Are free societies laying the foundation for their own destruction? I fear they are. In the name of tolerance, free societies are accepting behavior that will eventually make tolerance and freedom impossible if the trend continues.
I’m a strong advocate of tolerance for people in our society who don’t look like us. Many people today are eager to reject people with the wrong skin color or wrong religion. I wrote recently about why you’re simply a bigot if you hate Muslims in general — or if you hate members of any group just because of their color or religion.
Most Muslims I know are very much like me, but they simply have strongly different religious beliefs and cultural practices. Many others, though, have habits that are very similar to those of other westerners, maybe for good and maybe for bad. But there are some with beliefs and actions that make them unfit for free societies. Those are the ones I’m worried about — not because they’re Muslims, but because they reject the freedom of the rest of us to live with our own cultural and legal standards.
I don’t want anyone imposing his religious or moral codes on me, whether it’s radical Muslims or the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. I’m perfectly content to tolerate those people believing what they want to believe. I’m even content to tolerate them hating those of us who disagree with them.
What I’m not willing to tolerate — and what I don’t think any free society can tolerate — are those who take actions to prevent the rest of us from being free, simply because they’re offended by our beliefs or practices.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this balancing act and then I ran across a 10-minute video from a successful effort by a group of radical Muslims to shut down a lecture by an artist in Sweden three years ago. (I’ve embedded the video below, and the image above is from that video.) Many Muslims had been offended back in 2007 by artist Lars Vilks‘ cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad as a dog.
So when Vilks was scheduled to give a lecture about the limits of artistic expression — which included video clips from an Iranian film depicting Mohammad as gay — they showed up in force with plans to stop the lecture. After interrupting the speech — with one of the protesters rushing the stage and head-butting Vilks — the group chanted and yelled, unwilling to let the lecture go on.
In a show of cowardice, the lecture organizers shut the lecture down. The radicals won. Free speech lost.
As a Christian, I don’t like it when artists (or anyone else) depict Jesus or Christian symbols in negative ways. Remember a photograph by an American artist called “Piss Christ“? It depicts a plastic crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine. Some art critics tried to find value in it, but I just saw it as offensive and crude, at best.
But as offensive as I found it, I ignored the photo. I didn’t protest it. I didn’t try to destroy it. I’m willing to accept that in a free society, some people are going to do art that I find offensive. (I just don’t want my tax money supporting it.)
But many Christians in this country (and others) did protest the piece. They didn’t think the artist had the right to create the work and present it to the world. All they did, of course, is give free publicity to the bad art and give it credibility in the eyes of those who already don’t like Christians.
In 2011, a print of the photo was vandalized beyond repair by a group of intolerant Christians in France. At least one other offensive work by the same artist has been vandalized. What can we conclude from all of these things?
First, those of any group can be radicals who are dangerous to a free society when they’re unwilling to tolerate the beliefs and actions of those who disagree with them. Those Christian protesters in France were just as wrong as the Muslim protesters in Sweden. The only difference is that some of the radical Muslim protesters were out for blood, not just to destroy the offending art.
Second, when groups who come from a very different cultural and legal context are allowed to come into a society, they have to be allowed with the express agreement that they have no right to abridge the freedoms of the people already there. Many of the most radical Muslims have come to the West in order to have better lives, but then have tried to recreate the repressive cultures that they left back at home.
Does it not occur to these people that it’s the broad freedoms of western society — which are amazingly free compared to where they’re from — that have allowed the economic opportunities to develop? Destroying the freedom of the people in their new western home countries will inevitably destroy the reasons which brought them there.
Third, we need to be tolerant of those whose religion and appearance are different from us, but we need to defend the liberties that have made western societies the most prosperous and free in history. Those who come to the West have to understand that the secular freedom which we accept and tolerate here is the core value of the society. Anyone who doesn’t accept that should be expelled as a danger to the society itself.
The idea that outside cultures and values should be given the same respect and weight as the values of western culture — which is essentially what multiculturalism has come to mean — is a dangerous idea. We need to understand that there are core values of a free society which are superior to the repressive values of other places. We need to discard the idea that all people must respect ideas, values and cultures that are inherently repressive.
Fourth, this is the reason that we need the right to have our own cities, societies and cultures. Any of us have the natural right to withdraw from the control of the coercive state which happens to control the territory where we live. We have the natural right to take our own property and set up cities using rules of our own choosing.
‘Some people want to live under a repressive conservative Islamic (or Christian) culture. They should have the right to do that on their own property. They should have the right to create their own enclaves and enforce their own rules, free from the interference of the rest of us.
But those of us who want freedom should be free to be left alone as well. We have the right to defend our culture and our right to be left alone — by them or by any other group of people who would try to force their will on us.
I strongly defend the right of Muslims to live in this country and in other western nations in peace and friendship as long as they’re willing. But I strongly oppose that radical minority who want to destroy the freedom of the societies they’ve entered. They’re a blight on a free (or at least freer) society. They don’t deserve to live here.