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Two days after the Mumbai bombings last week that killed more than 180, the government of India issued a directive banning 17 websites. These websites were singled out because, according to the Indian government, they might incite religious violence. The nine American websites banned by India are all critical of the Islamist movement. Not a single website of Islamic extremists justifying and even celebrating the Mumbai bombings has been banned.
Why did India ban these websites? And what is the larger meaning of this action? As proprietor of one of the banned websites, I am in a unique position to answer those questions.
The short answer to the first question is that we offended Islamists, and India is afraid of its own Muslim citizens. The short answer to the second question is that liberty may not be able to exist where there are large populations of Muslims.
Some time ago, a false story began to be circulated in the mainstream press that a detainee’s Quran had been put in a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. Some Muslims reacted by protesting, some rioted, and some were killed as a result.
This reaction was a clarifying moment for many of us. Islam, as understood by many Muslims, is not a tolerant religion.
The very definition of tolerance is to allow that which we do not agree with. The moment Muslims demand that their governments punish those who say, write or depict things they find offensive, they reveal their intolerance.
So, the reaction of our websites was to make fun of this overreaction. Oddly, mocking the intolerant is now considered a form of intolerance by many in the world.
The specific reason for India’s ban was that our reactions to the Quran-flushing story could cause religious violence. Since it was only websites deemed offensive to Muslims that were banned, we know precisely who it is that India fears.
India’s banning of our websites is completely rational. It is based on the real fear of real people who do real violence.
I understand India’s reason for banning our websites, but certainly don’t condone it.
Giving in to violent threats is not, in my book, a winning strategy for defeating the very people who are threatening you. Appeasement only works if your goal is appeasement.
Further, banning religiously offensive speech kills two freedoms at once. A nation cannot truly have freedom of religion if that religion is immune from public criticism. A nation cannot truly have freedom of speech if blasphemy becomes a criminal act.
India’s actions lead us to suspect that it will not just be Islamic states where religious oppression is the norm, but that any country with a sizeable and vocal Muslim minority might also be forced, for the sake of domestic tranquility, to ban blasphemy. And we believe that our fears are founded on more than this one case.
While many Muslim countries in the post-Bush Doctrine era are moving toward more liberalization, many non-Muslim countries are moving the wrong way. Some criminalize religiously offensive speech, and nearly all of their leaders bend over backwards to never say anything that could possible be construed as critical of Islam.
If India and other countries hope that condemning speech critical of Islam will appease their Muslim populations, they have greatly miscalculated. What offends Islamists is not what we or others say, it is that they are not in power to stop us from saying it.
Their ultimate goal is the creation of a state based on Islamic law. It is only then, when it is Muslims who decide what needs banning, that they will be happy. The real gripe Muslims have in non-Muslim countries is about power.
India, of all countries, should understand this. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh were states founded because Muslims refused to be part of the secular Indian state. India has fought wars over this. That war continues today in Kashmir and on the streets of Mumbai.
India is said to be a secular state with aspirations of greatness. Its recent actions show that it is neither completely secular nor ready for its proper place on the world stage. This is all doubly sad because India is also a natural ally against the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism.
It is India, not the U.S., which has bloody borders with Islam. Mumbai should be a reminder to India who its real friends are and who are its enemies.
The move towards religious censorship by India is a mistake. A nation does not cement its alliances by adopting the values of its enemies and rejecting those of its allies.
Despite this slap in the face by India, I will continue to wish her continued progress and prosperity. A wealthy India is an India better able to stave off the attacks of the barbarians who are our common enemies at her gates.
India may have turned its back on us, but we should not be so petty as to completely turn our backs on her.
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Dr. Rusty Shackleford runs the website The Jawa Report.