The International Free Press Society has recently formed and now has a useful web site with news of interest to free speech advocates. Among the posts presently highlighted, there is a (partial?) transcript of Bat Ye'or's comments at a recent Columbia Law School panel on "Candor or Respect? Talking About the Religion of Others." Here are some excerpts I find of interest: Bat Yeor’s remarks at Columbia Law School :: International Free Press Society
Since religions are composed of several components: faith, ethic, legend, history, laws, art, rituals - it is clear that suppressing from discussion this major field of human history is tantamount to promoting illiteracy. Of course, different opinions, even insulting and choking ones can be heard by the faithful, but this is the democratic game which allows a pluralism of opinion and everyone accept it.
That said, we can ask, why for some, religions is so touchy? I do not know if it is so touchy for the Buddhists, the Hindus, but it is certainly so for Muslims. Are their specific reasons particular to this religion that provokes reaction to the extent of killing for a criticism? Well I think there are and I will explain why.
In my view this situation results from the character of the Koran. Contrary to the Bible, the Koran is considered uncreated and therefore consubstantial to Allah. Hence criticizing the Koran or holding opinions contrary to its principles is a blasphemy and a direct attack against Allah.
The other point is the particular character attached to prophethood and therefore Muhammad. The figure of Muhammad is like his revelation, he is considered the perfect model and therefore the Sunna, the compilation of his words and deed, are infallible. Any criticism is considered a blasphemy.
The third point relates to history, law and sociology. Muslims lived as an Umma, a religious community convinced, because of its military conquests worldwide and its power, of its superiority which is affirmed anyway in its sacred texts. The Umma developed around its religion not only its whole jurisdiction, historical myths, the feeling of grandeur, superiority and mission - but also its world cohesion. You can argue that Jews and Christians also feel that they belong to a religious group. But they have other pole of interest and of social cohesion, like nationalism, which in a way, competes with religion and is a secular concept. But nationalism came very late to the Muslim world, and it was a European initiative whereas the Muslim sense of unity was the Caliphate, a religious construction.
Any attack or doubt on the validity of its religion might destroy the whole structure. Islam developed through continuous wars and conquests. It has elaborated a code of war, jihad, which is integrated in its religion through the Koran, the Sunna and the biography of the Prophet. This war is justified by its doctrine of religious superiority and perfection. The feeling that Islam has the duty to govern the world is very pregnant today. This implies contempt for non-Muslims and their vilification. Dhimmis, non-Muslims were always obliged to exhibit signs of respect to Muslims. This behavioral obligations imposed upon death sanctions, form an important body of laws and social customs from the beginning of Islam till today, this is what I call dhimmitude. So what we are seeing now is the OIC policy to prohibit the West to criticize Islam in an effort to establish the rules of dhimmitude in the international arena. This objective motivates the fight against Islamophobia that has been declared a central element in the OIC policy.
Yes actually Islam can change. It has to find in itself the instruments to help the modernist Muslims to change. Unfortunately what I see now, organized in the OIC, is exactly the contrary. The OIC brings all the Muslim countries, the 57 Muslim countries, together, and I wouldn’t say the same rule of course, the same organization, the same politics, its aim at creating a block, a Muslim block, which is, it plans to unify it by rooting it in the Koran and Sharia and the Sunna. So we are going to see a stronger, even a stronger Islamic block, more fundamentalist. But I hope that Muslims, others inside the OIC or in Europe will challenge that, this return to the caliphate, in order to oppose the West, and that will find a way to collaborate on equal terms with other populations, and accept the other populations as equals. This is my hope. And because I always hope in human nature, I am positive and an optimist.
and also how long it will take, and how long the change, the evolution in the Muslim world will be. Well, it depends upon us, on the non-Muslims. How can we help the Muslims? Because there are many modernist Muslims, as I have said before that are living under a terrible threat, and because they want to challenge that order, and they want to bring another Islam. So how can we help them to achieve this change? We are together, we are in solidarity with them, to bring this renewal, this change.
there are Muslims who are contesting the fact that the Koran is an uncreated book. They are trying to contextualize some verses by saying that is of this period, but now this version is different….. in fact what was done with the bible. And also others who say but the hadiths were written two centuries afterward so they doubt the veracity of the hadith.There are Muslims who are working within the possibility of Islam to change the rigidity that has inhabited for centuries …. so we have to help them and hope that this will change.
Now about the OIC, what can we do? This debate is related to this. How can we speak to Islam? How can we speak about religion? How can we avoid offending people? Do we have to be civilized and polite? Then we are missing candor and so on. I think we need candor in some situations where for instance where religions prescribe the death of people. Where religions are very aggressive and manifests an aggressivity towards other people and want to destroy their system. So we have to be candid about it and fight back.
The problem is that, in the West, the situation is not very well understood and also there is a great challenge of terrorism, indigenous terrorism in Europe. You don’t have it here in America. But we are very much afraid of European terrorism and also foreign terrorism and also economical boycott, which is very imortant. So for all these reasons we are not bringing a different or necessary answer to the challenges of our time