In "Of double standards and 'free speech'" (Opinion Exchange, Aug. 17), Omar Alansari-Kreger attempted to make a "what-about" argument against double standards regarding religion in America, equating the recent attack on Salman Rushdie with Western Islamophobia and comparing the reaction to common condemnation of criticism against Israel.
Unfortunately, his conclusions are weakened by false equivalencies and straw-man arguments. For example:
Alansari-Kreger attempts to use the obscenity exclusion to our First Amendment right of free speech as the basis for preventing certain publications, speech or actions. However, obscenity has no globally or nationally defined set of absolute standards. Thus, using it as an excuse to criticize America for not condemning Rushdie or "The Satanic Verses" is premature and unproven. Besides, Rushdie wrote the book in England, before he came to America.
Alansari-Kreger attempts to portray Rushdie as some kind of Western "Islamophobe," but without much evidence. In fact, Rushdie was born into a Muslim family in India.
"Has Rushdie criticized the Amish in the same way he criticizes Islam and Muslims?" Alansari-Kreger snarked. To answer this strawman, no Amish believer ever strapped on a bomb and blew up a shopping mall or mosque because his religion or religious leader told him to. No Amish believers ever flew jetliners full of people into skyscrapers full of people. No group of Amish ever attacked a rival group of Amish because their beliefs did not coincide.
"Why not develop the work [Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses'] into a multivolume trilogy equally targeting Christianity and Judaism?" Alansari-Kreger quipped. There are plenty of people already doing things like that, but Rushdie is under no obligation to follow suit. Why doesn't the commentary author write those two volumes? I'll defend his right to do so, if it's challenged.
Speaking of "what-about" questions: I wonder why Minnesota's Nobel-prize winning author Sinclair Lewis, who wrote "Elmer Gantry," a scathing satire of fundamentalist Christianity, did not also write similar books lampooning Islam, Hinduism and Shintoism. Was "Elmer Gantry" ever condemned in Iran? I don't know, but it was banned in several American states when it was first published.
The commentary's false assumptions and conclusions continued, as the author pondered whether Rushdie could get away with writing about a Jewish concentration camp prisoner disguised as an SS commander promoting Hitler as the true messiah. Reminds me a bit of "Mother Night," by the late Kurt Vonnegut. Not being a Christian or Jew, perhaps Rushdie didn't think of it or think he had the background to do it. Anyway, that's another great book idea for the commentary author's talents.
Rushdie is a writer, not an ambassador or a newscaster. He has no obligation to be fair, evenhanded, open to all sides or pleasing. "The Satanic Verses" is clearly Rushdie's personal vision. Most Americans would probably not even understand the majority of references in the book.
With all respect to the commentary author, he makes no valid argument that Rushdie is Islamophobic or that America's so-called double standards allow us to give Rushdie a pass. Rushdie, like anybody else, has the right to write. People do not have the right to commit murder because they disagree with what somebody writes.
George K. Atkins lives in Minneapolis.