“One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds” – Mahatma Gandhi
On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi set out from Sabarmati Ashram, headed 240 miles down the road to the coastal city of Dandi, Gujarat. He and his compatriots arrived 25 days later, on April 5. The following morning Gandhi made salt by boiling sea water; tax-free and illegal salt under British rule.
There is something utterly transcendent and fundamental about Gandhi’s act that day. It was the great “come on, are you kidding me?” Here sits Gandhi, endowed by his Creator with freedom (regardless of his beliefs about that Creator) – particularly freedom of thought, which was a big deal to Gandhi. He sits beside an expansive ocean, part of the same creation and full of salt – a basic human necessity. He needed only fire to convert plentiful salt water, readily available to all, into a needed substance. What an utter mockery of truth, justice, and freedom for the British government to proclaim that he had no right to make salt in such a way. That somehow, by their existence, they owned right over fire, or the ocean, or the thoughts of man – and must be paid appropriate taxes for the simplest of exercises in those realms.
At some point, the silliness has to stop. At some point, you just have to flout this nonsense for the very sake of its nonsensicality.
We’ve been hearing a lot of discussion in the wake of the 9th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, about various groups burning Qurans (Muslim holy books) in protest. To clear the air on the specific point of the protests – I have absolutely no interest at all in burning a Quran. I have much more important things to do with my time; I see no productive end; I really just don’t care enough to even give it a passing thought.
In the run-up to these Quran burnings we have seen dramatic counter protests in Muslim countries. Burning American flags are accompanied by chants of “death to America” and “death to the Christians” (some of the proposed Quran burnings are managed by church groups). At some point it’s just too comical to even discuss the hypocrisy angle. While it’s a serious sin in the Christian worldview, it apparently doesn’t get too much press in the Muslim world. Suffice it to say that doing things that you find offensive in order to protest your offenses against me offers no moral clarity or high ground.
It’s becoming an all-to-common theme, this idea that we can’t do anything to offend the Arab street. We must tiptoe around their feelings lest we incite them to violence. At some point we have to say enough is enough. My entire life and behaviors cannot be subject to every whim of sensitivity on your part. I am still a free man. (No, I don’t want to burn a Quran – and I will not – because I don’t want to, not because of any trepidations about rage on the Arab street.)
A few years ago, predominantly Muslim countries were pushing for a UN resolution regarding “respect for religion.” They wanted some manner of punishment for actions that were denigrating to religion. Of course, by “religion” they meant Islam. They wanted some international mandate that people couldn’t say negative things about their religion. They reacted with a bit of dismay when someone pointed out that the bill would, of necessity, also prohibit them from saying derogatory things about other religions. Support for the bill quickly faded – that wasn’t the deal they wanted. It always seems to be a one-way street with these guys.
We’ve seen this play out in a number of social settings. We conservatives call setting such low expectations of this or that group a form of “soft racism.” In essence, it is a belief that certain people cannot be expected to behave in accordance with some standard of respect and dignity because they are unable. We must categorically reject these ideas.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we, or the U.S. government need to do anything about Arab protests. They can protest too. Let us be careful about being too careful regarding offenses to extreme sensitivities. We will not live with a threat of violence hanging over our freedom of expression.