A good friend of mine who is not a Muslim has been living in an all-Muslim country for several years.
He responded briefly by private email to my oped: “Levelling with Muslims” . He says pretty much the following:
The highly educated rational and internationally oriented Muslims I know simply refuse to go around affirming to the world that they are not (violent) jihadists. Besides, they think it’s useless,that they have already been adjudicated guilty by the court of western public opinion.
I hope I am translating my friend correctly. If I don’t, I hope he will correct me and do so promptly.
But I don’t know of any public clamor that request of ordinary Muslims to prove that they are innocent. My own oped does not require this at all. Perhaps, I was not clear. I have to give myself another try.
It is also simply not the case, even after hundreds of acts of jihadist terrorism world-wide since 9/11 that westerners assume all Muslims are more or less fanatics. This may be surprising but I think most Americans who are other than Muslim tend to give everyone ample benefit of doubt. However. Muslim silence, at home and abroad erodes this tendency. This erosion is not conducive to peace.
I would like to know that my friend’s Muslim friends are talking about moral responsibility. I would like to know that they are talking to one another and to those less well situated educationally. I would like to be told that many are disgusted by the criminal barbarity of murdering envoys in Libya. I would also like them to take a position on this kind of question: Is it a greater sin (or crime) for Muslims to bomb from the air apartment houses occupied by Muslim families with small, children in Aleppo or for non-Muslims to mock the Prophet Mohamed? To what extent does Islam require that the faithful get killed and kill policemen to protest blasphemy against a man of faith who took care to insist that he was only a man, with no shred of sacredness attached to his person?
The only way I will know whether this sort of conversation is taking place among Muslims is if Muslims or those who live among them, such as my friends, say it loud and clear.
I would like many Muslim voices to say loudly and clearly about acts of terrorism by those who call themselves Muslims: This is not done in my name. This is contrary to my religion.
What their governments tell me for their own reasons, I discount heavily. I want to hear Muslim civil society if and where there is one
I hear barely a whisper.
Muslims are telling us in practice: Leave us alone. Our everyday life is difficult enough. We merely want what you want. We want a chance to build our lives and to raise our children without interference. Those Salafists, those violent jihadists, we have nothing to do with them. They are your terrorists as much as ours.
Sorry, they are not. If Lutherans started bombing other people’s churches because they did not like their beliefs, if Baptists blew up car bombs in front of hotels to protest child baptism, if Catholics cut caricaturists’ throats because of cartoons of Jesus Christ, you can be sure that loud Lutherans, Baptists, Catholic voices would be raised in clear denunciation.
I repeat what I advanced in the previous essay: Peaceful Muslims are not clear in their hearts about right and wrong. That’s why we don’t hear them, even under the cover of anonymity. My oped “Levelling with Muslims” has had dozens of hits from predominantly Muslim countries and from countries such as India where here are many Muslims. Not a peep! Please, tell me I am wrong.
Of course, anyone can answer me and perhaps prove me wrong by posting a pertinent link at as Comment on this blog.
Update one day later: My friend says I did not render his statements properly. I think I did. I invited him to post corrections here in any form he wishes, in English or in French.
Update and correction on 9/21/12
My friend eventually sent me links to four French newspapers each of which led to op-eds by writers with Muslim names that indicated a clear attachment to freedom of expression while they disparaged the violent mob actions in several Muslim countries and the murder of the American personnel in Benghazi. My friend said it took him little time to find those items.
Then, I asked him if conversations about the importance of freedom of expression vs blasphemy were also taking place in the Arabic language press. In response, he sent me a link to what he said was an op-ed in Arabic dealing exactly with the topic of my question. He invited me to use one of the on-line translation tools. I was not able to open this last item. The fault lies entirely with me, I am sure, with my bad computer equipment and with my shamefully bad skills. I read nothing into it, of course.
So, at this point, I stand partially corrected. Contrary to my allegations, people with Muslim names do condemn the alleged reaction to the alleged blasphemies of that Internet video. The evidence available to me however all seems to come from France. It makes sense when I think about it.
As a colonial power in Africa and in the Levant, France has had a Muslim immigration for a long time ago. It seems to me that this makes it possible to have Muslims and descendants of Muslims who have lived in the French context long enough to be appreciative of freedom of speech and of other allied freedoms.
Nevertheless, a leader of a French Muslim organization asked the French government recently on television to do the needful to ensure that Islam enjoys the respect that Muslims have a “right” – “le droit” to expect. A little wobbly, still! The French constitution does not accord a right to respect anymore than does the US Constitution. The French cabinet minister who answered pointed out that courts of law -rather than the executive branch- where the proper venue to pursue such matters. Lately, the French have shown us how not to be weak-kneed. What do you know!
By contrast with the French case, the immigration of significant numbers of Muslims into the US is relatively recent. American Muslims and Muslims who live in America have had less time to become acculturated to the freedoms associated with democracy. Or, it’s possible that American institutions don’t do as a good a job as do French institutions in this respect. Subjectively, that would not surprise me, by the way.
At any rate, I still don’t hear or read of Muslims, or especially, of Muslims that seek to represent other Muslims condemning the assassinations and the riot. Fouad Ajami had a good piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. You can always count on him to be the voice of reason and lucidity on Middle-Eastern affairs. Somehow, I don’t think he speaks for many Muslims. I could be wrong. I hope I am.
At this point also, I have no evidence that the defense of freedom of speech against religious fanaticism is currently taking place in any Arab country or, indeed, in any Muslim country. (And, again, it’s not because my friend did not try.)
Incidentally, I wonder how many predominantly Muslim countries even bother to guarantee freedom of speech in their constitutions or in their other basic laws. It goes without saying that I will immediately publish here any response that contradicts my suspicion in this respect.
In conclusion: The impression that started this oped, here on this blog, has been partly falsified. An important fraction of my initial impression has been successfully contradicted because someone took the trouble to respond. I stand corrected.The Internet world is enormously better than anything preceding it. Nowadays, no one is condemned either to drag around the same old fallacies for a lifetime or to become an expert in whatever is ailing him. Others are able to come to the rescue credibility and the world is little bit better for it, maybe. I only regret that none of the fair number of readers who look at this blog from Muslim countries has commented. I understand that in many cases, they have good reasons to fear intervening. I wish them well all the same.
But, I ask again: Is it a greater sin (or crime) for Muslims to bomb from the air apartment houses occupied by Muslim families with small, children in Aleppo or for non-Muslims to mock the Prophet Mohamed?
I would like the response of a religiously well-educated Muslim.