The Thought Police
The European Union seeks to appease Muslim extremists who, in response to a newspaper cartoon, threaten violence, and the Bush administration, Christopher Hitchens tells us, is happy to oblige:
As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week's international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.
"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief."
Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration.
The EU says that freedom of expression must be balanced against respect for religious beliefs. But respect cannot be codified--at least not in free societies. No one can force me to respect your beliefs, nor you mine. And that freedom means nothing unless we are able to express it. Again, Hitchens:
...there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.
Which is what taboos are for.
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that the Vatican should issue this statement:
"The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in its first statement on the controversy.
Um, so, does believers include, say, those who worship Satan? People have used religion to justify all manner of wrongs, all manner of evil. Orthodox Jews believe any representation of God is wrong, and won't even write out his name. Should they react with violence and condemnation when this taboo is violated?
Europe is understandly afraid of provoking its growing Muslim population, and whipping the fanatics among them into a frenzy. Certainly, it is vital for the West to continue to make clear that it is not waging a war on Islam, but on violent extremism.
But Europeans more than anyone should understand the dangers of appeasement. It merely encourages more demands, more threats, more violence, until one is left with no choice but to answer in kind.
(See also Andrew Sullivan on this topic.)