By DANIEL DENNETT, SECULAR PHILLOSOPHY
Added: Tue, 05 Feb 2008 00:00:00 UTC
The West screwed up badly when the denunciation of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie was not closer to unanimous. (I will never forget or forgive the shameful silence of some writers who shunned the invitation to join in a firm but not hostile rebuke.) The West screwed up badly again when the Danish cartoons were not reprinted world-wide. What many didn't understand was that the staged riots were a political strike against moderate Muslims, not non-Muslims. The "tolerance" urged by many voices outside the Muslim world played into the hands of the radical Islamists. Now we get a third chance to come to the aide of moderate Muslims all over the world, but so far, I haven't heard much outcry. Several days ago I sent the following letter to the Boston Globe, which has not yet indicated that it will publish it:
The conviction and pending execution of an Afghani student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, for blasphemy is an appalling circumstance, but it offers an opportunity that we should all seize. The time has come for Muslims to step up to the plate and demonstrate that Islam is a great faith that has no need for violence or intimidation to maintain the loyalty of its congregation. And we outside Islam must make it crystal clear that we cannot respect or honor a religion that would consider blasphemy a capital crime, no matter how ancient the tradition from which this decision flowed. Muslims who support—or refrain from condemning—the conviction and sentence of Kambakhsh must be made to realize that they share responsibility for bringing dishonor to their cherished heritage, and if we non-Muslims do not speak out, we too must share in the blame. Friends don't let friends commit, or condone, evil. The best way of showing our good will towards Islam is by helping it shed an indefensible aspect of its legacy. Every religion has much to atone for, but that is no reason to button our lips and tolerate fresh grounds for atonement.
There is no need, yet, for anger. Let us all just remind Muslims everywhere of what they must surely know: blasphemy is not a capital crime in any society worthy of respect. It is now up to Muslims to prevent some of their number from defiling their own precious culture.
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