. The issue is whether her (or, rather, the) right to free speech should be respected. According to Hirsi Ali, cultures can only advance through open and honest debate. She writes, “Because there is freedom of speech in the West, that debate is open.” Thus, Hirsi Ali argues that though all cultures are flawed, “Western flaws—the white man’s flaws—his sexism, his racism, his prejudices have been criticized, and radically changed. The white man is no longer as racist as he was 50 years ago or 100 years ago.”
Only through rigorous scrutiny can cultures progress, and only through free speech can rigorous scrutiny occur. The “progressives” of the West, however, do not seem to want to afford Islam the same opportunity of scrutiny and discussion through which their own cultural values matured.
Hirsi Ali laments, “We create taboos in Western societies, a subject is simply declared you can’t talk about it, you can’t discuss it except in a positive way. And Islam is one of those subjects today in the West.” Though Western societies do not intend disrespect (in fact, they sincerely believe they pay Islam the utmost respect), short-circuiting organic discussions of the Islamic culture implies that Islam is either unworthy of undergoing or incapable of surviving the test of scrutiny.
In effect, Islam remains marginalized in our “tolerant” and “inclusive” society. Systematic restriction of the marketplace of ideas aborts progress from the very extremist ideology and behavior that are at the source of discrimination and that the Western “progressives” preach have nothing to do with Islam.
Rather than shrouding Islam with implicit speech regulations like those Cameron and Obama advocate, why not debate it? Why not respect those who examine it, even—or, better yet, especially—those who are actually Muslim?
Rather than watching Muslim extremists bomb Islam back to a stage of infancy, where it is too feeble to stand the test of scrutiny, why not catapult it to the ranks of other discussion-worthy ideologies so that, one day, Muslim extremism will, indeed, have nothing to do with Islam?
Free speech is not the enemy of Islam and Islamophilia; it is their ally. It is the ally of Islam because it equips Islam with self-awareness. It is the ally of Islamophilia because it is the expression of genuine respect and the truest love for Islam.
Lisa Peng ’18, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 8, 2015
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this op-ed misstated that Hirsi Ali was banned from speaking at Brandeis University last year. In fact, the university rescinded its offer of an honorary degree from Hirsi Ali.
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