I did say that this would be my last word on the Mohammed cartoons, but here’s something that’s more or less directly connected to that topic, and that deserves a response.
Andrew Sullivan, who ever since the start of the cartoon controversy has been beating the alarm about the threat posed by Muslims to liberties in the West, has a post titled “How Muslim Blackmail Works.”
“Earlier this week Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin warned that Russia’s Muslims would stage violent protests if the march went ahead. “If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged. Any normal person would do that – Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike … [The protests] might be even more intense than protests abroad against those controversial cartoons.” The cleric said the Koran taught that homosexuals should be killed because their lifestyle spells the extinction of the human race and said that gays had no human rights.”
Sullivan then laments “appeasement of these religious terrorists.”
But when you read the article he references, from The Independent, a rather different picture emerges.
For one thing, the parade was not “canceled,” which would imply that at one point it had been approved. Rather, it was preemptively vetoed by the city government. According to the story:
Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s administration said yesterday it would not even consider an application for a parade, prompting Russia’s gay community to threaten legal action in the European Court of Human Rights.
Gay and lesbian activists have been campaigning for permission to stage the country’s first gay pride event on Saturday 27 May.
The date marks the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia in 1993.
After quoting the Mufti, the story continues:
The Russian Orthodox Church has called [the parade] “the propaganda of sin”. Bishop Daniil of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk yesterday condemned the plans as a “cynical mockery” and likened homosexuality to leprosy.
The mayor’s spokesman, Sergei Tsoi, said a parade would not be allowed. “[The plans] have caused outrage in society, particularly among religious leaders,” he said.
In the Communist era Russian homosexuals were jailed for five years and their “condition” was classed as a mental disorder. In post-Soviet Russia public acceptance of homosexuality has been glacial. An opinion poll last year showed 43 per cent of Russians believed gay men should be incarcerated.
There is, in other words, a great deal more to this story than “Muslim blackmail.” In fact, I would venture a guess that “Muslim blackmail,” in this case, is not part of the story at all. We’re talking about Moscow, where ethnics from mostly Muslim regions are routinely harassed and abused by the police; and about Russia, where the government would rather risk hostages’ lives than negotiate with terrorists. That the government in Putin’s Russia would capitulate to the threat of violent protests is unlikely to the point of being absurd. (In fact, many believe that Putin’s government has often used extremist groups for its own purposes, to intimidate opponents.) It’s just as absurd to think that the authorities needed any Muslim pressure to ban a gay pride parade. Russia is a deeply homophobic society (where, two years ago, the Russian Orthodox Church razed a chapel after it was “defiled” by a wedding ceremony between two men). It needs no help from Muslims in that regard.
I do agree, of course, that in many European countries, there is a genuine conflict between the conservative values of Muslim immigrants and the openness and pluralism of the societies around them. But this is simply not one of those cases. I also think that intimidation is definitely a factor in this conflict, and the sensibilities of Muslim immigrants are respected out of fear as well asmulticulturalist deference. But not everything is about the Muslim peril. If Amsterdam had canceled its gay pride parade in response to threats from Muslim leaders, that would have been a clearcut, and appalling, case of intimidation. In Moscow, there is little doubt that the ban reflected the authorities’ true wishes.