Leave it to a magazine that calls itself “The New York Review of Books” to call for burning books. At least books that offend Muslims.
In an article penned by Malise Ruthven (that’s Malise with an S not a C) that is so carefully researched that it accuses the rather Jewish Pamela Geller of being a “Christianist”, Malisa strongly suggests that Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was irresponsible, that offending Muslims should be a crime and that Islam can’t be criticized.
Asking a question like that in an essay titled, “Can Islam be Criticized” answers itself. Could Nazism be criticized? Could Charles Manson be criticized? Can Scientology be criticized? Can the New York Review of Books?
Anything can be criticized. That is the difference between a free and un-free society. The question is one of consequences. However raising the issue, as Malise Ruthven does, is a statement that anything can be ruled off limits to criticism… so long as its reaction to criticism is sufficiently bloody.
Once that’s done, then the way to be immune from criticism is to kill a bunch of people. And congratulations, we’re all living in the barbaric splendor of a society whose intellectual life is ruled by the threat of violence. Or as Muslims call it, “Home, Sweet Home.”
Malise Ruthven insists that
1. Criticism of Old Mo is actually an attack on Muslim identity, therefore it’s hate speech, rather than blasphemy.
The distinction that Malise makes of Mohammed is unclear. Blasphemy is generally an attack on religion and religions act as identity. If we’re going to outlaw mockery of that fun-loving 7th Century Warlord, Pedophile and Rapist, then why stop there? Why not also rule out criticism of every Jewish prophet and of Jesus?
Is it because Christians don’t kill people over Piss Christ? If it takes a killing spree to prove depth of offense, then Malise Ruthven has just given Christians ample incentive to go on a killing spree to reintroduce blasphemy law.
2. There has to be a distinction between insult and criticism
The idea that something this perniciously stupid would appear in a literary publication instead of in a mimeographed pamphlet inside a stale omelet is proof that the intelligentsia has officially consumed itself.
How does one distinguish between insult and criticism and use that as a legitimacy test while clutching the collected works of Oscar Wilde and Voltaire? Does Malise Ruthven imagine that Voltaire would survive such criticism? For that matter neither would countless other French essayists and writers of the period?
Ruthven’s proposal to distinguish between criticism and insult is a censor’s mind at work. It is a distinction that cannot be made, except subjectively, and it is a distinction that should not be made because great art and great criticism just as often resides in great insult.
Malise Ruthven envisions a world in which there is no more room for a Tom Paine or a Voltaire, a Nietzsche or an Oscar Wilde, and his demented call for censorship appears in the New York Review of Books as if it were no more than common sense to start burning books once Muslims start burning embassies.