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Newsweek’s Peculiar View of Religious Intolerance

John on February 18, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Newsweek has a new piece up on Geert Wilders planned visit to America. I wrote recently about Wilders being banned from speaking to the House of Lords. In any case, notice the language Newsweek writers Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff use to portray Wilders:

Geert Wilders—who has publicly compared the Koran to “Mein Kampf”—is scheduled to make public appearances in Washington next week, including a Feb. 27 press conference at the National Press Club. Wilders is seeking to promote his movie “Fitna,” an incendiary short documentary film that depicts Islam as a religion of terrorists.

[...]

But Wilders’s U.S. tour seems to be testing the limits of free speech even among hard-core conservatives. Some seem to be keeping their distance—apparently fearful of associating with a right-wing political figure widely seen in Europe as a dangerous extremist and self-promoter.

[...]

The leader of a right-wing Dutch political faction called the Party for Freedom, Wilders has transformed himself into a political performance artist, pursuing a high-profile, high-risk personal crusade against what he asserts are deeply rooted violent tendencies in Islam. When Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker (and descendant of the painter) was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004, Wilder used the crime to rail against Islam and Muslim immigrants. He received death threats and claims he was forced to go underground, and once even sought temporary refuge in a jail cell.

[...]

In a recent New York Times op-ed, the writer Ian Buruma, who wrote a book about the Theo van Gogh case, said that Wilders has brought much of his trouble on himself by crossing the line from criticizing the radical elements within Islam to insulting one of the world’s largest faiths. “If Mr. Wilders were to confine his remarks to those Muslims who do harm freedom of speech by using violence against critics and apostates, he would have a valid point,” Buruma wrote. “Mr. Wilders, however, refuses to make such fine distinctions. He believes that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim.”

Buruma’s recommendation: Rather than hailing Wilders as a courageous free-speech champion, or prosecuting him (as a Dutch court recently threatened to do), the best approach is far simpler: Ignore him.

I’ve edited out about 2/3 of it, but you get the idea. Newsweek wants you to know this guy is so far right even Republicans are nervous about him. And they openly suggest he brought this on himself by not being careful enough to distinguish between intolerance and faith.

That got me wondering how Newsweek treated other anti-faith barn-burners, Sam Harris for instance:

At lunch with Sam Harris, one is struck by how personable, how familiar he seems–a soft-spoken, thoughtful man with pleasant manners, a man who wrote two best-selling books while pursuing a degree in neuroscience. He is, in other words, an unlikely infidel.

In spite of his appearance, Harris is very angry, and “Letter” is a readable, exhortatory screed, a response to all the Scripture-quoting e-mail he received from Christians who read his first book. Religion, he writes in “Letter,” is “obscene”–not just repellent, but “utterly repellent.”

[...]

“I see nothing wrong with our churches and synagogues and religious music and festivals,” he says later, by phone. “I love Christmas and stained glass.”

Sort of a different tone, wouldn’t you say? Harris is angry and intolerant…and yet pleasant and charming. He loves stained glass and Christmas. The piece ends with a tease for his next book on neuroscience. Ignore him? Never.

How about Christopher Hitchens? How did Newsweek handle him?:

After a lifetime of iconoclasm, Hitchens finally takes on, in his new book, “God Is Not Great,” the Father of all icons. Now the world can judge what’s in his heart.

Vitriol, of course, but the British-born Hitchens, who now lives in Washington and writes for Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications, has long been known for that. “Religion poisons everything,” he expostulates (italics his)—from such minor pleasures as a slice of ham (Hitchens’s mother and wife were born Jewish), up through sex, and on to the future of life on Earth, whose end is both predicted and welcomed by fundamentalists of all stripes. “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”

In person Hitchens can be charming; he insists on roasting a chicken in his home for a reporter’s lunch rather than being taken to a restaurant (albeit, because that way he can smoke with his meal). But he is fierce in argument. “I don’t think Richard [Dawkins] would mind my saying that he’s terribly rude to [believers],” Hitchens says, but in a debate over religion last month in London, where the two were on the same side, it was Hitchens who was caught mouthing the word “wanker” at his opponents. “God Is Not Great” leaves no major religious figure of the last hundred years unscathed.

His occasional posture in this book is of a mild-mannered academic drawn reluctantly to combat the gross idiocies and superstitions of the faithful. This would seem to be contradicted by the zest with which he has been known to give the middle finger to audiences who disagree with him. They get off lightly, compared with God.

Once again, he’s abrasive, crude…and yet charming! Granted, Hitchens may actually be all those things, but the fact remains that his scorched earth policy toward religious figures gets a pass from Newsweek. No suggestion that he should be shunned or ignored or that he’s a “dangerous extremist and self-promoter.” For the record, he is both. Geert Wilders only wishes he was as extreme and self-promoting as Christopher Hitchens.

Newsweek seems to have two different standards, one for those who criticize Christianity (primarily) and another for those who criticize Islam. Why is that I wonder?

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