Quousque tandem abutere...
In 1947, the Iranian lawyer Ahmad Kasravi was murdered in court by Islamic radicals; Kasravi was there to defend himself against charges that he had attacked Islam. Four years later, members of the same radical Muslim group, Fadayan-e Islam, assassinated Iranian Prime Minister Haji-Ali Razmara after a group of Muslim clerics issued a fatwa calling for his death. In 1992, the Egyptian writer Faraj Foda was murdered by Muslims enraged at his “apostasy” from Islam — another offense for which traditional Islamic law prescribes the death penalty. Foda’s countryman, the Nobel Prizewinning novelist Naguib Mahfouz, was stabbed in 1994 after accusations of blasphemy. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, many non-Muslims have been arrested, tortured, and sentenced to die on the slimmest of evidence. And of course, there is the Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious death fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
But for such things to happen in Iran and Egypt, two countries where Islamic radicalism is widespread, is one thing; to have a “blasphemer” gunned down on the streets of Amsterdam in broad daylight is another. Europe has for thirty years encouraged massive immigration from Muslim nations; Muslims now comprise five percent of Holland’s population, and that number is growing rapidly. But it is still largely taboo in Europe — as in America — to raise any questions about how ready that population is to accept the parameters of secularism. When Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn tried to raise some of those questions in 2002, he was vilified as a racist — in line with the continuing tendency of the Western media to frame questions regarding Islam in racial terms, despite the fact that the totalitarian intransigence of the ideology of radical Islam is found among all races. And Fortuyn himself, of course, was himself ultimately murdered by a Dutch assailant who, according to The Guardian, “did it for Dutch Muslims.”
The deaths of Fortuyn and now van Gogh indicate that the costs of maintaining this taboo are growing ever higher. One of the prerequisites of the hard-won peaceful coexistence of ideologies in a secular society is freedom of speech — particularly the freedom to question, to dissent, even to ridicule. Multiculturalism and secularism are on a collision course: if one group is able to demand that its tenets remain above criticism, it no longer coexists with the others as an equal, but has embarked on the path to hegemony.