Protesters steal a damaged police vehicle after clashes with riot police along a road which leads to the U.S. embassy, near Tahrir Square in Cairo September 13, 2012.
Speaking Thursday about the Islamic extremist riots in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the online video that mocks Mohammed and allegedly set off the bloody attacks on American embassies “disgusting and reprehensible.” She added, “It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
To Clinton’s credit, she went on to say there was “no justification, none at all,” for the ensuing trashing and murder.
But why is it that whenever a mob of fundamentalist hotheads feels their prophet has been insulted and takes to the streets burning, bashing and killing, Western leaders feel the need to reassure Muslims that theirs is a “great religion” and apologize for provoking it?
Those same leaders, Clinton included, would never think to placate angry Evangelicals or Orthodox Jews by calling Christianity or Judaism a great religion.
When Andres Serrano decided to photograph a crucifix submerged in a jar of his own urine — the infamous Piss Christ — and millions of Christians were deeply offended, I don’t recall world leaders lining up to apologize for the artist and the way he affronted their religious beliefs. But, of course, just before rioters were storming their compound in Cairo, U.S. state department staff tweeted that they were sorry for “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals (the producers of the Internet video) to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”
Maybe Christians and Jews don’t get the same deferential treatment because they don’t firebomb buildings, overturn cars and murder ambassadors when someone provokes them.
Chris Ofili once made a portrait entitled Holy Virgin Mary using different coloured bits of elephant dung, among other materials. Catholics didn’t surge down the streets en masse, breaking every shop window in sight and burning at the stake any artist they stumbled across.
And because there was no violence, perhaps that’s why there were no human rights persecutions of Ofili for hate imagery.
To be sure, Christianity has had its periods of extremism, such as the Inquisition and the Crusades, during which violence was condoned in the name of preserving the honour of Christ. But that’s not an argument for appeasing today’s Islamic extremists. Rather it’s an argument in favour of a Muslim reformation.
Muslims, especially in the Middle East, need to modernize their faith, separate mosque and state and get over their Medieval reaction to every perceived slight to their god and his prophet.
But we Westerners, too, have to stop bowing and scraping before the extremists every time they take up clubs and burn flags.
During the Danish cartoon fury in 2005, Muslims the world over took to the streets in rage.
More than 70 (mostly other Muslims) were killed in riots from Pakistan to Indonesia. In response, most Western media outlets cowardly refused to reprint the cartoons of Mohammed (which were hardly outrageous by the standards of Western political cartoons), citing a fear their publication might incite more violence.
Like it or not, they were acquiescing to the extremists’ demands that our concept of free speech be subordinated to the feelings of religious zealots elsewhere in the world.
They would not have withered the same in the face of Christian zealots. Western human rights commissions even went after some who did publish the Danish drawings, such as the Sun News Network’s Ezra Levant, citing them for bringing hatred on Muslims.
When our leaders and institutions offer such mealy-mouthed, weak-kneed responses and refuse to stand up for Western values such as tolerance and free expression, they provoke more of the destructive responses, not fewer.