At the risk of sounding pompous, let me say that the one thing the world’s Muslims are sorely in need of is a dose of tolerance. I used to think that people were alike everywhere, be it “here” (say the US) or “there” (say Pakistan). People’s actions (went my theory) were shaped only partly by their own impulses and mostly by how much the law would put up with. So for example, the same college kid who would litter without a thought on a Karachi street would be the epitome of civic virtue in downtown Boston. Conversely, the law-abiding American driver would steadily become a road-raging maniac in urban Third World traffic.
Tolerance too, I thought, was merely a function of how well the law was enforced in society. Not culture or religion or genes or ideology. The rabid mullah will burn down a KFC outlet, not because of who he is, but because he knows he can get away with it.
Now, the US has its share of abortion clinic bombers and milita members and homophobes and freaky religious people, but in general, one can publicly insult Christ (if one is so inclined) and still keep one’s life. Not so with insulting Mohammed in Pakistan. Again, I used to think that this is not because Muslims are inherently bloodthirtier than Christians, but merely because Muslims can get away with lynching any poor sod who offends their head honcho.
Why then did Mohammed Bouyeri brutally shoot and stab Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film maker who apparently insulted Bouyeri’s religious sensibilities? Mind you, Bouyeri is Dutch-born, albeit of Moroccan ancestry. He certainly would not have thought that he would be getting away with murder. In fact, he welcomed his sentencing, reportedly asking for the death penalty that would satisfy his martyr instinct. Thankfully, the Dutch (unlike the Americans) are too humane for that; Bouyeri will be spending the rest of his life where he belongs: in prison, without the possibility of parole.
The tolerance I’m talking about is simply this: trying not to kill someone if you disagree with what they have to say. So is there something about Muslims or Islam that makes them inherently intolerant? Sure seems like it these days. Until I can proclaim my atheism from a rooftop in Karachi, I’m likely to hold this view.