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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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Western Critics of Democracy – “Accomplices to Injustice”

Flemming Rose, from the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands Posten that published cartoons about Muhammad

Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Some Westerners may be deluded by feelings of guilt for the actions of democratic countries in the past, such as the brutal takeover of the Congo by Belgium. No one, of course, wants to be accused of “racism” or intolerance towards minority groups, or of supporting Western “imperialism.” But while these critic of democracies often express concern about abuses of power in their own countries, they are more quiescent about the much greater abuses in non-Western countries. Rarely do they protest the violations of human rights in Arab and Muslim countries, such as that women are officially worth only half of what a man is worth in inheritance or judicial disputes; or (with a straight face) that the presence of four male witnesses is required to testify that a woman was not the victim of a rape, not to mention their silence and staggering absence of over, for example, honor killings, religiously-sanctioned wife-beating, and female genital mutilation; or the wholesale jailing of journalists currently under way in, among other places, Turkey and the Palestinian Territories.

Another explanation for this quiescence is that discussion of the issue of Islamist actions, such as the murder in November 2004 of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, or the threats against writers such as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the current Dutch MP Geert Wilders; or the condemnation of the Danish journalists — especially the courageous editor Flemming Rose, responsible in 2005 for the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — would lead to greater support for right wing parties, which would then call for restrictions on immigration, or mass deportation, or economic and educational discrimination against Muslims.

This can hardly explain, however, the refusal of well-known fellow writers, such as John Le Carre, Hugh Trevor-Roper, and Roald Dahl, to defend Salman Rushdie after his book, The Satanic Verses, was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini in a fatwa [religious edict] that called for the faithful to kill both Rushdie and his publishers. Why would these supposed upholders of the principle of free speech not protest the decision of the UN Human Rights Council to punish criticism of Islam, or its continuing efforts, backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, internationally to criminalize all discussion of Islam in an ongoing series of a series of meetings called ‘The Istanbul Process’?

Why would they not challenge the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that Sharia law is “the only source of reference” for the protection of human rights in Islamic countries — a statement that is totally contrary to the UN Declaration of Human Rights of December 1948? Why do the high-minded progressives acquiesce in the attacks on Enlightenment principles?

A more probable explanation for such behavior is an attitude of appeasement, reminiscent of the refusal by some in the 1930s to recognize and counter the emerging reality of Hitlerism. In the present, this entails a politically correct acceptance of the “culturally relativist” position which holds that the demands of Muslim authorities and Muslim habits, values, and customs are appropriate — a view that apparently cannot bear to imagine that possibly all cultures and religious expressions might not be equal. This view often amounts to toleration of the intolerant.

The most plausible explanation for silence in democratic countries, however, is fear. Westerners fear being accused of racial prejudice or “Islamophobia.” Publishing houses have been wary out of fear of physical violence and economic boycott, of issuing books, such as the novel, The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a work that might “offend” some in the Muslim community, which often sounds as if it believes there should be a new Right Not To Be Offended. The behavior of Random House on this issue was not a profile in courage. Both the media and many in the academic and entertainment world have engaged in self-censorship; upholders of the principle of free speech have been unwilling or reluctant to discuss some of those topics, such as jihad or the impact of Sharia law, that might be considered offensive to Muslims or to developing countries. Silence, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali said in a speech in Berlin on May 11, 2012, becomes an accomplice to injustice. She might have added that silence also tends to embolden extremists.

About the Author: Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University, and author of the forthcoming book, Should Israel Exist? A sovereign nation under assault by the international community.


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