The Right to Blaspheme
by N. M. GUARIGLIA
September 17, 2010
A Response to the President on Ground Zero, the Koran, Gitmo, and 9/11
Islam has been the talk of the country. In New York, a jihadi-sympathizing cleric with shadowy foreign connections seeks to put a mosque near Ground Zero. He forewarns: if he does not get his way, “anger will explode in the Muslim world.” In Florida, a Yosemite Sam-type pastor wants to conduct a public burning of the Koran. As with the beer summit, President Obama has managed to embroil himself in these local disputes –– thereby nationalizing the debate. His series of statements have been nothing more than boilerplate leftist dogma, proving a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of this war, and the issue at hand.
On the Ground Zero mosque, Obama said:
… If you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.
We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts… And fortunately, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in…
… We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us.
This is all straw-man stuff. No American denies the legal right of Muslims to practice their faith or construct a house of worship. Freedom of religion is our constitutional idea, after all. It can’t be found in the Koran. Most of those protesting the mosque’s location would not support the government intervening to rip up this local real estate contract. Rather, their opposition stems from the inflammatory intentions of the mosque’s founders. So they are making themselves heard. The majority of Americans oppose the mosque not due to bigotry, but because they believe tolerance is a two-way street. And tolerance with the Muslim world has fallen victim to diminishing returns. We would not build an Enola Gay tribute museum in Hiroshima–– and then subtly forecast indiscriminate violence on Japanese civilians if our plans were not approved. Nobody likes being spoken to in that tone. We are no different. Whether the mosque gets built or not, it would have been nice to have seen Obama take this posture.
Obama then turns to Islam. He speaks of our Muslim friends, coworkers, our kids’ schoolmates. “I’ve got Muslims” in the armed services, he says. But we know all this. We know there are good Muslims. We’ve long ago accepted this fact. We’re passed it. Our concern is with the Muslim world’s interpretation of Islam, as a whole. There are many verses and stories in the Koran and Hadith that promote violence against non-Muslims in the name of Islam. An unsettling number of the planet’s Muslims accept this scripture as literal and obligatory. That is a real world-impacting problem with which the United States has not yet dealt. We say they’re distorting their religion –– when the evidence suggests they are heeding it. We say this because we do not want to fight that war; their war. But that war, their war, exists. We may be unwilling participants, but we are participants nonetheless.
Like Bush, Obama refuses to take on Islamic doctrine itself. Perhaps that shouldn’t be the job of the president, but someone has to do it. Continuing to define “Islam” as all good-things-Muslim –– friends, coworkers, algebra, the magnetic compass, etc. –– and insisting all bad-things-Muslim have nothing to do with Islam, even if it can be recited in Islamic text, is an intellectually dishonest stance. Our enemies view this naiveté as cultural capitulation and for it loathe us even more.
On the Koran-burning pastor, Obama said, “The idea that we would burn the sacred text of someone else’s religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It’s contrary to what this country, this nation was founded on… And it’s also the best imaginable recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.” Obama called the possible burning a “stunt” and “a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda.” So on the one hand, at Ground Zero, we believe the Islamists’ legal right to intentionally offend us should override consideration for the sensitivities of 9/11 families. On the other hand, in Florida, we believe the importance of respecting the Islamists’ sensitivities should override the constitutional right of a citizen from free expression, albeit offensive. According to the administration, burning the Koran is un-American. What if the pastor were instead burning the American flag in protest? Would he be barred from doing so, or would upholding his right to free expression — to burn the symbol which gives him the right to do so — be considered the most American of ideas? You see where I am going. Offending people through free expression is as American as apple pie. It isn’t principles we are adhering to — it’s submission to Muslim intimidation. It’s cowardice.
Obama brought up Guantanamo Bay, yet to be closed. “You know,” Obama told the press, “al-Qaeda operatives still cite Guantanamo as a justification for attacks against the United States.” So now potential prisoners are allowed to justify their crimes due to the existence of prisons? Ed Morrissey phrased it succinctly: “We opened the Gitmo facility after 9/11… was that a preemptive strike against opening Gitmo as a detention facility?” The jihadists will always find a grievance to murder non-Muslims, whether it’s Guantanamo or female bartenders. This effort to recite our adversaries’ talking points is sheer masochism. Let’s start talking more about what it is our enemies must and must not do in order to assuage our anger at them, rather than they us.
During his September 11 address, Obama echoed a similar theme. “The perpetrators of this evil act didn’t simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself,” Obama declared at the Pentagon, continuing:
We will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are… They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. They may seek to spark a conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us… it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.
And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building (emphasis added).
Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America — those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world. Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.
Such sentiments appear reasonable on its surface, but consider the mindset — and the message — at its core. President Obama seems to think the purpose of this war is our not offending Muslims. He seems to think the first thing we ought to be doing is countering al-Qaeda’s propaganda that we are a racist country, intolerant of Muslims. He points to al-Qaeda’s grievances and threats and implores us to treat our Muslim countrymen with equality.
Obama has it completely backwards. This war is not about proving to the world that al-Qaeda cannot change who we are. We prove that effortlessly every day. No, quite the contrary; this war is about changing them, encouraging a culture of tolerance over there. This war isn’t about refraining from giving offense to Muslims, lest we blaspheme their religion and end up dead. No, this war is about proclaiming our right to say, or criticize, or mock, or blaspheme whatever we wish free from the threat of murder.
That is true equality: demanding the Islamic world conducts itself in the same manner we conduct ourselves; requiring Muslims to react the same way Jews, or Christians, or Hindus would react should their beliefs be ridiculed by a cartoonist, or director, or South Park writer, or comedian, or pastor. Accepting Obama’s premise — if it offends Muslims, don’t do it, say it, or write it — is the real inequality and prejudice. It holds Muslims to a lower behavioral standard. It epitomizes the soft bigotry of low expectations.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is a polemic and essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.