Category Archives: Musings


A modest proposal: good point, uncertain outcome…

In his editorial posting at the New Republic, “A Modest Proposal in Defense of Free Speech,” Jagdish Bhagwati suggests that the offending cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed be published along side cartoons or articles that ridicule other religions such as Christianity or his own Hinduism. His idea would be to emphasize that the point of such cartoons and other editorial statements is not to attack Islam but rather to question any or all religions, which is a fundamental right of free speech in open democracies. This is not so likely to work despite its admirable sentiment.

As he has expressed it, the cartoon–and similar views of any other religion–are an likely to be interpreted as attacks by “secularism” against religion. This is anathema to any religiously and politically conservative Muslims, especially Islamists, who are even more alarmed by the secularism of the West than by their apparent (though not real) opposition to Islam. Indeed, such Muslims can better understand Hasidic Jews or Christian conservatives–while opposing them on doctrinal and, really, political and economic grounds. They are at least all ardent defenders of broad religious authority over many aspects of life and society. The question for them is which religion is granted that authority while for the secular person, religion should not be granted any such authority over society because religion is a strictly individual and personal choice. In an open democratic society we recognize many legitimate choices that individuals can make and further recognize that people within such a society can and do make different choices and still live peaceably together. Certainly, I side with Bhagwati on this one, but to the religious-political conservative, asserting the freedom of religion as an individual right is not the same as asserting the authority of religion over all aspects of life. To be effective in the debate with religionists (a new word), we have to get this discussion to a higher plane than the secular right to ridicule any religion.