Are free societies incompatible with Islam?

Publish a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad and you may find your country’s embassy or consulate attacked and burned by angry mobs of Muslims. At least that is what happened to the Danish consulate today in Lebanon. At least one person has died, hundreds have been detained and Christian neighborhoods in Beirut have been ransacked. We can hope that this will be the last of this, but likely passionate Muslims will commit more acts of violence like this in the days and weeks ahead.

Granted, the Danish newspaper and many of the other European newspapers that reprinted these cartoons should have known better. Moreover, even if you are not a Muslim, the cartoons were in poor taste. We know there are some obvious hot buttons that will incite some groups of Muslims to riot. After all, in 1977 merely showing the movie Muhammad, Messenger of God caused Hanafi Muslims to hold 123 hostages for 39 hours at the B’nai B’rith building in Washington, D.C. Oddly enough, in that movie, Muhammad was neither seen nor heard, and was a reasonably accurate depiction of the Prophet’s life, yet it still gave offense to millions of Muslims. As Salman Rushdie the author of The Satanic Verses discovered, it is very dangerous to write a book that could offend Muslims. It has been nearly 17 years since the late Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa on the man’s life. Any devout Shiite Muslim has permission to murder him in Allah’s name.

Therefore, these newspapers should have been mindful of the consequences of their actions. I hope that they have paid up on their property insurance. Even so, this violent reaction from what is likely a small minority of Muslims is disheartening. What is the likelihood of instilling a pluralistic and democratic society in Iraq if any group feels it can flout the law when an action offends their religious sensibilities? In the United States, should we be giving a pass to abortion clinic bombers because their concern for unborn life supersedes their requirement to be law-abiding members of society?

Newspapers throughout the Islamic world are full of political cartoons that take raw barbs at Americans and Jews. It is a good thing that both Americans and Israelis are reasonably tolerant people. The sad truth is that you would be hard pressed to find adherents of any other religion so, well, sensitive to having their religious figures or beliefs parodied.

Free societies are, well, free. Freedom of thought and expression come with the territory. The nature of a free society means that your feelings are going to be hurt from time to time. The good news is that in free societies people or institutions that engage in boorish behaviors like this Danish newspaper are generally shunned by the rest of society. The majority may not agree with those who express these opinions, but we learn to live with it so that order prevails and so we can express our opinions without fear of sanction when we feel called.

Perhaps this social contract needs to be made more explicit. Every naturalized citizen of the United States must take the following oath of citizenship. I think it should be amended to include the phrase in italics, and I would recommend that other free societies insert similar language in their citizenship oaths.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I understand that this country is a free society that requires me to be tolerant of lawful behavior that I may disagree with as a result of my faith or convictions; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; that failure to uphold my oath may result in sanctions including my loss of citizenship and deportation as spelled out by law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.

Mixing democratic institutions with Islam may be like trying to get oil and water to mix. A good Muslim after all subjugates him or herself wholly to the will of Allah. Pluralism and Islam as it is currently interpreted in much of the Islamic world may simply not be compatible.

If faithfully practicing Islam means that when provoked Islam wins over civil law, then I do not see how such Muslims can be integrated into a free society. They should choose to live in societies that practice Islamic law only. In addition, western countries should rethink having any diplomatic or trade relationships with countries that adhere to such principles.

I do hope that in time Muslims will find lawful and nonviolent ways to accommodate such expressions. If they do not, rather than spreading Islam they will probably find that their societies will be increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.

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