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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