When Salman Rushdie got knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his literary work, it touched off another round of Islamist madness, similar to that seen during the Danish cartoon controversy. Over the past week, Muslims around the world have protested the honor, with Pakistani government officials endorsing assassination attempts against Rushdie, and an Iranian organization confirming that their gangster’s contract on Rushdie still has a $150,000 reward.
Oddly, though, Sir Salman’s Western comrades in letters issued hardly a peep at the threats aimed at Rushdie. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times wants to know why free men offer no rebuttal, let alone outrage (via Instapundit):
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.
Bloggers didn’t hesitate to defend Rushdie. Why have the professional class of pundits shrugged off the affront to free speech and the open exchange of ideas? Rutten has a theory:
Equally to the point, 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.
Writers are not required to opine on every topic, a point I make to commenters here on occasion. Sometimes one gets so overwhelmed with the amount of news that each day generates that topics get left in the bit bucket, so to speak. It’s not possible for each writer to talk about every important story and subject that comes across the feedreader or wire service.
However, when hardly anyone in the commentariat bothered to call out these thugs, that silence spoke volumes. Unfortunately, that silence at least improved on the media’s reaction to the prophet cartoon controversy, when pundits and newspapers scolded the Danish journalists for unnecessarily provoking the murderous rage of Muslims through their insensitivity, and then refusing to publish the cartoons themselves so that their readers could see whether the newspapers involved had really been all that insensitive.
It’s not often that one looks to South Park for wisdom, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave voice to the best of the criticism at that time. They had one of their characters, Mr. Tweak, tell the town that if they buried their heads in the sand about the cartoons (literally, in a hilarious bit), then all they showed was that they believed in free speech — but wouldn’t lift a finger to defend it. Unfortunately, Comedy Channel proved themselves just as guilty when they blacked out Parker and Stone’s depiction of Muhammed, but allowed a fecal-shooting Jesus one minute later in the same broadcast.
The silence of the Western media to the hail of threats coming at Rushdie amounts to the same head-burying that Parker and Stone predicted. It shrugs off the widespread lunacy of radical Islam, and pretends that it doesn’t matter. Worse, the silence treats it as an expected and therefore acceptable response from governments such as Pakistan and Iran.
That’s not just soft bigotry — it’s a prescription for radicalization. These kinds of threats have to be challenged, and not just by a couple of writers here and there. They need to be challenged by those who don’t just believe in free speech, but work to defend it as well. Those who make their living through the blessing of free speech should have been in the vanguard, and Rutten rightly castigates them for remaining silent while Sir Salman Rushdie relives the nightmare — again. Kudos to Tim Rutten for not remaining silent.