Creating the enemies you need

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist … Continued

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist threat? Are the producers of South Park right to forfeit their freedom of expression in the interests of protecting their employees? Are the governments of Europe right to ban burqas in the interest of fostering a more open society?

Fear and intimidation are power. When extremists such as Revolution Muslim use lightly veiled threats against “South Park” producers and writers, it can seem their intention is only to stifle free expression. But there is also the enormous gain to such fringe groups from creating such a controversy. Revolution Muslim creates a backlash, and thus stokes fear and rejection of Islam in the West. They do this because extremists need enemies in order to justify their efforts to create hatred and fear.

In the peace movement, we often say that ‘you create the enemies you need.’ Violent interpretations of Islam can’t gain any traction unless they provoke extreme responses that in turn are used to justify violence. Enemies create enemies, and soon the “descending spiral” of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently, is well on its way down into the darkness.

Governments must protect freedom of expression, and those who exercise it, because the alternative is to let the fringe control the debate and fuel the cycle of retribution and despair. Freedom of expression is not just about the individual cartoonist who may want to stir up controversy (and after all, isn’t that a central purpose of “South Park”?). Freedom of expression is the foundation of democracy because it equally protects the inane (and yes, I find “South Park” has large elements of inanity), and the voices from the margins that keep demanding dignity in the face of oppression and domination, and all points on the spectrum in between. If the “South Park” producers chose not to go ahead with a potentially controversial segment, it’s their right to choose that. But if they chose to go ahead, it would be our government’s job to protect them from being harmed by extremists.

Freedom of expression distributes power among the people; that is why extremists and totalitarians hate freedom of expression as they want to consolidate power and use it, sometimes even against their own people. Democratic governments have no choice but to protect freedom of expression from fear and intimidation, no matter what the source, foreign or domestic, religious or secular.

Thus, frankly, burqas need to be allowed in Europe. That’s freedom too. I may not like “South Park,” but I just don’t watch it. The burqas don’t hurt the European woman who chooses not to wear one, and it is pure arrogance to insist that wearing certain clothing hurts Muslim women. Freedom means they get to decide. Stifle that freedom, and the Europeans will create enemies among Muslims in their societies who will rightly ask, ‘why does freedom only apply to some and not others?’

You have to ask whether the issue in Europe is also about power, who gets to have it and who doesn’t.

  • yashwata

    “it is pure arrogance to insist that wearing certain clothing hurts Muslim women”Sounds like a noble sentiment, but a woman in a burqa never gets to be in the sun. I think that qualifies as harm.Then there is the fact that if you don’t want to wear your burqa, your husband will beat you, starve you, WHATEVER IT TAKES, and the whole “community” will support him.It is willful blindness to insist that the burqa is not an evil invention. The question of what to do about it might be very difficult, but not the question of whether it is acceptable in a humane civilization.

  • thewomenofislamblog

    The author has the best intentions. However, it seems to me she lacks insight about the origins and applications of the Burka. For those unfamiliar, the Burka is not the Hijab. The latter covers only the head. The burka covers the entire body including the full face. Unlike the niqab which covers all but the eyes, the burka doesn’t allow for the eyes, rather, the woman sees through a screen-like swatch of cloth.For the western mind, this is repressive. But in Islamic culture (particularly fond of the burka are groups like the Taliban) the burka represents a very low view of women. If a man is tempted to lust, it’s not the man’s mind that needs an adjustment, no, it’s the woman. Just cover HER from head to toe and men will not have to deal with their over-active hormones!But even if you view this kind of repression as a womans right to participate in (I simply cannot imagine!) There is a problem for the rest of a society. To wit: the current climate of radicalism.There have already been instances of male terrorists going “undercover” in both burkas and niqabs. Both of which cover the face to where one could never tell if it’s a male or female underneath.Additionally, the burka is SO loose fitting that a female terrorist could easily smuggle in wearing a bomb belt. Would you like to be the one in a shopping Mall when something like that happens?But there’s more to consider as well. Because the burka covers the woman completely, if a woman wearing one is in distress, how can she be identified? I believe there are limitations to “rights.” Southpark couldn’t encite people to falsely alarm people in a crowded theater by yelling FIRE when there is no fire. There are other limitations to the right to speech as well.There are also limits to “rights” when it comes to religious clothing. Comparing the Yamulka to the burka is intellectual suicide. Aside from the obvious (the two items share nothing in common) the burka poses a security threat which the yamulka does not.Muslims would do well to start showing more compassion towards the western countries which allow them to visit and live within their borders and the others living within those nations. It’s not just about YOU- there’s a WE here, too.L.D. McLellan, PhD

  • edbyronadams

    “Freedom of expression distributes power among the people; that is why extremists and totalitarians hate freedom of expression as they want to consolidate power and use it, sometimes even against their own people. Democratic governments have no choice but to protect freedom of expression from fear and intimidation, no matter what the source, foreign or domestic, religious or secular.”___________________________________The government is under no duty to protect you from anyone. They exist to identify and punish miscreants after they act. Protecting yourself is your own duty and that is what led Viacom to censor the producers of South Park. Apparently jostling people who walk around with chips on their shoulder isn’t in their corporate interests.That easy to offend and violent reaction is indeed a problem for freedom of expression. That was the point of the excised portion of the South Park episode, and it works. Artists happily make “Pizz Christs” to exhibit and sleep well. Any similar expression regarding the Prophet could be unhealthy.Now, Susan, where do you think the problem lies, with freedom of expression or a violence prone Umma? Don’t twist yourself in knots trying to find an equivalence between the two.

  • futuralogic

    My dear lady, How about wearing Burqa to kill innocents. Pakistani Islamic terrorists sneaking into India routinely dress up in Burqa to hide deadly arms and ammunition. Several thousands have been murdered. Anyone wearing a Burqa is a walking explosive in the long run, curtailing this is a smart move! If that does not convince you, try this. Click on the Pretty face to see 12 faces of Living Dead!

  • rubytues63

    In the name of being inoffensive, do all nations have to adopt vanilla as the official flavor? Or is it okay for Vancouver to be different than Miami? Is it okay for Zurich to look and feel and be different than Cairo?Muslims move to Europe and the United States exactly because the west is different than the Middle East. And while I support these people’s right to practice their religion as they see fit, don’t they run the risk of making their new home exactly like the places they fled? Don’t they run the risk of killing the goose that laid the golden egg?In order to know where to draw the line, the west must first know who we are. Are we to place a higher value on equality or freedom (no, they are not the same thing). Are we a society that provides opportunities or handouts? How do those of us who live in terms of what we can measure and touch deal with those who practice lives of faith and spirituality?Perhaps that is the problem with America – because we come from so many other places, we cannot agree on who we are. It is a disadvantage that most of the rest of the world does not have. And it is also one of our greatest strengths.Still, I would like something other than Vanilla.

  • fleurdamour

    Some women are forced to wear burqas, not allowed to choose to. And I think the reason that they are being outlawed in some Western countries is more practical – it would be easy for a suicide bomber to hide under one. It could also conceal a variety of criminal implements besides explosives (guns, etc.) plus the wearer’s identity.