A Tale of Two Cities. Or maybe a tale of two universes. At around the same time Lawrence Lessig presented his Gay Singing Jesus video to Google, a number of distinguished academics were debating the issue of whether "Islam is dominated by radicals". Lessig is a self-described Obama tech advisor.
Unsurprisingly the audience thought Lessig's video was funny. Fair enough. But over at the debate Reza Aslan, a Harvard educated Muslim was arguing, in response to a question by Daveed Garstein Ross that it was understandable and moderate behavior for a people to resort to violence to avenge an insult to their religion. (Page 55 of the PDF)
Actually what you said was 15 percent of Indonesians would resort to violence in defense of their religion, I can’t believe it’s as little as 15 percent. I would be shocked if it were less than 50 percent. Religion in every culture including ours, is not just beliefs and practices, it’s identity. And if someone were coming to my country to attack me, attack my identity, you’re damn right, I would resort to violence to deflect that attack. ... Should I act violently in defense of my religion, absolutely. If the—if what that means is, that it’s my identity, that people are on the ground attacking me ...
If the litmus test of radicalism is whether or not you are willing to behead someone who 'insults' your religious identity, then maybe the People We've Been Waiting For can all claim to be moderates. But maybe that's because they don't care about their religion, if it happens to be something boring, like Christianity. But if we phrase the question as how willing would a person be to ignore a slur on his race, culture or country we might get a different answer. We know what Jeremiah Wright would say. "No. No. No. Goddamn. Goddaman America". He probably wouldn't countenance a slight at all. Does that make him a "radical"? Aslan would say no, so we must search further afield for bigots.
Maybe the people who "cling" to their religion and guns might be expected to react with violence to such slights. But in fact they don't. Lessig is unlikely to get any death threats Pennsylvania. In fact, the people who "cling" to their Bibles aren't expected to react at all. So in one sense it is Red State America that is classically moderate despite their "bitterness". They aren't even willing to go as far as Aslan suggests.
But since we're already in a topsy-turvey world, let's ask what would be true if Reza Aslan were right in saying that it is "moderate" behavior to resort to violence to defend one's identity or religion. Nah.
BTW, from an audience poll, the the proponents of the proposition that "Islam is dominated by radicals" won the debate.
Before the debate:
For the motion: 46%
Against the motion: 32%
After the debate:
For the motion: 73%
Against the motion: 23%
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