Tim Rutten rightfully criticizes the West for its limp reaction to the Islamic outrage surrounding Queen Elizabeth II's decision to issue a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. Worse yet, the American press has completely failed to cover this:
When news of knighthood spread last weekend, the flames of fanaticism rekindled. An Iranian group offered $150,000 to anyone who would murder the novelist. Effigies of the queen and the writer were burned in riots across Pakistan. That country's religious affairs minister initially said that conferring such an honor on Rushdie justified sending suicide bombers to Britain, then — under pressure — he modified his statement to say it would cause suicide bombers to travel there. Pakistan's national assembly unanimously condemned Rushdie's knighthood and said it reflected "contempt" for Islam and Muhammad. Various high-ranking Iranian clerics called for the writers' death and renewed their insistence that Khomeini's fatwa still is in force. Riots spread to India's Muslim communities.
Friday, the Voice of America reported that Pakistani "lawmakers passed a second resolution calling on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to apologize 'to the Muslim world' " and that, "on Thursday, a hard-line Pakistani cleric awarded terrorist leader Osama bin Laden the religious title and honorific 'saifulla,' or sword of Islam, to protest Britain's decision."
If you're wondering why you haven't been able to follow all the columns and editorials in the American press denouncing all this homicidal nonsense, it's because there haven't been any. And, in that great silence, is a great scandal.
Yes, it is a scandal. Just ignoring Muslim fanaticism will not make it go away. And hiding its worst aspects will encourage the same mindless complacency and foolishness that characterized the Carter Administration. You cannot negotiate or engage in rational discussions with irrational people. More from Rutten:
What is the societal cost of silence among those who have not simply the moral obligation but also the ability to speak — like American commentators and editorial writers?
What masquerades as tolerance and cultural sensitivity among many U.S. journalists is really a kind of soft bigotry, an unspoken assumption that Muslim societies will naturally repress great writers and murder honest journalists, and that to insist otherwise is somehow intolerant or insensitive.
Lost in the self-righteous haze that masks this expedient sentiment is a critical point once made by the late American philosopher Richard Rorty, who was fond of pointing out that "some ideas, like some people, are just no damn good" and that no amount of faux tolerance or misplaced fellow feeling excuses the rest of us from our obligation to oppose such ideas and such people.
If Western and, particularly American, commentators refuse to speak up when their obligations are so clear, the fanatics will win and the terrible silence they so fervently desire will descend over vast stretches of our world — a silence in which the only permissible sounds are the prayers of the killers and the cries of their victims.