311_burning terry jones.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Pastor Terry Jones’s plan to burn copies of the Koran at his church in
Gainesville, Florida, let it be emphasized, is a distasteful act that fits an
ugly tradition. That said, two other points need be noted: Buying books and then
burning them is an entirely legal act in the United States. Second, David
Petraeus, Robert Gates, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pressured
Jones to cancel only because they feared Muslim violence against Americans if he
proceeded. Indeed, despite Jones calling off the Koran burning, five Afghans and
three Kashmiris died in protests against his plans.
That violence stems
from Islamic law, the Shari’a, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in
particular, enjoy a privileged status. Islam ferociously punishes anyone, Muslim
or non-Muslim, who trespasses against its sanctity. Codes in Muslim-majority
states generally reflect this privilege; for example, Pakistan’s blasphemy law,
called 295-C, punishes derogatory remarks about Muhammad with
No less important, Shari’a denigrates the sanctities of other
religions, a tradition manifested in recent years by the destruction of the
Buddhist Bamiyan statues and the desecration of the Jewish Tomb of Joseph and
the Christian Church of the Nativity. A 2003 decree ruled the Bible suitable for
use by Muslims when cleaning after defecation. Iranian authorities reportedly
burned hundreds of Bibles in May. This imbalance, whereby Islam enjoys immunity
and other religions are disparaged, has long prevailed in Muslim- majority
THEN, IN 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini abruptly extended this
double standard to the West when he decreed that British novelist Salman Rushdie
be executed on account of the blasphemies in his book, The Satanic Verses. With
this, Khomeini established the Rushdie Rules, which still remain in place. They
hold that whoever opposes “Islam, the prophet and the Koran” may be put to
death; that anyone connected to the blasphemer must also be executed; and that
all Muslims should participate in an informal intelligence network to carry out
Self-evidently, these rules contradict a fundamental premise
of Western life, freedom of speech. As summed up by the dictum, “I disapprove of
what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” that freedom
assures protection for the right to make mistakes, to insult, to be disagreeable
and to blaspheme.
If the Rushdie Rules initially shocked the West, they
since have become the new norm. When Islam is the subject, freedom of speech is
but a pre-1989 memory.
Writers, artists and editors readily acknowledge
that criticizing Islam can endanger their lives. British Muslims burned
The Satanic Verses in January 1989.
Western leaders occasionally stand
with those who insult Islam. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher resisted
pressure from Teheran in 1989 and stated that “there are no grounds on which the
government could consider banning” The Satanic Verses. Other governments
reinforced this stalwart position; for example, the US Senate unanimously
resolved “to protect the right of any person to write, publish, sell, buy and
read books without fear of violence.”
LIKEWISE, DANISH prime minister
Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood strong in 2006 when disrespectful cartoons of
Muhammad in a Copenhagen newspaper led to storms of protest: “This is a matter
of principle,” he stated. “As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to
limit the press – nor do I want such a power.”
Both those incidents led
to costly boycotts and violence, yet principle trumped expedience. Other Western
leaders have faltered in defense of free expression.
The governments of
Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Great Britain, Israel and the
Netherlands have all attempted to jail or succeeded in jailing Rushdie-Rule
The Obama administration has now joined this ignominious list.
Its pressure on Jones further eroded freedom of speech about Islam and
implicitly established Islam’s privileged status in the US, whereby Muslims may
insult others but not be insulted. This moved the country toward dhimmitude, a
condition whereby non-Muslims acknowledge the superiority of Islam. Finally,
Obama in effect enforced Islamic law, a precedent that could lead to other forms
of compulsory Shari’a compliance.
Obama should have followed Rasmussen’s
lead and asserted the principle of free speech. His failure to do so means
Americans must recognize and resist further US governmental application of the
Rushdie Rules or other aspects of Shari’a.The writer
(www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube
distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
His article, “Two Decades of the Rushdie Rules” will appear in the October issue
of Commentary magazine.