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Sunday, February 14, 2010

A different view of religious freedom

This is from an interview in the Daily Beast
"Nobel laureate and Nigerian political activist Wole Soyinka shares his unbridled thoughts on Islamic terrorism and why England is a “cesspit” with The Daily Beast’s Tunku Varadarajan."

What did the 76-year-old Mr. Soyinka—who divides his time between the U.S. and Nigeria—make of his country's placement on a watch-list of states deemed to be incubators of Islamist terrorism? "That was an irrational, knee-jerk reaction by the Americans. The man did not get radicalized in Nigeria. It happened in England, where he went to university.

"England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground of fundamentalist Muslims. Its social logic is to allow all religions to preach openly. But this is illogic, because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence. And yet England allows it. Remember, that country was the breeding ground for communism, too. Karl Marx did all his work in libraries there."

Why is Britain the way it is? "This is part of the character of Great Britain," Mr. Soyinka declares. "Colonialism bred an innate arrogance, but when you undertake that sort of imperial adventure, that arrogance gives way to a feeling of accommodativeness. You take pride in your openness." And so it is, he says, that Britain lets everyone preach whatever they want: It confirms a self-image of greatness.
This is worth thinking about as an American.  We tend to assume that everybody who comes to America likes it here and admires us and thinks it is great to be in America. Maybe that's by and large true, but it's not true of everybody.  It's clearly possible to go off the deep end in America even if you are an American -- think the militias (Oklahoma City, Waco), the religious cults (Kool-Aid has never been the same) and the people who don't recognize that Jon Stewart and Anne Coulter are both comedians.

The United  States was a different sort of colonial power than the British or French, but still a colonial power (Philippines, Puerto Rico, long occupation of Haiti, etc.). Soyinka himself thinks the U.S. is less likely to become a large hotbed of Muslim extremism -- in part because they don't have separate Muslim schools in the U.S. as they commonly do in Europe.

I'm not sure I fully agree with Mr. Soyinka, but I think this point of view is worth considering. And which of us hasn't at least been tempted by this thought of his:
“We should assemble all those who are pure and cannot abide other faiths, put them all in rockets, and fire them into space."
or, more practically,
In our own conversation, he offered—almost apologetically—a more prosaic solution: "Education. And rigorous punishment for those who feel, not 'I'm right, you're wrong,' but 'I'm right, you're dead.'"