Many have suggested that the Danish cartoons lampooning Muhammad should not have been printed – and should not be reprinted – out of respect to the Islamic religion. Such views are deeply misguided and threaten the most fundamental institutions of enlightened democracy.
Free speech is not merely some hollow, mindless ideology to be cast aside in the name of “not hurting feelings,” but represents the vital political right to criticise and challenge authority – be it political, secular or religious authority. Those who are most “offended” by these cartoons are the same people who routinely engage in the most violent and derogatory attacks against points-of-view divergent from their own, threatening – and frequently enacting – violent retribution against anyone who challenges their mediaeval dogmas. They cultivate an aura of fear intended to oppress and silence their critics. The satirical critique expressed within the Danish cartoons are not only legitimate forms of political expression, they also level well-taken criticism at the founder of Islam, a political leader whose values are fundamentally inconsistent with the values that underpin western democratic society.
Islam is not just an innocuous religion. It is a comprehensive political system that can not be separated from the religious dogma that underpins it. Muhammad was not merely a spiritual mystic who founded a religion, as is the case with the Buddha or Jesus. He was also a ruthlessly Machiavellian political ruler and military commander. Both Jesus and the Buddha renounced political power. Muhammad, on the other hand, founded a political dynasty that is inseparable from his religious ideology. In a free democracy all political systems are open to critique, criticism and debate regardless of whether they derive their ideological foundation from economic theory, rational philosophy or metaphysical mysticism. Islam is in dire need of close intellectual scrutiny!
Muslims hold up Muhammad as the supreme role-model. Given the dramatic importance that the Islamic political paradigm plays in the world today (at least one Islamic nation possess nuclear weapons, with others clamouring to join the nuclear club) it is vitally important for those who value tolerance, liberty and democracy to examine the value-system that this man displayed during his life. In many parts of the world where Islam holds sway it is a capital offence to “blaspheme” the Prophet. Luckily those of us who live in a liberal democracy have the right to challenge all value systems without being killed by the state, and if we take a moment to scrutinize the values and actions of Mohammad we quickly discover that he is not a benign pacifist like the Buddha or Jesus. Instead we discover a historical figure who could in good faith be described as a violent megalomaniac conqueror comparable with Genghis Kahn, Napoleon Bonaparte or Joseph Stalin, with values that most of us would find reprehensible and whose actions would today constitute war crimes. Here is a brief sampling:
• In 622 CE Muhammad married Aisha at age 6 or 7, and had sex with her at age 9. Aisha was one of 11 wives. Most people today would consider sex with a 9 year old girl rape, sexual abuse or paedophilia.
• In 622-624 CE Muhammad lead his followers in raids against civilian merchant caravans from Mecca, killing innocent merchants unconnected with his political quarrel in Mecca and stealing from others to prop up his exiled political regime based in Medina. He employed violence to impose his revolutionary political projects, and his caravan raids precipitated a war between Mecca and Medina.
• In the ensuing war, in 627 CE he ordered the slaughter of every adult male member of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe, whose leaders refused to submit to his leadership during the Battle of the Trench; between 600-900 men were beheaded by his order and the women and children awarded as spoils of war. Similar actions within the former Yugoslavia are today labelled ethnic cleansing and genocide.
• From 622 CE until his death in 632 he aggressively invaded his neighbours, killing and subjugating those who refused to submit to his rule. Such actions by a head of state today would rightly be considered a threat to global peace and security.
Some have suggested, rightly or wrongly, that Muhammad was an outlaw thief and pirate, that he was a misogynist paedophile, or that he was a military conqueror and genocidal war criminal. These are disputable value judgments. What can not be disputed, however, is that the questions raised are valid points of political debate. The charges levelled against Mohammad are anachronistic value judgments, to be sure; if Mohammad’s values were relegated to history then this would be a valid retort. But today’s Islam has not abandoned his values – they remain front and centre of a political paradigm rooted firmly in the 7th century. From Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, Algeria to Iran, Afghanistan to Chechnya, New York to London to Bali to Madrid – modern Islam is bent upon foisting the values of Muhammad upon the world. The Islam of today stagnantly clings to a mediaeval world-view, adhering to the violent role-model of the Prophet. If Muhammad is the model of behaviour for Islam it should come as no surprise that faithful Muslims adopt the methods and values of their beloved Prophet. This is precisely the criticism of Islam conveyed by the Danish cartoonists – and it is entirely valid.
There were no riots or deaths corresponding to the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian or The DaVinci Code. The widespread violent response to the Danish cartoons (dramatically less “blasphemous” towards Muhammad than either movie) once again reveals Islam as a radical, reactionary, violent and medieval ideology that threatens the most fundamental principles of tolerance, democracy and freedom of thought and speech. It does so not just hidden within the totalitarian confines of far-off theocracies, but reaches into the heart of western democracy to threaten our most cherished political rights and institutions by exporting values of violence and hatred into our midst.
Those who suggest that liberal democracies should “tolerate” the violent political ideology of Islam are profoundly ignorant of the inherent intolerance at its root. It is past time that enlightened thinkers shed the veil of politeness and denounce Islam for what it so obviously is: a political ideology rooted in violent metaphysical dogma with a tradition that is inherently inconsistent with democracy, freedom, peace and tolerance.
For a deeper discussion of the violence inherent in Islam please see:
Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, (particularly chapter 4)
For more information about the life of Muhammad please visit:
For more information about the cartoon controversy please visit: