Tolerating individualism

Irshad Manji writes a brave and brilliant and troubling op-ed about Muslim hate and speech in The Times.

It’s troubling, for me, because she makes compelling arguments for Tony Blair’s new policies of zero tolerance for inciting terrorism — in other words, for speech that incites terrorism. The speech and the speakers they attack are truly hateful and dangerous. But I still do not know how to rationalize this with my American belief in the sanctity of free speech. Isn’t free speech what we’re fighting for?

Manji says:

But if these anti-terror measures feel like an overreaction to the London bombings, that’s only because Britons, like so many in the West, have been avoiding a vigorous debate about what values are most worth defending in our societies….

Neither the watery word “tolerance” nor the slippery phrase “mutual respect” will cut it as a guiding value. Why tolerate violent bigotry? Where’s the “mutual” in that version of mutual respect? …

She gives an example of speech that cannot be tolerated: Omar Bakri Muhammad — who is no longer tolerated in England — issues a fatwa against Terrence McNally for his play depicting Jesus as a gay man.

He has even lionized the July 7 bombers as the “fantastic four.” He is a counselor of death, and should not have been allowed to remain in Britain. And thanks to Mr. Blair’s newfound fortitude, he has reportedly fled England for Lebanon.

The Muslim Council of Britain, a mainstream lobbying group that assailed Mr. Blair’s proposed measures, has long claimed that men like Mr. Bakri represent only a slim fraction of the country’s nearly two million Muslims. Assuming that’s true, British Muslims – indeed, Muslims throughout the West – should rejoice at their departures or deportations, because all forms of Islam that respect the freedom to disbelieve, to go one’s own way, will be strengthened.

Amen. But now here is the best of it: Manji proposes the value that “could guide Western societies”:

individuality. When we celebrate individuality, we let people choose who they are, be they members of a religion, free spirits, or something else entirely….

Of course, there may be better values than individuality for Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace. Let’s have that debate – without fear of being deemed self-haters or racists by those who twist multiculturalism into an orthodoxy. We know the dangers of taking Islam literally. By now we should understand the peril of taking tolerance literally.

: I can’t help but contrast what she says with this, from an American political leader:

…there is no such society that I’m aware of where we’ve had radical individualism and it has succeeded as a culture.

That, of course, comes from our own Rick Santorum railing against the evils of radical individualism.

Americanism, modernity, enlightenment, civilization, tolerance, individualism. They are worth fighting for. The Bakri’s of the world are worth fighting. The only question is how.

  • Expressing yourself is one thing, inciting others to violence is another. Call it conspiracy to commit violence. Call it contributing to the delinquincy of a minor. But don’t call it free speech.

    Having freedoms means having responsibilities. Speaking your mind means taking reasonable precautions to ensure what you say does not lead to another being harmed. When your words are meant to cause a listener to harm another you have stepped over the line.

  • laocoon

    We have all kinds of limits on pure speech. Conspiracy to commit murder is a crime, even the accused’s part was solely to direct the actions of others, through nothing but speech. You can commit greivous harm through espionage without ever doing anything more than speaking – and espionage is severly punished.

    I think President Lincoln had it right when he explained that one man deserting the Army deserved punishment, and thus it was just to arrest the newspaper publishers who incited hundreds of troops to desert.

    Or, as Orwell put it, “the pacifists are objectively pro-fascist”.

  • Jim Dermitt

    One hundred percent of us die and that percentage can’t be increased.

  • Jim Dermitt

    Stay alive while you can. I wonder if it is true because it could of been right.

  • button

    Why do you supposed Charlie Manson is in prison?
    Think about it.

  • Jim Dermitt

    I’m a dropout and a refugee from the law of averages.
    Blogging is going from having fun to being a new Digital Mafia.
    They all have an offer you can’t refuse. Beam me up Scotty.

  • Jim Dermitt

    Watch what you say, you could hurt someones feelings and they may confuse their feelings with thinking and take it the wrong way. Don’t cross the line, even though the line is different for different people. It’s all over the top. Don’t blow your top kids.

  • Jim Dermitt

    I just lost my mind. HELP!

  • Angelos


  • Jim Dermitt

    I found the backup files. Never mind.

  • Even in the US there are reasonable limits to free speech. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. Inciting to riot is a criminal offense. I fully agree with the stance Blair has taken.

  • Angelos

    Exaclty. Calls to jihad and murder don’t fly in civilized nations. Speech isn’t that free.

    Of course we let Limbaugh and O’Reilly and Malkin and Coulter spew their hatred too. Can we send them to Iraq? Along with the 101st Fighting Keyboarders…

  • owl 1

    button, you beat me to it. Think of them as a bunch of Charlie Mansons. He didn’t kill anyone…….just exercising his free speech.

    Okay, that one was easy. How about Prof Churchill? You think you can tolerate it and then you find out he is gently nudging “action”.

  • Passing on insider info about stocks is illegal too.

  • tonynoboloney

    Angelos, as long as you go with them.