Generally speaking, showing respect to other cultures and religions is a great virtue that can create peace and harmony among different civilizations.
However, it is vital to distinguish between, for example, traditional dancing and the stoning of women until death as parts of various cultures. Tolerance for the former is useful, but tolerance of the latter is unconscionable.
It is also fundamental to know the effects of respecting some cultural or religious aspects on those who belong to the culture or follow a particular faith. There is a delicate balance between showing respect and showing weakness to some cultures.
For example, after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in late September 2005, Muslims did not protest violently for four months. The furious response occurred in early February 2006 — only 72 hours after the magazine apologized for publishing the cartoons.
That is because radical Muslims probably perceived the apology as weakness, and thus initiated a wave of Islamic violence that spread to many parts of the world.
Similarly, making concessions to Islamic Shariah can serve as a provocation to radical Islam, as it gives the radicals the impression that the West should bow to their Islamic laws. These radicals will remain unsatisfied until the West complies with all of their demands to practice additional aspects of Shariah, including cruel punishments and discrimination against women, gays, and non-Muslims.
For example, if U.S. policymakers were to accept that Muslim taxi drivers should be allowed to refuse to transport passengers carrying dogs or alcohol on the grounds that doing so is “un-Islamic” (as Muslim taxi drivers demanded in Minneapolis in 2007), then they also should be ready to exempt other Muslims from paying taxes in the US, assuming that the Muslims considered paying such taxes “un-Islamic."
Are the policymakers ready to allow this to happen under the banner of religious freedom?
Another crucial point in this regard is the question of how much we should change our laws to accommodate the Islamists’ demands.
In addition, the U.S. decision makers need to realize that allowing mosques inside secular institutes such as universities was one of the earliest steps that aggravated the phenomenon of Islamism in other parts of the world, as it allowed radicals to have easy access to, and enough time to meet with and radicalize, motivated young Muslims.
The United States must be aware of this possibility and reject the Islamisation of its secular institutes under the banner of religious freedom.
In 2008, to accommodate Muslim students, Harvard tried having women-only gym hours. This could be seen as a form of discrimination against male students, who had to change their workout schedules as a result of the new policy. This is a clear form of sex discrimination.
Furthermore, what if the Muslim students ask that gays not be permitted in the gym at any time, as homosexuality is a grave sin in Islam? Will the university bow to this as well to respect the religious demands of such Muslims?
Harvard also should be ready to apply the same principle if some followers of certain faith ask the university one day to prevent Muslims from entering the gym as, in their view, the presence of Muslims in the gym offends their feelings and goes against their religious values. In such a case, would the university also accommodate the religious demands of this religious group — just as they accepted the demands of Muslim students—and prevent Muslims from entering the gym?
The only way to get out of this dilemma is to ask both Muslims and non-Muslims to fit themselves within the non-discriminatory framework of the university.
Making concessions to Shariah is a potentially endless process that ultimately could result in the passage of unconstitutional and barbaric laws in the United States. If every religious group in the United States were allowed to practice its own tribal or religious law instead of constitutional law, then the whole notion of a unified country no longer would exist.
In brief, accepting the idea that our constitutional laws can be broken to accommodate Shariah and satisfy the Muslim population actually can open the gate for both discrimination against non-Muslims and the practice of many unconstitutional and inhumane laws.
We also need to distinguish between religious values, such as fasting, that predominantly affect the person who practices them, and those religious values that have a negative impact upon others. The United States must insist that Muslims here should practice their faith within the borders of the American legal system, and not the other way around.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." He is a former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida) who now is a reformer of Islam. For information, visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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