The Gatestone Institute is a strongly conservative, pro-Zionist and some say anti-Muslim, American think tank founded by Nina Rosenwald and headed, for a time, by John Bolton. Ms Rosenwald comes by her Zionism honestly, she is the heiress to the Sears, Roebuck fortune and, equally, heiress to a long tradition of Rosenwald philanthropy that included, 100 years ago, education for African-American children and, 80 years ago, fighting to bring (sadly only a few) Jewish refugees to America.
That being said, the Gatestone Institute has published a rather frightening article which details the tribulations of an outspoken French teenager, known only as Mila O, who, during a live video broadcast said some pretty unpleasant things about Islam … more than just unpleasant, to be sure ~ “I hate religion … [she said] … The Koran is a religion of hatred; there is only hatred in it. That’s what I think. I say what I think … Islam is sh*t … I’m not a racist at all. One cannot simply be racist against a religion … I say what I want, I say what I think. Your religion is sh*t. I’d stick a finger up your god’s a**h*le…”” Now, I would wash my daughter’s mouth out with soap is she said that ~ but it is well within the bounds of free expression, I think. It’s ill-mannered, to be sure, but not beyond the pale. After all, we’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing …
.. even, sadly, in Canada, but we really need to remember that:
The article says that Mila O became something of a sensation and there were, of course, death threats, but the article says, “Mila’s story could have ended with the death threats — as the death threats against Salman Rushdie could have ended 31 years ago — if all the state authorities had immediately rushed to support Mila, and if the France [I’m sure the author means ‘the French, I don’, to me,t edit quotes] as a society had condemned with one voice the barbaric aggression against the schoolgirl … [but] … The opposite happened. Avoiding “stigmatization by Muslims” has become the official excuse used by the politicians to justify abandoning the victims of violent Islamist threats, such as Mila … [and] … Not one, but two investigations were opened, one for the death threats received by Mila and the other against Mila for “provoking religious hatred” (later dismissed). The controversy redoubled when the general delegate of the French Council for Muslim Worship, Abdallah Zekri, said that the girl had “looked for” trouble: “She must bear the consequences of what she said. Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind”. Islamists are daily testing the resilience of our democratic societies … [and then] … Mila’s controversy took on a new dimension when Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet, after having first condemned the death threats received by Mila, declared: “Insulting religion is obviously an attack on freedom of conscience; it is serious.” Unfortunately for Belloubet but fortunately for France, that is not (yet) a crime. Belloubet later admitted her “mistake“. Nonetheless, the damage was immense. Ségolène Royal, a former minister and presidential candidate, piled on, saying that Mila had lacked “respect“.”
I am, in no way, excusing what Mila O said, but no one should be surprised, much less aghast when teenagers say ill-considered, even outrageous things. What is disturbing, to me, anyway, is the growing tendency to see ignorance and prejudice as something worse than they are. Islamophobia is real … after all, we’ve all seen this …
… and while it is only fair to note that only a tiny minority of Muslims, only a very few million out of nearly 2 billion, support this sort of thing, only a few Germans actually supported Hitler and let’s never forget where that got us:
So some people might have some reasons to be afraid of some Muslims. Does that make those people bad? No … ignorant, perhaps, but not bad. They are no worse than the people who try to find excuses for what Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS does.
My problem with the response to Mila O’s story is that, In France, in much of Europe and in Canada, too, it seems to me, we are losing our sense of balance. We are forgetting that “words are not violence.” After all, freedom of speech only really matters when someone, like Mila O, says something with which we disagree. But for some reason (is it fear? are we afraid that Muslims, in France or Canada or wherever, will react violently to anti-Islamic rhetoric?) we seem to have decided that Islamophobia is a mortal sin while, for example, anti-Semitism is just a misdemeanour, something about which we should go, “tut, tut,” before moving on to the real problems in society. There is nothing wrong with public servants and police officers wearing hijabs and turbans or kipas. There is nothing wrong with Muslim prayer rooms in schools. Only a few really stupid people (and such stupidity is always based on fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of the other) like the current government in Québec, are afraid of the influence of a headscarf or prayer shawl or of a tiny kirpan. We should, as civilized people, try to accommodate everyone’s beliefs and practices, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. Good manners, alone, demand nothing less.
But, equally, no person’s beliefs are special. No one has a right to special treatment that is not available to everyone else, where numbers warrant. Equality and tolerance, not special treatment for any one group, no matter how disadvantaged or politically powerful they may be, is the hallmark of a liberal democratic society. I’m afraid France and Canada are failing that test.