Why are we so scared of offending Muslims?
Unless I am wrong, a sincere Muslim need only affirm that there is one god, and only one, and that the Prophet Mohammed was his messenger, bringing thereby the final words of God to humanity. Certain practices are supposed to follow this affirmation, including a commitment to pray five times a day, a promise to pay a visit to Mecca if such a trip should be possible, fasting during Ramadan, and a pious vow to give alms to the needy. The existence of djinns, or devils, is hard to disavow because it was affirmed by the prophet. An obligation of jihad is sometimes mentioned, and some quite intelligent people argue about whether "holy war" is meant to mean a personal struggle or a political one. No real Islamic authority exists to decide this question, and those for whom the personal is highly political have recently become rather notorious.
Thus, Islamic belief, however simply or modestly it may be stated, is an extreme position to begin with. No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated. And when these ontological claims have collided, as they must, with their logical limits, it is even further beyond the cognitive capacity of any person to claim without embarrassment that the lord of creation spoke his ultimate words to an unlettered merchant in seventh-century Arabia. Those who utter such fantastic braggings, however many times a day they do so, can by definition have no idea what they are talking about. (I hasten to add that those who boast of knowing about Moses parting the Red Sea, or about a virgin with a huge tummy, are in exactly the same position.) Finally, it turns out to be impossible to determine whether jihad means more alms-giving or yet more zealous massacre of, say, Shiite Muslims.
Why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape? As one who has occasionally challenged Islamic propaganda in public and been told that I have thereby "insulted 1.5 billion Muslims," I can say what I suspect—which is that there is an unmistakable note of menace behind that claim. No, I do not think for a moment that Mohammed took a "night journey" to Jerusalem on a winged horse. And I do not care if 10 billion people intone the contrary. Nor should I have to. But the plain fact is that the believable threat of violence undergirds the Muslim demand for "respect."
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