Thursday, February 16, 2006

An eye toward peace

I haven’t said much about the Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoon depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist, because, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure I know where I stand on the issue.

On the one hand, I am a passionate advocate of freedom of speech. I am uneasy about hate crime legislation because it feels Orwellian. A hate crime is a thought crime. We punish people for what’s in their heads and hearts rather than just for what they do.

One the other hand, Kinsella makes some compelling points:

...I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression.
...I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, kill.
...I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others - as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children.

True. But, I’m no lawyer, nor am I philosopher, but how do we define those proper limits? Don’t our existing laws protect people from harassment without the need to stretch the laws to include motive?

However, are violent protests by Muslim extremists a legitimate form of political dissent when these rights get trodden on? Of course not. These protests are no more legitimate than radical right wing Christians shooting abortion doctors or radical leftists kidnapping foreign diplomats. Radical Muslims have not cornered the market on unreasoned political expressions of dissent.

I understand why Muslims are angry. Those cartoons were meant to inflame Muslim sensibilities, and they only deepen the divide between devout followers of Islam and the so-called secular west. But aren’t violent protests and killing innocent by-standers just as blasphemous as defaming the prophet Mohamed?

Were these cartoons good examples of enlightened political discourse? No. But as a Christian, I’ve been deeply offended by what I see as blasphemy offered by some, especially from my friends on the left (Colbert can be ruthless -if funny - sometimes). Jesus is an easy target that some folks to use to bash the Religious Right, but we moderate and liberal Christians get wounded along side as collateral damage.

For people of faith, I wonder if the best way to respond to attacks on what we hold sacred is to live out our faith more authentically, more lovingly, more faithfully. If Islam truly means “Peace” than maybe our Muslim sisters and brothers need to re-capture the heart of what that means, returning to their sacred texts with an eye toward peace.

For Christians, it means blessing those who curse us. It means loving those who declare us as the enemy. It seeing the world as God sees it, hurting, violent, broken, and sinful – but also as beloved, a world for which Jesus gave his life so it may find life. As followers of Jesus, does God expect any less from us?

UPDATE: Muslims praise Canadians for 'unique' response to Muhammad caricatures
(article from CP)

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