Nathan Lean wants “society” to take action against those who stand for freedom and human rights against jihad, Sharia and Islamic supremacism, for we “must be stopped.” This is a veiled but clear call for restrictions on our freedom of speech. By publishing it on its Aug. 26 Op-Ed page, The Times is working against its own interests. For my opinions are certainly politically incorrect today, but if Lean succeeds in getting them criminalized, editors at The Times might find one day that they too hold an opinion unacceptable to those in power.
Lean thinks that “society” should act against my colleague Pamela Geller and me because the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik cited us in his manifesto. But actually, Breivik cited many, many people, including Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson -- who are never blamed for Breivik’s murders. Also swept under the rug is the fact that Breivik’s manifesto is ideologically incoherent: So far was he from being a doctrinaire counter-jihadist that he wanted to aid Hamas and ally with jihad groups. Brevik’s real inspiration for his violence was, by his own account, Al Qaeda, as becomes clear in his manifesto when he spends 25 pages quoting extensively from the Koran and other Islamic sources. I am no more responsible for Breivik than the Beatles are for Charles Manson.
Indeed, the whole attempt to smear Geller and me with Breivik’s murders rests on several leaps of illogic and unstated assumptions. Even if Breivik’s views really were exactly the same as ours, would it therefore hold that if someone commits violence in the name of an idea, that idea is thereby discredited and must be driven out of the public discourse? In that case, precious few ideas would be left, since people at one time or another have committed violence in the name of virtually every cause under the sun.
In any case, if ideas that were deemed to lead to violence really were silenced, the proponents of a supposedly peaceful Islam that Lean is so anxious to protect and defend would be silenced as well. After all, Lean admits that Geller and I denounced Breivik’s violence. But that is not enough for him. The whole thrust of his piece is the claim that what we say and do inspires other people to do violence. Now, that is not in the slightest degree true of what Geller and I say and do, but it is certainly true of the many, many imams worldwide who openly teach that Muslims should wage war against unbelievers, and also true of those who don’t teach violence openly, but do teach intolerance of those outside the accepted circle (which, incidentally, Lean teaches as well). And if we denounce violence but must nevertheless be silenced, then so also must peaceful Muslims.
Lean ignores the inconvenient fact that when Muslims engage in violence, they repeatedly justify that violence by reference to mainstream Muslim understandings of Islamic texts and teachings, and peaceful Muslims have not mounted any large-scale movement to oppose them or interpret those texts and teachings in a different way. He pretends instead that it is we who have equated Islam with violence. A few thousand imams preaching from the Koran and Sunnah would beg to differ.
Lean wants speech critical of Islam to “be stopped,” and The Times, to its everlasting discredit, publishes this. If Lean succeeds in silencing us, he will have helped usher in the precedent that some groups are above criticism, and a fundamental bulwark against tyranny will have been removed. I’d rather fail in defending freedom than succeed with a legacy like that.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)” and “The Truth About Muhammad.”
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