are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides
the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia
in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects
are apparent in many countries... wherever the followers of the
Prophet rule or live... The fact that in Mohammedan law every
woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either
as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction
of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power
among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities - but
the influence of the religion paralyses the social development
of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in
the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant
and proselytizing faith...and were it not that Christianity is
sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which
it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might
fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."
Churchill, from The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages 248-50
(London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899).
I was watching
an episode of the Simpsons last night, enjoying their brilliant
mockery of Catholicism, Mormonism, and other Christian faiths.
Even as I doubled over in mirth, there lurked in some corner of
my mind a nagging question whether they would dare do the same
with Islam or Sikhism, Hinduism or Judaism. Few politicians or
journalists speak or write their minds in our day as Churchill
did in his, or Marx or Mohammed or Gandhi in theirs. Political
correctness has sapped the ability to, in Mencken's words (full
quote later), "utter what seems at the moment to be the truth".
self-assurance may still remain. On ABC's Nightline many years
ago. Ted Koppel was interviewing a Soviet dignitary visiting Washington.
Accompanying him was a junior functionary from the Embassy who
spoke fluent English. In the middle of the program the young man
protested to Koppel, "You are being unfair, you are not giving
us equal time". Saying, "I'll worry about it when we get equal
time on Moscow Television!", Koppel continued on without skipping
correctness has sapped
the ability to, in HL Mencken's words,
"utter what seems at the moment
to be the truth".
came to mind when I saw reports of protests, among other countries
in Saudi Arabia (where one cannot possess a copy of the Bible
or the Gita, and the only public worship allowed is that of Islam),
and Pakistan (where there are recent reports of young women being
forcibly converted to Islam, and people of the "wrong" religions
being on death row for blasphemy). Angry young men were up in
arms against cartoons making fun of the Prophet in a Danish newspaper.
In Gaza, Fatah activists (eager to make up for their recent electoral
loss, perhaps) were seen bustling about carrying shoulder-fired
missiles, reading out warnings to people from certain countries
to leave in 10 hours, failing which their lives would be in jeopardy.
one can be sure none of these same protesters have any complaint
with western personages Carlyle, Bernard Shaw or Goethe for praising
Prophet Mohammed. Like the rest of us, they are happy when they
or theirs is praised, unhappy when criticized or satirized.
most of us don't threaten to kidnap and kill people who have criticized
us, nor write specious screeds pointing out the difference between
freedom and license. We shrug and move along, knowing that not
everyone needs to accept our beliefs for us to be secure in ours.
It is as simple as that.
it protect the one thing that
has distinguished life in the West
from life elsewhere on the planet -
the protected freedom of expression?
Or will it surrender before the threat
of Danish biscuits vanishing
from Arab store shelves?
And as vital.
The question is whether the West will defend the central pillar
of the Enlightenment, or will it abandon it to the new faith of
'getting along at any price' mealy-mouthed obeisance to self-censorship
in the name of multiculturalism. Will it protect the one thing
that has distinguished life in the West from life elsewhere on
the planet - the protected freedom of expression? Or will it surrender
before the threat of Danish biscuits vanishing from Arab store
For in this
crisis is laid bare the real cost of globalization - Western ideals
in hock to the formula of free trade. Notice how the same people
who are willing to start wars eight thousand miles away in the
name of Democracy are ready to water it down at home at the first
sign of economic disruption emanating from far-away lands. The
global chickens have come home to roost.
principled stand by the Danish prime minister, who politely told
critics that the government in Denmark could not order the press,
some EU high-up issued a disingenuous statement about the need
to be sensitive to religion and culture. Following bravely was
that unctuous hypocrite, Kofi Annan - a man who sullied his post
by watching mutely when a UN member nation was savaged in a pre-meditated
war - now expostulating on the need for freedom of the press to
be tempered by respect for religion.
how the same people who are
willing to start wars eight thousand
miles away in the name of Democracy
are ready to water it down at home
the first sign of economic disruption
emanating from far-away lands.
in the following day was Condoleezza Rice's Department of State,
whose spokeswoman blasted the Danish and other European papers
for publishing the cartoons, stressing the need for press responsibility.
Perhaps for once they were sincere - no one loves a "responsible"
press more than this administration!
on free speech has been happening on a smaller scale for some
time. I recall some company in the US that had used a picture
of Gandhi in some unflattering fashion. A howl of protest went
up on the Internet, and the company folded with the usual noises
of forced apology and assurances of how much they respected the
great man, etc. etc. About a year back, a play had to be canceled
in the UK because members of the Sikh faith felt it offended them.
The British state was nowhere about to protect the right of the
organizers (in fact, the playwright, I recall reading, had to
hide in fear of death threats. Not all are as prominent as Salman
the State when it has a real role, to preserve and protect everybody's
right of free expression? President Bush speaks often about the
threat to our way of life. If there is anything worth preserving
in our way of life, the freedom of speech is first on that list.
HL Mencken wrote, "[I] know of no human right that is one-tenth
as valuable as the simple right to utter what seems (at the moment)
to be the truth." Thomas Jefferson went further, "...truth is
great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper
and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from
the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural
weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous
when it is permitted freely to contradict them."
is the State when it has a
real role, to preserve and protect
everybody's right of free expression?
President Bush speaks often about
the threat to our way of life.
If there is anything worth preservin
in our way of life,
the freedom of speech
is first on that list.
needs to speak out on this matter and defend free speech in clear
terms. As does every Democrat and Republican, every organization,
including the ACLU, and indeed, every individual.
been criticism of the unwritten and the written laws of censorship,
which European and American media meekly follow, notably in the
matter of criticizing Israel, for fear of being tagged 'anti-Semitic'.
This is real enough. And the meekness of the media around the
Bush Administration is there for all to see. But just as a person
protesting a speed limit of 60 mph would drive at the maximum
speed allowed even while campaigning for its raising, instead
of driving at 40 mph in protest, expanding the right of expression,
not its curtailment, should be the goal.
to work, and they pretend to pay us", went the joke in the Old
Soviet Union. Similar is the demand by protesters that Denmark,
France, Norway and Germany apologize. Such is the nature of both
apology and the demand for it in these cases. Galileo recanted,
but did he stop believing the Earth went round the Sun? Compliance
may be enforced, but respect is earned.
recanted, but did he stop
believing the Earth went round the Sun?
Compliance may be enforced,
but respect is earned.
of the Jyllands-Posten, accused of not 'respecting' Islam, said
that what was being demanded was not 'respect', but 'submission'.
When told that Danish law allowed the newspaper to publish what
it saw fit, the imam of the largest Muslim congregation in Denmark
declared, "If this is Democracy, we want no part of it!"
I doubt if
the imam had read Ved Mehta's autobiography. Before Mehta left
India for America for his studies, while not yet out of his teens,
his father took him to meet Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru wished the
young man well, adding, "Remember that when abroad, you are always
an ambassador of your country." In the chorus of outrage from
Muslim lands, Ayatollah Al Sistani in Iraq alone seemed to have
grasped the wisdom of Nehru's words. While protesting the cartoons,
he also criticized Muslims for bringing a bad name to their religion
by postures of intolerance and threats of violence.
As the late
Nirad Chaudhuri admonished his fellow Indians, "A tree is known
by its fruits."
Trouble with Infallibility by Niranjan Ramakrishnan
A Contest of Hypocrisies by Niranjan Ramakrishnan
Apologize (finally, but for the wrong reasons) by Rachard Itani
Mountain out of a Molehill by Mona Eltawahy
An earlier version of this article also appeared on Counterpunch
on Feb 4/5, 2006. Niranjan
Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings
can be found on http://www.indogram.com.
He can be reached at [email protected]
or visit http://www.blogogram.com.