"As for the death sentence passed by the Ayatullah Khomeini (RA), as a Muslim I support it because it was in accordance with Islamic principles."
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comments="Hi. I think there is a misconception here about freedom of speech. There is no such thing as absolute God-given freedom of speech. By giving this right to Rushdie, you have given him the right to slander, defame, and ridicule others. Freedom of speech should be the freedom to express your ideas and opinions. What Rushdie did was an abuse of freedom of speech. And it seems that there is a double standard in America when it comes to this subject. When many world leaders including religious leaders such as Cardinal O'Conner of New York and Rabbi Jakobovitz of England and others expressed their views against the Satanic Verses, those views were not published. When former rock singer Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) endorsed the death sentence on Rushdie, his songs were boycotted by the radio stations and his records were broken in public. This dual standard is not new. The American artist who displayed the U.S. flag on the floor and made people walk all over it said in a press conference, "I did so because the U.S. flag is a symbol of oppression to millions of people around the world." him and his family received death threats. When someone wanted to burn the U.S. flagg as a test of this inborn and absolute freedom of expression in the Bill of Rights, there was nationwide turmoil from newspapers to the Presidency, and flag-burners were not only labeled anti-American, but arrest and prison sentence was called for them. When Professor Ali Mazrui mentioned in an interview on BBC/PBS that Karl Marx was the last of the Jewish prophets, it was censored in the U.S. and not aired. One can wonder why the Britism government refused to implement the suggestions by Muslims that the blasphemy law should apply to Muslims as well as Christians. Thus these people who define freedom of speech and writing, and give it only to themselves or their ilegitimate surrogates like Rushdie to defame and slander others with an "inferior" value system. No western defender of the freedom of speech came to defend his rights or the rights of Yusuf Islam. As for the death sentence passed by the Ayatullah Khomeini (RA), as a Muslim I support it because it was in accordance with Islamic principles. Muslims are supposed to follow what is called the Sunnah (or the practise or tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Death for blashpemy is the punishment in Islam and Muhammad (SAW) himself had 3 people executed for this offense, so Khomeini was only performing his religious duty. It's ridiculous to say that he did it for political purposes because back in 1947 he passed a death sentence agaist an Iranian minister who blashpemised Islam (he was shot a few days later) and no one took notice of that and after the revolution two people were whipped for critism. Only an insensitive person would fail to see that this book had injured the feelings of millions of Muslims around the world."
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I would hate to see the day arrive when someone could burn and stomp on the American flag in a United States city without receiving a punch in the nose from some passerby. Men have died fighting for that flag and people take what it stands for very seriously. This being said, I in no way would have a citizen persecuted (or murdered!) by the State for it. You say that people have called for making the burning of the American flag illegal, and that is true. However, I was not one of them; and I take consolation from the fact that the federal courts have ruled that in the United States this is a constitutionally protected form of speech -- your comments notwithstanding. If you will remember back to 1984, a group of hirsute, radical anti-U.S. protesters burned a flag in front of the Republican Convention in Dallas and were promptly arrested. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court which in 1989 ruled in a 5-4 verdict in the Texas v. Johnson case (109 S.Ct. 2533) that the burning of the United States Flag is an action protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Some might think this a national weakness, but it is really a source of strength. I would look on the spectacle of an American burning or stepping on the U.S. flag with no little wonder and reflect on the amazing diversity of my country where people have the freedom to make such fools of themselves. I would feel a sense of patriotism, ironically enough. "Blasphemous" ideas and the people who deign think them do not go away simply because they are ruled illegal and forced underground. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant," claimed U.S. Supreme Court Judge Willy Brandeis. Give such people and their noxious ideas the freedom to show themselves for what they really are; provide them the rope to hang themselves unassisted, and they will be their own executioners. I don't fail to remember that many are the patriots who perished so that their descendants might enjoy the freedom to make fools of themselves, if such be their choice.
To desecrate or attack an American flag today is perfect legal, although some have proposed amending the United States Constitution to outlaw flag burning. I think this unwarranted and wholly unnecessary. Irate mobs might burn U.S. flags in certain areas of the Middle East but who really cares? (Angry foreign mobs mean less than nothing to American voters.) They can burn flags until the sky turns black and it will change nothing. And anyone inside the United States who protests against government policy in so mindless a manner as to burn the American flag kills his cause in the eyes of 99.9% of the general population. When a child or an imbecile speaks rashly or stupidly, why should adults or the learned take offense? A person who is secure in their beliefs hardly need take mortal offense? To fly into a rage confers an importance upon a provocative action or polemical idea far beyond what it warrants. A flag is only a piece of fabric with stitching and dye, as a book is only paper and binding; the idea contained therein will either stand the test or time or not. The principles which I see the American flag standing for -- life, liberty, and property -- are not going to be adversely affected because some bonehead burned a piece of cloth, even if it be the national flag of my country. (As if you could killl an idea by burning a piece of cloth!) To be an American, as I live it, is to believe in a tradition and system of values which transcend time and physical surroundings; an abstract idea in my mind and not something of this earth, it is impervious to physical attack and cannot be desecrated by someone else. Because some jerk burns the Stars and Stripes it does not follow that American liberties are in danger or that free society is imperiled; rather, it means that some idiot could not find a more nuanced or thoughtful manner in which to protest some policy or other. That some novelist somewhere says nasty things about that in which you believe is hardly reason to tear your hair and load your gun; and I am sure many with a sophisticated and profound understanding of Islam feel the same about their faith.
You mention people threatened for their ideas. Individuals (Cardinal O'Conner of New York, Rabbi Jakobovitz of England) and organizations might exercise their right to boycott or speak against the "blasphemous," but in the United States and Western Europe they have no legal right to kill them. Thankfully the fanaticism which often accompanies the religious enthusiasm is mostly muffled in the West. To boycott or speak against a person is one thing; to threaten to kill a human being or put a price on his head merely for writing a book -- as the Iranian mullahs have urged against Rushdie -- is quite another. You mention a Muslim cleric's opinion not being published in the West. I strongly suspect no major Western media found the commentary worthy of its precious air-time. To decide not to air an opinion can be as much of an editorial opinion as anything else, especially when the opinion being aired is harebrained, crackpot, and hardly worth repeating. Reasonable persons speaking sense always seem to get their voices heard; there is, in the United States, no lack of pundits and spokespersons for Islamic causes -- I read them often myself in the newspaper and magazine op-ed pages. But even in the most explosive polemics and controversies, very few are the people in the West who would support death as a consequence for writing a book or airing an idea. And death sentences over matters of theology are non-existent! I challenge you to identify one Muslim whose freedom of speech was infringed upon in the United States by a church or government entity. I seem to remember Hillary Clinton having prominent American Muslims to the White House for dinner as recently as last Ramadan as it ended. At the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station here in Southern California, local Muslims were invited by the U.S. military during Ramadan to pray en masse inside the cavernous hangers originally designed for giant dirigibles.
Episodes similar to the Rushdie edict in the West are only bad memories from the wars of religion which ended some three hundred years ago. Most developed societies have largely come to differentiate between an action and an idea; a person is entitled to their opinion, obnoxious and mistaken as it might be, as long as it does no physical harm to anyone. You quote the American flag burners as justifying his actions because "the U.S. flag is a symbol of oppression to millions of people around the world." Well, billions of people around the world watch the "Baywatch" television show and think it high-quality entertainment, and they are entitled to their opinion (even if they be badly deluded). As Voltaire summed it up, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make possible for you to continue to write." There exists -- in places, at least -- this idea of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, even if it be abused -- as indeed it often is. It might not be a freedom enumerated by God, but it is one hammered into law by men through long and bitter experience during the Protestant Reformation: millions and millions died in order for some idea of religious freedom and intellectual pluralism to slowly, painfully develop over centuries in the West. As Voltaire put it, "Every individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he does not agree with him, is a monster." This quote, written with respect to imperious 18th century Catholic priests, brings me grimly to the late 20th century Islamic cleric, Mr. Khomeini.
You claim that you support Rushdie's "death sentence passed by the Ayatullah Khomeini (RA)" because it was "in accordance with Islamic principles." Why do I suspect there are plenty of devout Muslims in the world who would object to their faith being used as a weapon? Detest this as much as they would detest Rushdie's ideas in "The Satanic Verses"? Is Islam a religion which sharpens its long knives for the eccentric and unorthodox? Is there more than one narrow way to interpret the word of Allah and practice the Islamic faith? Are there Imans in the world who disagree with Khomeini's fatwa and hold it to be as shameful and impious? It is precisely this killing people in the name of Allah which give some Muslims such a bad name in the international community! Who needs "blasphemous" authors when you can ruin your reputation quite unaided? Today in the West it is archaic and even quaint to call someone a "heretic" or "blasphemer." It is much simpler and more efficacious to judge someone a fool and a blowhard and then to ignore them. (Some 90% of the hostile e-mail I receive off this webpage, for example, is so inane as to disqualify it for a response. It does not send me crawling the walls in rage.) But this would require a subtlety and sophistication of thought of which Khomeini and some others seem incapable. I find this religious militancy calling for the shedding of blood in the name of Islam to be strongly suspect.
But I am no scholar of Islam, and you might be right that death is decreed for blasphemers of the faith. But if that be so, I think it a fairly stupid policy - be it of whatever origin. I cannot answer about Mohammad putting people to the sword for blasphemy; but I do know that many Christians have burned to death other Christians in the name of a Christ who came bearing a message of love and peace, and that is widely viewed today in Christianity as execrable in the extreme. Where will it end? Maybe all this has something to do with why the geography of the Middle East is punctuated with impoverished countries groaning under the weight of despots, feared secret police and "banned" opposition parties, economies dependent on imported technology, and a virtual absence of democracy or independent judiciaries. How ironic that Muslim immigrants in the United States and Europe often enjoy more personal freedom there than in their own countries! (Where did the exiled Khomeini find safe harbor for so many years during his long exodus? Where did he speak out strongly against the West and the Shah? France.) No liberal democratic government was going to imprison Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam or gag him with threats or intimidation. The man has the freedom to speak his mind, even as other individuals or private organizations have the right to refuse to listen to him or broadcast his music. If anyone enraged by Mr. Stevens'/Islam's comments had felt moved to hurt him, the law would have stepped in to prevent it. This goes without saying. If the extremists in the Muslim world had simply denounced Rushdie's book and called for its boycott, there would hardly have been any fuss.
For my part, I seek out and study the opinions of those whom I oppose. The first things I did, for example, when I decided some years ago to study seriously the person of Adolf Hitler was to read "Mein Kampf." The labor was not without reward, even as it was tedious and dispiriting. One need study "evil" in order to understand its texture and to be able to identify and fight it, and now I can enumerate better and in more detail why I oppose Hitler and his ideas. In the United States, I am able to access a large variety of opinions on nearly any topic which catches my fancy. Almost my first action, for example, after hearing for the first time this odious Osama bin-Laden person's name in connection with the U.S. embassy terrorist attacks last summer was to research what were his motivations and background. Where was he coming from? Why had he killed people in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam? As J.S. Mill put it: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." How can one know something is "bad" unless they have examined it? How can one know what is "good," if they know nothing that is "bad?" The good and the bad are so often intertwined in this world, and that which makes one known from the other is personal struggle and proper reflection. (Why, after all, do you think I take such pains and expend such effort in refuting these e-mails which would be laughable and absurd enough as not to warrant another firing of a synapse in the eyes of the vast majority of my countrymen?) But let me ask you again: can any clear distinction between truth and error, good and bad, be approached if information is controlled and censored by authority? Let me explain this in terms of Iran.
Unlike most Americans, I follow Iranian politics to some degree. There obviously is a struggle in Iran as to what the future relations should be with the rest of the world. One side, there is elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate in the context of the Islamic Republic, who has tried to create a "crack in the wall of mistrust" between Iran and the United States by exchanging writers, scholars, artists and thinkers. He has said, "I believe all doors should now be open for such dialogue and understanding and the possibility for contact between Iranian and American citizens." Khatami claims that an Islamic society and its Western counterpart were "not necessarily in conflict. ... This is why we should never be oblivious to judicious acquisition of the positive accomplishments of the Western civil society." In looking out from Iran at the West with a relative tolerance and respect, Khatami claims, "Without a doubt, we will succeed in moving forward, only if we have the capacity to reap the benefit of positive, scientific and social accomplishments of Western civilization." I have fond much profit in the opinions of Khatami and hope he finds more favor in Iran. From an Islamic point of view he seems to be able to find what is of value in the West and seek to integrate it into the Islamic tradition. Khatami speaks of the importance of fostering a healthy civil society and applying the rule of law to Iran. He exclaims, "Citizens of the Islamic civil society enjoy the right to determine their own destiny, supervise their government and hold it accountable. The government in such a society is the servant of the people and not their master."
You might think I hate Islam and find a "clash of the civilizations" inevitable. Such is not the case; and I, in the person of Khatami, have faith that the United States and Iran might arrive at an "understanding" and less rancorous future. There are those who have reminded my loudly that Khatami is a cleric who is very much a product of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. If an "understanding" can be reached and relations improved, I, for my part, care not who bears the tidings. It took a staunch Republican like Nixon to go to communist China; perhaps only an Imam such as Khatami can make peace with the West. I wish him all the luck in the world. He will need it.
And he will need it because he is strongly opposed by powerful forces inside his country. The extremely powerful Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, elected successor to the Ayatollah Khomeini, has rejected any ties or talks with the United States, calling it "the enemy of the Islamic Republic." Khamenei, although not popularly elected to his position, is the supreme spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic and wields significant political and religious power which, as of today, dwarfs that of President Khatami. Khamenei and the other religious hard-liners control parliament, radio and television, the security forces, the supreme leader's institutions, the Friday prayers preachers, the powerful and entrenched revolutionary foundations and businesses. "Talks with the United States have no benefit for us and are harmful to us," Ayatollah Khamenei told hundreds of thousands of worshippers attending Friday services at Tehran University in January 1998. Chants of "God is great!" and "Death to America!" interrupted Khamenei's speech. In contrast to Khatami, Khamenei sees Islam as inexorably at war with the West. "Western materialistic civilization is directing everyone toward materialism while money, gluttony and carnal desires are made the greatest aspirations," the Khamenei told high-ranking officials representing 55 Muslim nations at a 1997 Islamic summit in Tehran. "Sincerity, truthfulness, altruism and self-sacrifice have been replaced in many parts of the world by deception, conspiracy, avarice, jealousy and other indecent features..." The world suffers a "Western cultural onslaught" from the "satanic" military, economic, and technologic strength of the United States, illuminating vividly how power breeds resentment and envy. Khamanei would hermetically seal the Islamic Republic off from the rest of the world to keep it putatively pure and righteous.
That this is impossible in the age of the Internet and global economy Khamenei might agree with, I think, and claim only the more emphatically that either theocratic Islam or the secular West must eventually reign supreme. That there would be a difference between the political activities of the West and its civilization seems an idea beyond the ken of Khamanei and those of his ilk. The ascendant bourgeois culture of Western liberal democracy is "satanic" and to be avoided as if it were a disease, which they obviously think it to be. Khamenei would paint all Americans as hedonist and amoral, knowing no truth and obeying no deity, slaves to their power and possessions. "This ethical quagmire will ... engulf the present Western civilization and wipe it out," Khamenei has stated. That some Americans are as Khamanei claims is beyond dispute; but a more truthful and nuanced view of the United States would see a people secular in their materialism and acquisitiveness, yet religious in their anguished, and very public quest for happiness, fulfillment, and enlightenment. Of all the "developed" nations of the West, the United States is the most religious, with 95% of Americans professing a belief in God; the country was founded, after all, by a bunch of religious nonconformists who went off to make a better world. Bhuddism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam -- as well as many eclectic combinations of these faiths -- all thrive in the United States today. About this, Khamenei is silent.
The differences between Khatami and Khamenei and the courses they would plot for Iran (and the world!) are not small. Iran is divided between Khatami who is popular among Iranians -- many of whom would welcome a resumption of relations with the west, the U.S. included, with a liberalization of rule at home -- and Khamenei, who enjoys the support of powerful religious and military elites in the country. President Khatami has the support of the masses who elected him -- particularly young voters, many of whom were born after the Islamic revolution and never experienced life under the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi. But the clerics rail against Khatami's policies from their Friday evening pulpits. As Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi claimed in July 1998, "Beware! Don't let them fool you. In legislation, Islam and democracy cannot in any way be reconciled." Reform, liberalization, and popular rule are incompatible with a righteous Islamic Republic, according to this view; and any attempt by students and the young to agitate for more liberty are automatically equated with "selfishness and licentious desires." Liberalization is a rebellion against Islamic values, as understood by the hard-liners.
Even more alarming are the comments from the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, General Rahim Safavi. Enraged at the many new publications allowed by Khatami's government, Safavi went on the offensive in a closed-door meeting of senior military officials which was leaked to the moderate newspaper Jameah in April 1998. "Some of these newspapers have the same content as papers belonging to Monafeqin (Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq opposition group) and to America," Safavi told his fellow Guards officers. "Liberals have taken over our universities and our youth are chanting 'Death to dictatorship' slogans," Safavi was quoted as saying. "We seek to tear out the roots of counter-revolution wherever they may be. We should cut the neck of some of them. We will cut the tongues of others... Our sword is our tongue. We will expose...these cowards." Referring to the dialogue with the American people proposed by Khatami, Safavi asked, "Can we counter the threat posed by America, which seeks to dominate the world, through a dialogue between cultures and civilizations?"
According to this reasoning, to have such a "dialogue" is to repudiate the basis of the Islamic Republic's confrontational relationship with the United States, beginning in 1979 with the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran. "The severing of relations with the United States has been to the 100% benefit of the Iranian people," Khamanei speaks against any rapprochement with the Great Satan of America, and clearly a large part of the prestige of Khamanei the politician is wrapped up in casting the United States as the enemy. "Our importance around the world and in the eyes of other peoples is based on our standing up to the United States," he reminds his fellow Iranians. Remove the enmity with America the Devil, and what would remain? How would Khamanei lead his country into a better and more prosperous 21st century? Through massive prayer meetings? By erecting a giant wall around Iran to prevent the seepage of "satanic" outside influences? Through more confrontation with the secular Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf? More war with Iraq, Afghanistan, America, or Israel? More terrorism? How would Khatami increase the happiness of the people with a strict diet of fundamentalist Islam? This does not seem to be working with the young in Iran who chaff at the prohibitions and orthodoxy which are regularly a part of life in the Islamic Republic. How would he improve the government, decrease corruption? How would Khamenei modernize his country and increase its wealth? How would he govern well the collection of public monies and make the judicial system function better? Revolutionaries like Khamenei would keep the country on a crisis footing by invoking the language of combat, using the United States as the Great Satan and mortal enemy. "When a nation and a society know that the enemy lies in wait," Khamenei has recently said, "they set aside small differences. But when they lower their guard against the enemy, differences grow large, individuals start fighting, and factions form." This is nothing but a re-stating of Plato's famous dictum: "A tyrant is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader."
Outside of the hothouse thinking of hard-liners like Khamanei, the proper role of government is to develop and encourage the growth and maturing of civil society, advance the material well-being of the people, ensure the rights and welfare of citizens, and keep abreast with new knowledge and new ideas. President Khatami seems to reflect such an idea of governance. Conditions will not improve in Iran until traditional shara'ia law is amended to the needs and circumstances of late 20th century life; we do not live in the age of the Abassid Empire back in the Middle Ages when that law was developed. "A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation." noted Edmund Burke, back in the 18th century. President Khatami seems to see this. How will Iran trade with the rest of the world? How will government adapt to the needs of the 21st century? Will conditions improve and Iran cease to be largely isolated internationally if that nation doesn't makes its peace with the United States and Western world generally. All this will require much less ideological zeal from Iran and more pragmatism, more Khatami and less Khamanei. The choice ahead of Iran is clear.
But the Rushdie fatwa is near the heart of this divide. President Khatami announced this year the Iranian government will no longer pay the bounty on Rusdie's head. Khatami declared the issue "over" ; for all his predecessor Rafsanjani's vaunted power, this much could not be accomplished. Nevertheless, the issue is not over: the head of the "15th of Khordad Foundation" promptly rejected the rescinding of the fatwa and increased to $2.5 million bounty on the British author's head, increasing the total by $300,000. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi then formally dissociated his government (and Khatami) from this new inducement and said his country would not try to kill Rushdie. He said that Iran did not support the $2.5 million bounty on the author, offered by a foundation linked to Iran's government. Shortly after that, a hard-line student group also was reported to have offered one 1 billion rials ($333,000) to anyone who carried out the religious order to kill Rushdie. So it goes.
The struggle between Khamenei's and Khatami's visions of Iran's future continues, and people like me in the United States and the rest of the world await the results. On November 21, a gang calling itself the "Fadaeeyan-e Eslam" (Devotees of Islam) chanting "Death to America" used clubs and metal bars on to smash the windows of the minibus carrying a group of 13 non-Iranians outside their Tehran hotel, including U.S. citizens, after hard-line newspapers accused them of being spies. The men systematically beat out the bus' windows, and no police arrived until after the attack. The Americans predictably left Iran the next day. It seems some in Iran would violently oppose the meetings between ordinary citizens proposed by the Khatami government. I am sure there are others who feel otherwise.
And now, most ominously, there are these anonymous killings in Tehran of marginalized opponents to the conservative Islamic cause: Mohammed Jafar Pouyandeh, Mohammed Mokhtari, Majid Sharif, Dariush Foruhar and his wife, Parvanjeh... all these mostly writer-dissidents just vanishing off the street and then ending up murdered, their bodies dumped in an abandoned lot or under a bridge somewhere. Speculation that something like an extrajudicial death squad may have emerged with a murderous agenda to defend Islamic rule; this would rightly be another blow at the whole range of reforms that Khatami has been trying to introduce. If anarchy be the result of tolerating freedom of expression and dissent inside Iran, then who can rightly deny the validity and necessity of a dictatorship?
This issue of Rushdie and the fatwa crystallizes very well the ideas in conflict between militant Islam and the liberal West. Undoubtedly, Rushdie and Khomeini and their enmity will recede into history as time passes and people's attention moves to new problems and dilemmas. But there were more than mere personalities and egos involved here, and the polemic is worth studying abstractly and antispetically. Let me then say the following for the record: That Middle Eastern governments are nearly devoid of any democratic tradition and the rule of law seems merely to repeat the obvious. That the governments of that region at least occasionally terrorize their own peoples is similarly difficult to dispute. That the Islamic Republic of Iran has sent assassination teams to Europe to kill exiled Persian opponents of the current regime does not surprise me at all. That elements in Iran today are most probably killing off certain of their ideological enemies is at least likely. This seems pretty much par for the course in a corner of the world where they do not fight by the Marquis of Queensberry's rules -- Khatami and his incipient liberalization notwithstanding. But if I dislike the internal politics of the Middle East, it hardly follows that Islam itself it to blame. Human beings are those who chart the paths for their societies and cultures, not religions. If a few zealots hide in the shadows and murder in the name of Allah, this reflects poorly on themselves and not on Allah.
This business of killing people for their ideas and beliefs? I can empathize with calls to kill a man for unlawfully taking the life of another man, for betraying secrets to the enemy, or even for stealing that which is not his. But merely for thinking an idea or writing a book! What is that? Death for a thought-crime? Can thinking a thought warrant death? Can an piece of fiction really justify a death sentence? Is it merely, as they say, that assassination is the ultimate form of censorship? As is often quoted: "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist!" Exactly! Or perhaps -- to a militant Muslim -- the mere fact that a man sees the world differently or believes something else is reason enough to make him a loathed enemy worth snuffing out. One hears the strident call to submit to Allah in ever respect, this false modesty with respect to our capacity to discover truth through human endeavor. Artistic and intellectual creativity come to be strictly subordinated to religious orthodoxy and fundamentalist dogma, and there is hardly any room for experimentation or science. Look at these writers in Iran disappearing! Think upon the spectacle of Galileo being placed under house arrest by the Catholic Church for his claiming the earth was round! These are phenomenon cut from the same cloth, and both militate against the formation of strong civil societies.
It is, after all, the subjugation of religion to secular society which has enabled the West to develop itself through an explosion of science and modernization in the last three centuries. Western societies allow creativity, individual freedom, and innovation as their economies and cultures dynamically re-shape and re-define themselves every couple of generations; stasis and homogeneity equal decay and death. President Khatami himself has written that today "the world is the West, or lives in the shadow of Western thought and civilization." We live in the age of John Locke, with a belief in limited, constitutional government which the people have a right to overthrow when it becomes tyrannical. It are the 17th century ideas of Locke, a religious man who preached separation of church and state and tolerance, that dominate the world's most powerful information networks, political institutions, and financial organizations; and this has only become more so since the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union. Liberalism -- a government existing to protect the life, liberty, and property of the citizens -- is currently the credo that carries by far the most currency around the globe; and the fatwa against Rushdie, is completely antithetical to liberalism. That is why this issue is, in my humble opinion, so important! That is why, I am pretty sure, Khomeini made the political rather than religious decision to issue his fatwa. But the fact that authorities have long since stopped killing people in the West for "heresy" and "blasphemy" has much to do its rise. To listen to certain of the conservative Islamic clergy speak is to wonder that Medievalism is back in vogue.
And that is why the actions by President Khatami are, in my opinion, reason for hope with respect to the future. You take a man like myself who is "liberal" to the toes, and I can find common ground with a man like Khatami. With Khamenei, I have hardly anything at all "brotherly" to say; but I would neither call nor hope for his assassination because I hate the way he sees the world! I would not even begrudge the grizzled visage of Khomeini his ideas and space on the earth. You might claim that there are cultural differences between Khamenei and Khomeini and myself that cannot be transcended, but you would be only half correct. Look at how much, after all, Khatami and I share in common intellectually! I have had too much interaction in my life with ethnic Persians and Arabs who were persons of the highest caliber to think a Persian or an Arab a priori the product of a botched civilization. It is only the societal organization, forms of governance, two-bit dictators, and paltry civil liberties to be found in so many places in the Middle Eastern countries to which I object. And it are only the most militant and dogmatic of the Islamic communities who carry with them the unpleasant waft of wild-eyed fanaticism. Although seemingly fewer in number, there are fundamentalist Christians and Jews in the West akin to their fundamentalist Muslim counterparts in the Middle East; and I dislike all such thinkers and their thinking equally.
Ali, you mention the injured feelings of "millions of Muslims around the world." I am sorry for wounded feelings, but so what? Books are written every day which offend people - even millions of people! Books that offend me! Books that offend you! This is part of life in almost every country. Write a refutation, ignore it, deal with it, move on. That I would even have to explain this makes me wonder. You'd think you'd never been insulted on the school-yard! Never been called names as a child! Never learned to rise above it! Ridiculous! Grow up.
You might say I am "insensitive." I say in making a jihad out of Rushdie's book you are being petty and small-minded. The prophet Mohammad will survive the 20th century author Salman Rushdie and his novels. With only bruises and blemishes, the noble religion of Islam will endure the late-Ayatollah Khomeini and theocracy in Iran. Why let your faith move you to crime?
Two student supporters of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, with their mouths taped shut, hold aloft copies of the banned pro-reform newpaper Khordad during a peaceful protest against efforts by hardliners to curb freedom of expression in Tehran Sunday December 5, 1999.
After spending the last nine years under police protection, Rushdie in London speaks about his new freedom in 1998 after Iran's government publicly disassociates itself from the Khomeini fatwa calling for the author's killing.
"Some incredibly important things were being fought for here... the freedom of the imagination, the great, overwhelming, overarching question of freedom of speech, the right of human beings to walk down the streets of their own country without fear."
"The book is not the crime. The fatwa was the crime. It is perfectly legitimate to write novels which are contentious and which are radical in their reevaluations of the world. That's what artists are for.
"So, this has been a fight about free speech. It's been a fight about freedom of the imagination. It's been a fight about the art of the novel."