Whenever I hear, in referral to one or another barbaric and backward foreign practice, "but who are we to judge? After all, what can we say about a different tradition with different values," I respond with the question: "but who are we not to speak? Who are we to remain silent?"
Justifying silence when those whose rights are being violated happen to be of a different ethnicity and culture is a species of racism, poorly disguised under the disintegrating mask of "respect."
Since the impulse to punish the "crime" of blasphemy seems to have been successfully resurrected after the long era of its enlightened death, and is metastasizing from the Middle-East into Europe and elsewhere, the left's duty to sacrifice its modern tendency towards "tolerance" of intolerance is now urgent. Defending the victims of thought-police, whether in the West Bank, Iran, or Pakistan, is a liberal cause and, though briefly co-opted and then discarded by neoconservatives, it will always remain as one. We can no longer accept its banishment to the realm of cultural-imperialism.
The murder of Salmaan Taseer, the jailing of Waleed Hasayin and Aasiya Bibi, the cartoon-inspired rampages, the anti-blasphemy resolutions in Ireland, Pakistan, and the U.N., and all similar attacks on free speech and expression require an opposition that is orders stronger than the one so far timidly mounted. Forcefully, because the argument that certain emotionally held ideas should be so respected as to be walled-off from criticism is, though specious, one that is catchy and superficially rational.
On the left in "dark times," Bernard-Henri Lévy in conversation with Arianna Huffington:
and a similar despair from Nick Cohen in The Guardian:
When Ireland published a law that said it was a crime to "outrage a substantial number of the adherents of [a] religion", the Organisation of Islamic Countries took up Dublin's dangerously vague definition to help in the oppression of their own people's freedom of thought. And it is not only brave politicians and intellectuals such as Taseer and Rushdie who suffer.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the marvellous Norwegian singer Deepika Thathaal (Deeyah). To Norway's shame, religious thugs harassed her and her family and drove her out of the country for the crimes of being glamorous and sexy and singing about freedom.
She came to Britain, and to Britain's shame, our religious thugs called her a "whore" and threatened to kill her too. She fled to America and told me that if white racists had driven an Asian singer from two countries, her case would be a cause celebre. As it was, the bigots who persecuted her had brown rather than white skins, so Europeans looked away.
She has learned what many dissidents from the Muslim world already know: it has become an act of some courage in the 21st century to make the sensible point that there is no god and we should grow up.After hearing of the Taseer assassination, Salman Rushdie eulogized a country's once possessed moderation with "RIP Pakistan." It is important to consistently remind ourselves that there is no guarantee that liberal-secular values will, of themselves, triumph in the long run. Thus, justifying a related laziness with naïve optimism is a dangerous and unethical gambit.
As humanity is global, so are its rights. Anything less than full-throated and equitably applied advocacy of this fact should no longer be tolerated.