Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders
As predicted by many, a horrifying new outrage has been added to the annals of radical Islam. In the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas, on Sunday, May 3, two men were killed by police after the pair fired at an event summoned to promote cartooning of Prophet Muhammad. Elton Simpson, a convert to Islam, and Nadir Soofi assaulted an event featuring Dutch anti-Islam demagogue Geert Wilders, and hosted by the American agitator against Muslims, Pamela Geller.
There was the horror of September 11 in New York and Washington, then the atrocity of the Boston Marathon, and now radical Islamist violence has struck the American heartland.
Soofi's very family name is dismaying, as it suggests a background in the spiritual tradition of the Sufis. Many, but not all, Sufis are associated with habits of mutual respect for other faiths, especially in the Indian subcontinent. There, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs share local traditions and gather often at Sufi shrines without concern for religious distinctions. But this is also characteristic of Sufis in Turkey and the Balkans.
I am a Muslim Sufi. But I am first an American writer, and for me freedom of expression is undebatable, except when it embodies a direct call to immediate violence against others. No mistake can be made: I despise Wilders and Geller. In their vulgar and prejudiced campaigning, they allege disingenuously that they do not hate Muslims, but only the aspects of Islam that they assert are incompatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition (according to Wilders), or represent jihadist fanaticism (the Geller rhetoric). I do not believe them. They are participants in a cynical industry of fear.
I have opposed radical Islam with my whole being. To me, the two miscreants who attacked the cartoon competition in Texas are worse than Wilders and Geller.
Muslims do not uniformly prohibit depiction of the presumed likeness of Muhammad.
But more important things need to be said. Notwithstanding the superficial remarks found on all sides, Muslims do not uniformly prohibit depiction of the presumed likeness of Muhammad -- pictures of the Prophet are found widely in classical Islamic art, especially in its Persian, Turkish, and Indian forms. Whether living beings should be portrayed in decorative arts has been debated for centuries by Muslims, as well as Jews. It was once even a topic of controversy among Christians.
Further, while the intent of Muhammad cartooning contests is to disparage the Prophet, in 14 centuries of Islamic history this increasingly unbearable, fanatical aggression against critics of Islam was almost unknown. It is new. The Muslim rulers of the past did not care what non-Muslims said about our religion unless they threatened us physically. And even in cases of self-defense, such as that in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Muslims fought for the right to live peaceably with those who did not share our faith.
Muslim rulers of the past did not care what non-Muslims said about our religion.
Muslim doctrinaires at various times and places argued against the other religions, but such intolerance of difference based only on distinctions in theological opinion was equally rare. Muslims celebrate, but do not worship, Moses -- the religious figure cited most often in Qur'an. Muslims honor Jesus, but do not believe he was God's son, or that God can have a son. For Muslims, God is not a physical being capable of procreation. But Muslims believe that Mary conceived Jesus miraculously, as a virgin, and look to her as the greatest of all women. Muslims praise John the Baptist. And the name of God as Allah, so close to the Hebrew Elohim, is used by Arab and other Christians living among Muslims.
With his loose-tongued [and illiterate] manner, Wilders told the assembled cartoonists, in his Dallas discourse,
Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one. I can give you a million reasons. But here is an important one. We have got humor and they don't.
That is absurd -- it is even funny, a joke in itself. Muslims are warned against jesting about religion, but cultures vary across the Islamic world. Bosnia-Hercegovina, where I was inspired to become Muslim, is a secular society, yet its believers in the faith of Muhammad tend to a conservative -- but not radical -- practice of religion. Still, Bosnian Muslims at the highest level of commitment to the creed delight in a sly genre of folk singing and story telling, often with hints of erotic passion. Even before the terrible Bosnian War of 1992-95, local Muslims told dark jokes about the approach of conflict, and this form of humor came to include many jokes about the war itself, during the genocidal aggression against them. Jews do not joke about the Holocaust. Christians often do not like comedy about Jesus. But Bosnian Muslims made up innumerable jokes about their plight, as did Albanian Muslims in the Kosova War of 1997-99.
We must actively oppose the conspiracies, of those who would use insults as a pretext for terror.
If we believe in our religion as Muslims, the insults and distortions of Wilders and Geller cannot harm us. This we must affirm as Muslims, and we must flee the company, and oppose actively the conspiracies, of those who would use such behavior as a pretext for terror. On 9-11, Saudi Wahhabis who had formed Al Qaida attacked America, the country that had done the most to protect the Saudi monarchy and that armed the Afghan resistance against Russian imperialism. The Caucasian Muslim Tsarnaev brothers, guilty of the Boston Marathon bombing, were victims of Russian, not American oppression. While Elton Simpson had been investigated for extremist incitement in 2010, by the FBI, neither of the perpetrators of the Dallas hate crime seems to have been repressed unduly by life in America. As for charges against America based on intervention in Iraq, the bloodthirsty regime of Bashar Al-Assad, the feral behavior of which is employed to justify the wicked, metastasized Wahhabism of the so-called "Islamic State," massacres conventional Sunni Muslims with the assistance of Russia and Iran.
Malice for its own sake has no claim to justice. But words are still words, and deeds are deeds, and those who strike homicidally against participants in any public function in the world damage Islam and our Prophet more than a thousand clones of Wilders and Geller can ever imagine doing. Islamist radicals must be defeated, for the sake of the whole world.
Stephen Schwartz, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Washington, DC.