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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Free Expression Rights Develop Non-violent Debating Skills

French writer Bernard-Henri Levy in the WSJ explains that the violent Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons is a result of calculation among the evil triangle of Syria, Iran and Hamas. It is clearly calculated given the 4 month delay from publication to exposure among the Muslims, the miniscule circulation of the little-known newspaper and the political gains to be made by fomenting such demonstrations by his suspects.

He writes:

And, faced with this triangulation in progress, faced with this formidable hate-and-death machine, faced with this "moral atomic bomb," we have no other solution than to counter with another triangle--a triangle of life and reason, which more than ever must unite the United States, Europe and Israel in a rejection of any clash of civilizations of the kind desired by the extremists of the Arab-Muslim world and by them alone.

Levy calls for affirmation of the principle of free expression (no matter how idiotic it may be) and public support for moderate Muslims who recognize this reaction is exaggerated and against all Islamic principles. No question I favor both suggestions but as to the latter, where are these moderates? Even as moderates, do they not agree with the radicals in the extermination of Israel?

A liberal writer in Britain, Anatole Kaletsky describes the hate mail he just received from "right-wing" Americans after he recently bashed George Bush in a column. Kaletsky points out that the offended Americans wrote harsh letters but they did not contain any threats of physical harm. In the European environment of making certain expressions a crime, the Euro improvement on our "hate crime" laws, Kaletsky explains how the American First Amendment leads to stronger philosophies through rational debate:

[The] most important distinction that Americans seem to understand much better than we in Europe. This is the distinction between religion and other beliefs. Why should religions be entitled to legal protection from “insults” and “attacks”? Would anyone suggest that communists and fascists or, for that matter, Tories and social democrats, should be protected from insults? Yet the first two of these movements were all-embracing secular religions and their believers, who numbered in the hundreds of millions, believed in them every bit as passionately as Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in their religions.

Far from commanding any special respect or protection from the State, religions must be exposed to relentless criticism, like all non-rational traditions and beliefs. Some religions will survive this contest between tradition and modernity, between reason and revelation, as Christianity, Judaism and Islam have done for centuries. Others, such as Marxism and Scientology, will fall by the wayside.

In America, the Constitution, with its prohibition against the establishment of any state religion and its absolute defence of free speech, demands a robust competition between faith and reason and among the religions themselves. And in the end, as America’s surprising piety clearly shows, it is not just society but also religion that emerges stronger from the refiner’s fire of competition, criticism and even insult.




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