The trial of Oriana Fallaci, charged in Italy with defaming Islam, began on Monday. Fallaci has said a lot of outrageous things, many of them in my view a bit too broad in her attacks on Islam (she bluntly declares that there is no such thing as a good Muslim), but there is nothing in them that should be illegal in any country. You cannot defame a religion, only an individual, and even then where it is a matter of one's opinion, her views should absolutely be protected as free speech. Italy is absolutely wrong to prosecute her for such a non-existent crime.
Having said that, one can only laugh at reactions like this one from the Jawa Report:
I predict that the only sound you'll hear coming from the left is deafening silence. The left abandoned true free speech some time ago. A pity, really. There was a time when even the most despicable communist or child molester could count on help from the ACLU to defend his rights. But that was weeks ago.
Perhaps the religious righters are so used to calling the ACLU the "Anti-Christian Liberties Union", or whatever pseudo-clever moniker they're favoring this week, that they really don't know that the A stands for "American". The ACLU operates in American courts, not Italian courts, and can hardly be expected to do anything about Fallaci's predicament. Meanwhile, there are plenty of folks on the left who are speaking out against this totally unjustified prosecution, including me.
The Jawa report then goes on to cite, apparently as evidence that this alleged lack of support for free speech among "leftists" is spreading to libertarians, this post by David Weigel about Fallaci at Reason.com. Specifically they quote this passage:
[Ayaan Hirsi-Ali] exposed very real oppression and discrimination in the Muslim community, but it's worth asking if Manichean views of an Islam-West confrontation - expressed more floridly by Oriana Fallaci, who shares much of Hirsi Ali's American audience - have any use beyond getting readers' (or in Hirsi Ali's case, voters') blood boiling. If Islam is more creative, less oppressive, and contains more pockets of liberalism than its most famous critics are willing to admit, isn't that promising?
But nowhere in that quote is there one word about Fallaci's statements not being protected. One can obviously disagree with Fallaci's statements while still supporting her right to make them, and Weigel does not say one word to even suggest that he thinks her views should not be fully protected. I only partly disagree with Fallaci myself. I think she's right to point to the very real threat to freedom posed by radical Islam; I think she's wrong to claim that all Muslims fall into that group. The Jawa report seems to disagree:
To the extent that they could be found to exist, "pockets of liberalism" within Islam would be promising. The problem is, there's little evidence of "pockets of liberalism" within Islam. There are, perhaps, discrete points of weak-kneed (and very quiet) liberalism within certain individual Muslims, but that's about as far as it goes. Tell me, which of the major schools of Islamic thought would be considered the "liberal" school? Which professors at Al-Azhar University are the "liberal" professors? When someone can give me answers to those questions, then we can begin to have a dialogue about the promise of "pockets of liberalism."
The fact is that there are many prominent Muslims who have spoken out bravely and loudly against Islamic fundamentalism. I've written about many of them before, including Muqtedar Khan of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He has written a great deal on the subject and stood up strongly against his fellow Muslims who maim and kill in the name of his religion. If you don't think there are voices of reason within Islam, read his open letter to Bin Laden.
Or read Louay Safi, the founder of that center, who has spoken out boldly against Islamic radicalism and for freedom and democracy. It isn't reported much in the American media, but the last few years have seen a fairly dramatic shift against Islamic radicalism around the world. This is particularly true in Malaysia, where the prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, ran for office on a platform of repudiating the violence and terror with which Islam had become associated and to forge a new Islam Hadhari, or progressive Islam. HIs coalition won 90% of the seats in their legislature, and the New Statesman reported last year:
Islam Hadhari - fully explained in a 60-page document published by Badawi last month - emphasises the central role of knowledge in Islam; preaches hard work, honesty, good administration and efficiency; and appeals to Muslims to be "inclusive", tolerant and outward-looking. It advocates that Muslims should attend secular and not religious schools. Committees have been set up to spread the message throughout Malaysia, and mullahs have been instructed to preach it during Friday sermons.
Likewise in Morocco, there have been mass marches against Islamic radicals, one with over 150,000 people. There have been conferences around the world to open dialogue between the West and the Islamic world, one of which the US sadly boycotted. We need to do everything we can to build that dialogue up with moderate Muslims rather than pretend that they do not exist and focus solely on the radicals. In the long run, this is a battle within Islam itself and it must be won by the modernists, not by the reactionaries. We should be strengthening their hand as much as possible.
I am quite sure there are 'liberal' muslims as people simply don't vary that much around the world. Gather up 100 random people from anywhere and I suspect given enough time and attention they would reveal themselves to be a normal population of people who disagree on a variety of issues as people are want to do.
Having said that I tend to think the'liberal' Muslims or Christians are really embracing a superior secular worldview and blending it with their emotional/societal need for religion. Not a thing wrong with that and eventually they prevail in thought in virtually all cases. Witness gay marriage in our nation, slavery etc.
In other words religion evolves. Todays 'conservative' religious nut would likely be seen as a radical liberal in another era.