Freedom to criticize

Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie have an important op-ed in the LA Times, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali: abandoned to fanatics.”

In fact, I’d add this: Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets a lot of accusations that her critique of Islam is not sophisticated enough, that she oversimplifies things, or that her tactics do not really help the Muslim women she speaks for. She gets flak for being inflammatory and unnecessarily insulting to a world religion. In some contexts such criticisms might need to be debated; I expect some of them are at least in part correct. But in the present situation, when she’s operating under serious death threats because she dared offend some Muslim fanatics, all this is irrelevant. And I find the hemming and hawing I hear, especially from more left wing political circles, very disturbing. Hell, I take it personally. What kind of intellectual life can we sustain if people can be shouted down or be forced to live in fear because they insulted someone’s religion?

While I’m on this sort of rant, what the hell is it with Westerners becoming so protective of other people’s religious and nationalist sensitivities? It’s not only touching Islam that can get you into trouble; these days in the US making noises about the apartheid-like policies of Israel is also becoming a sure way to get your tenure denied or your speaking engagements canceled. OK, I’m cynical enough to suspect that modern populations are all too easily inclined towards forms of fascism. But at least if it’s their own hypernationalism or foaming at the mouth in service of their own superstitions, then that’s easier to understand. What is this with enforcing the fanaticism of others?

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Explicit Atheist

    Many Arab citizens of Israel complain, often with justification, about unequal allocation of resources; about the fact that 13 percent of land in Israel is administered by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and cannot be leased to Arabs under that body’s covenant (neither Jews nor Arabs may buy JNF land and the Muslim WAQF owns almost 4 percent of the total land area within Israel and transacts only with the Arab population in accordance with their own beliefs and laws); about their exclusion from the military service required of Jews and members of the Druze minority, which they argue means they can never be regarded as full citizens; about the impact of the security fence on the Palestinian population, particularly in and around Jerusalem.

    Jewish communities, too, have claimed discrimination in Israel. Many Jews from Arab countries or from Ethiopia have said that they do not receive the same educational or career opportunities afforded to Jews of European origin; some representatives of these communities also say that their native cultures and traditions are not respected.

    None of this makes Israel unique. In fact, the reverse is true – all democracies have faced claims of discrimination at one time or another. One thinks of African-Americans in the U.S. or, more recently, Roma gypsies in the newly emerged democracies of Eastern Europe. Moreover, any assessment of Israel’s record on discrimination needs to recognize the following points:

    Israel’s citizens enjoy full equality before the law. This includes not only Jews from a vast array of ethnic and racial backgrounds – including many who would have been the victims of apartheid had they lived in South Africa – but the Muslim and Christian Arabs who make up one-fifth of the population.

    Unlike Blacks in apartheid South Africa, Arab citizens of Israel have full political rights. They vote and participate in the political process, with Arab Knesset representatives across the spectrum, from the Communist and Arab nationalist parties through to the Likud. Salim Jubran, an Israeli Arab, is a judge on Israel’s Supreme Court.

    In Jerusalem, the 120,000 Arab residents of the city are entitled to Israeli citizenship, but the vast majority have retained their pre-1967 Jordanian passports and therefore remain in Israel on the basis of permanent resident ID cards. In both 1996 and 2005, Arab Jerusalemites were permitted to vote in elections to the Palestinian Authority. The extraordinarily low turnout on both occasions was duly noted by observers. In the case of the post-Arafat elections in 2005, disillusionment with PA corruption, as well as the decision of the Palestinian Election Commission that all but 6,000 of the voters had to cast their ballots outside of Jerusalem, were the main reasons cited for the turnout.

    Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East and wider Islamic region where Christians, as well as Muslims and Jews, can freely worship. This stands in contrast with Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only religion permitted, and with Iraq and Pakistan, where Christians have faced attack from Islamist terror groups.

    Arab students and professors study, research, teach and – above all – argue and debate on all of Israel’s university campuses. At Haifa University some 20 percent of the student body is Arab.

    No reasonable person would dispute that discrimination is a problem in Israel. But the nature and scale of the discrimination is not exceptional. And discrimination is not the same thing as apartheid.

  • Explicit Atheist

    The Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende is a devout member of the Calvinist Protestant Church in the Netherlands. Could this be a symptom of anti-atheist bigotry? Unfortunately, this is not as surprising at it should be. European governments are fickle, they are not above sacrificing principle for other (political, economic, etc.) interests, this is a problem.

  • Andrew

    Whats all the atheist bile directed at Jews suddenly about.

    Dawkins in the Guardian recently said that the JEWS dominated American Foreign Policy.

    What a liar.

    Conspiracy theory anyone?

    And it was no slip, in his Delusional book he talks about the “notorious” Jewish Lobby on pages 4 and 44.

    The guy is acting like a bigot.

    You know what? There are only 6 million Jews in the USA, and maybe 14 million in the whole world.

    If they can dominate 300 million Americans, and Six Billion other people, then you goys are pretty damn stupid, aren’t you?

  • GOP Mammal

    Israel is under constant threat of terrorism from Islamic terrorists, the left should be praising Israel for taking in gay arabs who flee to Israel from Islamic states in the middle east. Not to mention freedom of and from religion.