The riots and violence in Afghanistan over some accidentally burned Korans followed a script that by now is all too drearily familiar. As we have seen over the years with the riots over the Muhammad cartoons, Pope Benedict’s comments about violence in Islam, or false rumors of Korans flushed down toilets, violent Muslim overreactions to slights are immediately followed by anxious apologies from American leaders. Rather than defusing the anger, however, such groveling merely encourages more contempt and violence.
So too with these latest riots, which have killed more than 30 people, including several U.S. soldiers. This violence, moreover, has been encouraged by mullahs in mosques, teachers in madrassas, and members of parliament. Predictably, the Taliban – with whom our government is eager to talk peace – has encouraged people to “turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders.”
President Obama responded to the incitement and violence by offering his personal “sincere apologies,” professing his “deep regret,” and vowing to hold those responsible accountable. Defense Secretary Panetta and NATO commander John Allen also apologized.
But no reciprocal apology was demanded from President Hamid Karzai for the incitement to violence on the part of government and religious leaders, or for the deaths of two of our troops at the hands of an Afghan soldier we trained and armed, and another two inside a government ministry.
The administration and the military, of course, rationalize their indulgence of this double standard as motivated by “the safety of American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there,” as Obama spokesman Jay Carney put it. But as one demonstrator in Kabul said, “We don’t care about Obama’s apology…. They are burning our Koran. An apology is not enough.”
Most Afghans obviously agree, since rioting and killing have intensified despite apologies from our highest government and military officials. Indeed, over the past few decades, no amount of apologies for alleged “insults” to Muslims has stopped Islamists from attacking us. Nor have the good deeds benefiting Muslims, from rescuing Bosnians from genocide to liberating Libyans from Khaddafi, stopped jihadists from wanting to kill Americans for an endless list of reasons.
The past decades of such incidents have shown instead that apologies are useless, and merely endorse the perverse logic that accidentally burning a book is worse than murdering our soldiers and citizens. Why else would we publicly flagellate ourselves over such “insults” even as we say nothing about the Muslim murders of Christians in Egypt and Nigeria, or the Muslim laws prescribing capital punishment for converts to Christianity, or the Muslim vandalizing and destruction of 300 churches in Cyprus, or the Muslim slow-motion extermination of Christians in countries where Christianity existed for centuries before Islam was born?
These double standards are counterproductive and have been proven over and over to make Muslims despise us rather than like us. What we refuse to accept is the intolerant chauvinism inherent in Islam, the belief that Muslims are the “best of nations” and destined to rule the world. Accepting the double standard merely confirms their superiority and our inferiority. After all, to let someone behave according to one set of principles or standards while demanding that you be subjected to others is to validate a claim of superiority that justifies the disproportionate and unjust behavior. It’s acting like a battered wife who accepts a beat-down from her husband as justified punishment for burning his dinner.
In the West’s struggle with Islamic jihad, our doubts about the superiority of Western beliefs have coupled with this breakdown in ethical reasoning. The result is the appeasement of jihadist aggression and the confirmation of the jihadist estimation of the West’s weakness and corruption.
This appeasement has encouraged many Muslims to demand from Westerners a hypersensitivity to Islam, all the while that Christians and Jews in Muslim countries are subjected to harassment, assault, vicious insult, and murder. In the West, respect for Muslim holy books and practices is supposed to be granted as a self-evident right beyond argument or debate. Yet Western ideals and principles, such as tolerance for different creeds, are derided, disrespected, and rejected as self-evident evils. Worse yet, we pretend our appeasement of jihadist violence is an expression of tolerance, the liberal-democratic virtue that simply has little meaning in Islamic theology. We know why many of our leaders accept this double standard. They have bought into John Lennon’s juvenile utopia in which there is “nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.” Shorn of their transcendent, non-negotiable foundations, all our beliefs are now contingent and negotiable, easily traded away for security or comfort. At the same time, multiculturalism bestows on the non-Western “other” a finely calibrated sensitivity to his culture and religion, no matter how dysfunctional or oppressive, all the while the West refuses to extend such consideration to its own.
Having culturally internalized this self-loathing and lack of conviction, we are vulnerable to those who are filled with passionate intensity about the rightness of their beliefs and the payback due to us for our alleged historical sins such as colonialism or imperialism or globalization. And then we wonder why the jihadist considers us ripe for conquest, and destined to be subjected to the superior values of Islam.
Bruce S. Thornton is chair of the Humanities Department at California State University and the author of several books including “Searching for Joaquin: Myth and History in California.”
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