Is Freedom Worth Defending?
By Robert Spencer
Muslim threats last week led Lady Gaga to cancel her planned concert in Indonesia. Because of their disapproval of Lady Gaga, some conservatives in the West have applauded this, noting that Christians there opposed her as well, and asserting that any non-Muslim society with a healthy regard for decent values would not allow to her to perform, either. Society, some argued, should hold the good, not freedom, as its highest value.
Left unexplained, however, is how a commonly accepted understanding of "the good" is to be arrived at, and particularly how such an understanding could be restored in 21st-century America without imposing an authoritarian regime of some kind. Also, one wonders if proponents of such ideas would object to the intimidation and particularly to the death threats that ultimately led to the cancellation of Lady Gaga's Indonesian show.
Sharia states are oriented toward the good, not freedom, as their highest value. How would the ideal state of these authoritarian Western "conservatives" be different? A young Saudi imam said it a few years ago: “Your leaders want to bring your freedom to Islamic society. We don’t want freedom. The difference between Muslims and the West is we are controlled by God’s laws, which don’t change for 1,400 years. Your laws change with your leaders.” Jihadists routinely deride Western freedom as libertinism: “In essence,” one explained, “the kufr [unbelief] of Western society can be summed up in one word which is used over and over to justify its presence, growth, and its glorification … Freedom. Yet what such a society fails to comprehend, is that such ‘freedom’ simply represents the worship and enslavement to desires, opinions, and whims, a disregard for what is (truly) right, and a disregard for the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.”
While many of us might deplore the depravity of today’s pop culture, we should not let Islamic moral critique put us on the defensive. In reality, the freedom at which the jihadists sneer is an essential component of any genuine morality. “Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level,” remarked the controversial former Australian mufti Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali—but without freedom, even “up to a crazy level,” morality is hollow. The secular West, with all its irreligion and debauchery, provides the only authentic framework for genuine virtue. Without the freedom to choose evil, choosing good is not a virtue. It’s nothing more than submitting to coercion. Islam’s moral critique likewise founders on the divine sanction given to violence in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition.
Violent coercion is a fundamental element of Sharia law, with its stonings and amputations. Ayatollah Khomeini admitted this without apology: “Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors!” Dinesh D’Souza wrote eloquently on this point in 2004: “Consider the woman in Afghanistan or Iran who is required to wear the veil. There is no real modesty in this, because the woman is being compelled. Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.” He mocked those who imagined that a cleanup of American pop culture would lessen the force of the jihad: “Some Americans may be tempted to say, ‘The Muslims have a point about Jerry Springer and Howard Stern. If they will agree to stop bombing our buildings, in exchange for us sending them Springer and Stern to do with as they wish, why not make the deal? We could even throw in some of Springer’s guests.’”
Yet by 2007 D’Souza had joined those he had earlier derided, claiming that the failure to throw Springer and Stern to the wolves was creating more jihadists: “When you make America synonymous with permissiveness, when you dismiss serious moral offenses with a no-big-deal attitude …you are driving the traditional Muslims into the arms of the radicals.”
It is true that the jihadists’ presentation of themselves as holy warriors fighting Western blasphemers and libertines is a potent recruiting tool. But the proper response to their critique of the West is to challenge them on their own ground: to point out that the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its principle of individual freedom as a prerequisite for virtue, offers a superior vision of God and the world than that offered by Ayatollah Khomeini and his sword as the key to paradise. Yet it necessarily involves tolerating some who exercise their freedom in ways to which some might object – even Lady Gaga.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Did Muhammad Exist?, is now available.