November 11, 2016

Source: Bigstock

We should remember, too, that Islam itself is diverse, committed to monotheism but not monolithic. A Muslim shopkeeper was murdered in Glasgow a few months ago because his murderer thought the shopkeeper’s brand of Islam was heretical. Salafism and Wahhabism”€”the narrow and virulently intolerant brands of Islam that were spawned in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and are in the ascendant in much of the Islamic world today”€”are feared and resented by Muslims as well as by Christians, Jews, and secular, agnostic, or atheist Europeans and Americans.

It took the Christian world a very long time to tolerate dissent. In January 1697 a 19-year-old student called Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh. Less than a century earlier, the great scientist-philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned as a heretic in Rome. Heresy was then a capital crime in most of Europe; in papal Rome, Tudor England, and Calvinist Geneva. We have outgrown our intolerance. Someday the Muslim world may do so also, though not, I fear, in my lifetime.

Meanwhile, it behooves us to keep calm. We are not, however, required to grant Islam an immunity from criticism or to treat Muslims and Muslim opinion with a deference not extended to other religions or bodies of opinion. The case of Louis Smith is to the point. What he did may have been silly, but could be offensive only to people determined to be offended. There were, of course, such people. He met with abuse and even death threats in social media. It was doubtless in self-defense that he accepted the humiliation of attending mosques to be “€œreeducated.”€ He shouldn”€™t have had to do so. A modest apology”€””€œsorry to have given offense”€”€”should have been more than enough. What is wrong is that Islam should have this privileged position.


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