Annals of mosque and state: the brothel shakedown
From Spiegel Online, we learn that Muslims have threatened a German brothel for flying particular national flags:
A German brothel seeking to drum up business during the World Cup has been forced to remove the national flags of Saudi Arabia and Iran from an array of flags on its facade after threats from Muslims saying it was insulting their faith....We are becoming sadly used to the spectacle of gangs of Muslims threatening violence to demand that non-Muslims retract speech that is otherwise protected under Western law. While Border's, Comedy Central and Jyllands-Posten probably won't appreciate being lumped in with the Pascha brothel in Cologne, they have all confronted and, with the exception of the newspaper, capitulated to the same threat. With each victory the Muslim vigilantes that punish lawful speech will be emboldened, so we must be prepared for this story to repeat itself many times.
A giant poster covering the side of the seven-story, 126-apartment building showed a friendly-looking blonde woman lifting up her bra above the slogan "A Time to Make Girlfriends", in a play on the World Cup's official slogan "A Time to Make Friends." Right beneath her pink panties were posters of the flags, including those of strictly Islamic Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Pascha's manager Armin Lobscheid had also erected real flags of all the World Cup nations on another side of the building.
The campaign provoked excitement, but not the kind the management was hoping for. Men from the Muslim community came to the door complaining that showing the flags of Saudi Arabia and Iran was an insult to the Prophet Muhammad. Later, some returned in masks.
"On Friday evening we were threatened by 11 masked men who demand that we take down the Saudi Arabian flag," Lobscheid told the Kölner Express, a local newspaper. Not wanting any trouble, the brothel obliged and removed it and the Iranian one. But that still left the flags printed on the poster.
"On Saturday night there were 20 masked men armed with knives and sticks. They threatened to get violent and even bomb the place unless we black out the Iranian and Saudia Arabian flags on the poster as well," said Lobscheid.
There is more here, though, than fodder for another rant about the willingness of Muslim extremists -- if that is what they are -- to threaten speakers. One of the huge differences between Islam and modern Christianity is the former's insistance that the state and the religion should be integrated, or at the very least mutually reinforcing under law. This idea is not only alien to modern Westerners, but most of us (including religious Americans) believe that separation of the state and religion is a fundamental requirement for the liberty of individuals. However similar patriotism and religion may seem in their derivation from faith and emotion, Westerners consider them to be very different. The brothel incident reveals the extent to which even European Muslims disagree.
The "cartoon intifada" fought depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. The masked men behind the brothel shakedown claim that the unflattering deployment of the Saudi and Iranian national flags are tantamount to the same thing. If we imagine that many Muslims (whether or not a small percentage of the whole) share this point of view, the political and policy implications are more than a little troubling. Several come to mind.
First, if it is blasphemous in the minds of Muslims to denigrate the flag of Iran, how will Muslims the world over react to Western criticism of the government of that country? Yes, we have always expected that Muslims will to some degree naturally rally to the side of Muslim governments that stand up to the United States. What will we do if large numbers of Muslims living in the West claim that criticism of Muslim governments is blasphemous? Will that fact undermine the ability of the West to contain Iran and other Muslim powers?
Second, what are the implications of this for the American legal system, particularly civil rights laws? For better or for worse, American law usually defines discrimination according to the sensitivities of the plaintiff. If an employer expresses the political opinion that "We should bomb Iran to kingdom come," has he just created a hostile work environment for his Muslim employees, actionable under U.S. law? Under the logic of the brothel vigilantes, why not?
Third, the German Muslim vigilantes did not seem to care that Iran is Shiite and Saudi Arabia is Sunni. Both national flags were seen as a proxy for Islam the religion. If disaffected European Muslims take this point of view, why should we assume that other radicals won't? Beware the claims of Western analysts that Sunnis and Shiites won't work together, at least in the confronting of non-Muslims.
Fourth, if the perspective of the brothel vigilantes are not uncommon in the Muslim community, what does this say about the claimed distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism? If the denigration of the flags of Muslim nations is equivalent to insulting Muslims, how can it be that denigration of Israel is not equivalent to anti-Semitism?
Of course, we might be reading far too much into this incident. It might just be the unreasoned objections of the mob to identification with a house of prostitution. Do we hope that is true and ignore this incident, or do we defend the pimp in order to learn whether the implications of this small story are of political and geopolitical significance?
Please offer your comments below.
[I've cross-posted a slightly more risque version at TigerHawk.]