Catholic World News

Expert laments ‘toxic attitude’ that ‘anyone offending Islam must be punished’

September 13, 2012

Addressing a symposium on international religious freedom, a Georgetown University scholar and former US diplomat decried the “toxic attitude that anyone offending Islam must be punished.”

“Violent actions against blasphemy in the Muslim world are symptoms of a dangerous pathology with strategic implications,” said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University. “At its root is the view, widely accepted among Muslims abroad, that anyone who offends Islam must be punished, either by the state or private actors.”

Farr, who addressed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ June meeting, continued:

Across the world we are seeing increasing levels of violence against anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, accused of blasphemy, defamation of Islam, or apostasy … Yesterday US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were murdered by people offended by a film insulting the Prophet Mohammed. The walls of the US Embassy in Cairo were stormed by mobs because of that film.

Let me be clear. No one should insult the sacred beliefs of another. It is an assault on human dignity and respect for others. But the malevolent idea that the proper response to defamation of religion is criminal prosecution, let alone violence or murder, is a dangerous problem in the Muslim-majority world. My religion is insulted regularly by the New York Times and the Washington Post. I frequently am outraged. But I try to respond with my voice or my pen. That is the only way people with deep differences can live together in a civilized society.

It is frankly a source of great concern to me that the US Embassy in Cairo issued a press release yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11, that did not condemn this violence against innocent people, but condemned those who “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” and other religious believers. The issue here is not hurt feelings. It is violent religious extremism that is destroying lives and endangering American security`. I would have thought that American diplomats learned decades ago that appeasement of tyrants does not work. It simply makes things worse.

This toxic attitude — that anyone offending Islam must be punished — is responsible for many of the growing numbers of attacks on religious minorities worldwide, attacks that are causing an estimated 150,000 Christian deaths per year. This tragedy, I would submit, warrants far more attention that it has received from Western policy makers and the media.

“It is in the vital interests of the United States that nations like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt overcome violent religious extremism and achieve stable democracies and economic development,” Farr continued. “This will not happen so long as Muslims believe that those who offend Islam must be met with violence, either through criminal prosecution, mob action, or murder. In short, the United States must become more effective at supporting in these countries those Muslims who know that Islam can be defended without violence, and that embracing religious freedom is in their vital interests.”

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  • Posted by: Jim.K - Sep. 13, 2012 8:04 PM ET USA

    This is textbook terrorism! The newspaper in Denmark, the Protestant Pastor of 20 or so folks who wanted to burn the Koran, now the producer of this movie must all be killed. The result is that everyone in the world is afraid to even mention Mohammad, Islam, etc. Bobby Seale would be proud that his tactics of terrorism are so well followed. On the other hand, did Bobby learn them from Islam? Soon they will be in our streets with their terror! What will we do? Will we die for Christ?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Sep. 13, 2012 2:01 PM ET USA

    Muslims have ALWAYS believed (as the Koran and Islamic tradition has ALWAYS taught) that those that offend Islam must be destroyed. This will never change. This is why the late Father John Hardon was right in saying it is not communnism that poses the biggest threat to Catholics but Islam and Muslims. Our crusader ancestors in the Faith saw this, why don't we? If anything we ought to have Masses said for the conversion of all Muslims to the Catholic Faith.