Bait Taken and Secularization Pains

Kudos to William Saletan and his September 14th Slate article Peace Be Upon You! He makes all the points percolating in my head since word spread of Muslim protests caused by some loser who wants to insult Muslims via bad production values. Saletan does bring up a point I have never considered. Bigots, like the type who made the anti-Muslim video which portray Muslims as savages, would love nothing more than the people he/she is insulting to prove him/her right and in the worst possible ways. Bait taken.

However, the resulting violent protests does highlight issues of modernity in parts of the Muslim world. I use the word modernity, because one of its character traits is secularity, where legitimacy comes from reason and not religion. Free speech brings, among others, differences in opinion including insults and blasphemy. But I find many comments made by some Muslims partitioning free speech from blasphemy. I do find this not-to-be-crossed line completely erroneous. For example, suppose I said Mohammed’s first wife Khadija not only worked but owned her own successful business. A Muslim shop owner in Turkey may not mind this fact (and may even find inspiration); suppose a misogynist Muslim from the Taliban considers it an insult, thinking I’m promoting notions of women working? Would this be blasphemy? According to whom!? Blasphemy also includes acts considered irreverent to the sacred. I don’t need an example to further elucidate how empty free speech will become in the face of blasphemy laws. I would be open to make blasphemy illegal but I have yet to see any controlling reason to do so.

It seems much of the Muslim world is going through what much of the West did go through hundreds of years ago, reconciling the sacred with the secular. It is not to say the West is not having some trouble today, but it seems the trouble differs in degree. Western history abounds with examples not unlike what we see today in Benghazi or Cairo, with religious revenge killings against “non-believers” in broad daylight. The West also went through many reforms re-positioning the relationship between religion and the temporal. For example, in the late 18th Century, the ex-colonists called Americans formed the United States Constitution, whereby the 1st Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These principles are Enlightenment principles, derived from philosophers Locke and Voltaire and also Milton and Mill, and affected both the legal and social spheres of the West. Many Western countries had already or eventually adopted these principles laid out in the 1st Amendment. In the 1960’s, the Second Vatican Council attempted to address relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. The council served as a catalyst of modernization and in it seems to have had rescinded many edicts and positions in the face of modernity (the Church had to legitimize itself to “keep up with the times”). In 2011, the Italian case Lautsi v. Italy came before the European Court of Human Rights. It ruled that crucifixes displayed in the classroom of a state school does not violate the European Convention of Human Rights. These three examples among many show how the West has continued to re-position religion’s place in society. In the West, it seems religion has a high degree of freedom but is no longer allowed to govern society itself. It seems this is in sharp contrast to religion’s place in society in many Muslim countries, especially in the Arab and North African worlds.  However, note that the cacophony of American media attention tends to report on bad news and not good news. For example, the Turkish constitutional court case Refah Partisi v. Turkey is a win for secularism as it held “that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy.” It goes on to say the party (Refah Partisi a.k.a. Welfare Party) and its agenda  of reintroducing religious law violates the ECHR (European Charter on Human Rights), “particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.”

Who is worse than the video producer Sam Bacile, or whatever his real name is, are the people responsible for the deaths of the consulate personnel is Libya (and any other deaths in the future as a result of these protests). Let it be clear, the worst of all in this mess are the MURDERERS.

So a wacko produces a video offensive to Muslims. A minority, no doubt, of Muslims decides to (whether be it planned or not!) incite fear and hatred, promote death and destruction, in the “name” of Allah, Peace be Upon Him (these religious extremists proclaim for God for themselves but not for us?). Meanwhile, much of the America’s politicians and pundits narrate the event as a mistake to help free Libya, the Arab Spring is a wash, and American foreign policy is a complete failure under this administration. Muslim extremists would love nothing more than to see Americans claw at each other than to see our unwavering support for democratic transitions among territories they would love to control. Bait taken.


  1. I find it interesting that the United States may boast religious freedom while it simultaneously punishes alternate political thought. One of the most poignant examples is the Civil Rights Movement, relatively recent considering our nation’s brief history. There are still individuals imprisoned today for speaking, non-violently, on behalf of what they considered their basic human rights. So, I may be able to visit my temple each week under the protection of the first amendment but if I were to publicly denounce what I consider to be criminal policies I may be put away in silence. I suppose the real question is, one you present yourself, is what really counts as blasphemy? Can a belief in one’s country mirror, to some extent, religion and if so, then if we attack those who insult it are we really any different? Patriotism vs. Religion.

    1. It seems there is a “thicker” history of recognizing religion than recognizing human rights in the West. It also seems human rights is a framework of ideas that have its origins in both the Enlightenment movements and religious theology, but did not politically solidify till the early 20th Century. Perhaps this is what helps contribute to the double standard you mentioned?

      In the broadest sense, I consider blasphemy a sacrilegious act or offense against a god or the sacred. It implies application to secular things as well, if the idea is treated as sacred. Anything can be treated as sacred if it is entitled to veneration without argument or evidence, a pseudo-religion, like communism, conservatism, state liberalism, race supremacy, tradition, or any other idea that is treated as an “eternal truth.” I believe capitalism is today’s pseudo-religion, where there are so many people out there who defend every idea of it without realizing there can be different versions of capitalism. Perhaps there needs to be a Production Reform and a list nailed to the front door of the Stock Market Exchange in New York. I’m sure if pseudo-religions I have mentioned were distilled to its basic parts, psychology would have a lollapalooza.

      For a belief in one’s country mirroring religion, which I think is called extreme nationalism, or some would simply call nationalism. In this country we especially see this “strong emotion” during times of war, especially in it’s beginning. You just might know someone has those strong emotions when it’s yelled, “if you don’t like this country, then move the fuck out!!!” in response to a valid criticism against the state. You can read it today in China and Japan, where a wave of nationalism is popular among both peoples. The latest round of this immature cheer-leading involves a couple of very small islands, just east of China and north of Taiwan, both nations claim. It is easy to find not only protests but also official statements in both countries against their rival with uninhibited calls of bloodshed. This is for a small group of 5-7 rocks altogether encompassing 7 square kilometers…..

      It’s obvious there is bad tea between them but you can see how sacred their respective nation is to some of them, as if their country and not common sense is a better side to take.

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