Only in the rarified atmosphere of academia can the American flag be seen as a symbol of hate, and killing people for their opinions can be justified as the natural outgrowth of Islamophobia.
Find a stain on the human condition and ultimately some “scholar” will find America responsible for it. But ask whether the proliferation of Islamist-based violence has anything to do with the culture and traditions of Islam, and you will be quickly labeled an Islamophobe.
So, it was not surprising that when the University of California, Berkeley, College of Law held a panel discussion, on February 4, 2015, about the murders at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket, two of the Muslim panelists delved into their grab bag of excuses. They sought to find explanation, if not justification, for the taking the lives of people who offended Islam.
It was not the murderers who were responsible for the killings at Charlie Hebdo; it was the journalists who brought it upon themselves because attacking the prophet of Islam is equivalent to lacerating the sensibilities of all Muslims.
To summarize the comments of Dr. Hatem Bazian, the campus’ expert on Islamophobia, it’s the Islamophobia, stupid. Acts of terrorism, thus, flow not from the terrorists but from those who marginalize Islam and provoke the predictable behavior of a people transformed into the “other.”
Such abrogation of responsibility for murdering people with whom you disagree and the innocent bystanders who might impede your mission is reminiscent of Thomas Mann’s characterization of the response of humanity’s first murderer, Cain, when God confronts him about the voice of his brother crying out from the earth that had received his blood.
In Mann’s rendition, Cain says, “‘Yes, I have slain my brother and it is all very sad. But who created me as I am, jealous to the extent that under provocation my whole bearing is changed and I no longer know what I am doing? Art not Thou a jealous God, and hast Thou not created me in Thy image? Who put in me the evil impulse to the deed which I undeniably committed?’”
So, Cain is not at fault. Under provocation, his impulses are beyond his control, for God has put these impulses in him.
To listen to Saba Mahmood, professor of Anthropology at Cal, and Dr. Bazian, it is the provocation and provocateurs that are at fault because they should realize that the weight of an insult against the prophet is unbearable, even for those Muslims educated in the West and who believe that they are defenders of freedom of speech. And how much more is burden of such an insult for those whose lives are restricted to the poverty and despair of the geographic and social fringes of society? These are the very conditions that they attribute to the Muslim communities in France.
This logic is beyond the norms of Western Civilization. Our cherished freedom of thought requires the protection of speech that is at variance with societal consensus. As we all know, speech that is in harmony with consensus needs no protection.
No doubt, large numbers in the audience at Berkeley, the presumptive academic citadel of free speech, found the Muslim interpretation offensive. But the same freedom that gives the “justifiers” of the Charlie Hebdo murders and those of innocent bystanders the right to have their opinions heard also gives Charlie Hebdo the right to be offensive. The reality is that you cannot have one without the other.
It is a far cry from even demanding censorship of one’s opponents to justifying their killing. The Muslim commentators turned the victims into assailants and assailants into victims whose impulses, like Cain’s, were beyond their control. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo and related murders, it is the French social system that is blamed for failing to integrate people who have no interest in being acculturated into French society—people whose preference is to resurrect in France the Islamic culture they left behind.
Decades ago, the world of academia held as a primary value the aspiration of the search for truth. It frequently failed in that pursuit, but once the value itself was transformed into something negative, especially with the rise of identity politics, the academic world receded into substituting the quest for truth with the desire to disseminate propaganda.
Once each of us can justify not only censorship but also murder because our group is special and our sensibilities have been violated, then we no longer possess the values necessary for the perpetuation of a free society. The panel at Berkeley, regrettably, exposed that vulnerability.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow at the Salomon Center.