Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I have absolutely no talent for any other language besides English. I’ve often speculated that my ability with words might have come at a price; I am gifted with my talent for using the English language at the expense of being utterly unable to learn any other tongue.
That might be related to my fascination with etymology — the study of word origins. Sometimes I’ll find how some words share a common origin, and marvel. I still recall that little frisson of “wow” when I suddenly realized that the Russian “czar” and German “kaiser” both were derived from “Caesar,” giving concrete proof to the undeniable fact that both languages were largely based on Latin.
I’m starting to wonder if a little exploration of other words’ origins might help explain the current furor over a series of cartoons.
People often say “Islam is a religion of peace.” Some say it sincerely, others ironically. Some even take it so far as to say “Islam means peace,” and that is wrong.
Islam is an Arabic word. Arabic has a word for peace — “salaam.” It’s most often heard as a greeting, “salaam aleikum,” “peace be unto you.” (I rather pleasant greeting, far more graceful than “yo, homes,” “whazzup,” or “how they hanging?”) It reminds me of the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.” It’s a little surprising that Arabic and Hebrew, considering the current state of geopolitics, should be so similar, until one recalls that both languages are Semitic, derived from Aramaic. (A language that is largely dead today, outside of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion Of The Christ.”)
Islam does NOT mean “peace.” It means “submission.”
Submission to the word of Allah, as revealed to his prophet Mohammed.
Under Islam (or, at least, the most vocal strain of it), everyone is required to submit to the word of Allah. Even unbelievers are required to obey some laws, even if they aren’t Moslem. Those that don’t can expect to be punished. And those who willfully flout the tenets of Islam can expect to face the full fury of the faithful.
The problem is, here in the West, we have a few core beliefs of our own. One of them is that the state shall not establish one faith as superior to another, able to inflict its dictates on the people with the blessing of the government. In the United States, we valued that so highly that we made it the very first part of the very first Amendment in the Bill of Rights. To most westerners, “blasphemy laws” are an oxymoron.
Another core belief of the West is the right to speak freely without fear of being muzzled by the state. That also was so important to make it into the First Amendment. And Voltaire said something that still echoes today , that encapsulates one of the fundamental tenets of modern Western civilization:
I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.
Those original 12 cartoons were not solicited, published, or sanctioned by any state, but by a newspaper exercising its rights to free speech and free press. No government in the world has any right to interfere with that, and no place apologizing for it. Those who are demanding such action are betraying their fundamental misunderstanding of how the West works.
I know how silly it might seem for such a huge row to develop out of twelve simple cartoons. But it is not about the cartoons themselves, but a far greater issue: we are being demanded to submit to the dictates of a religion, to subsume our own rights as endowed to us by our Creator (to coin a phrase) to placate the laws of a faith that the vast majority of us do not ascribe to.
Some — mainly in the media — have already demonstrated their willingness to shoulder the yoke, to willingly put on the shackles, and knuckle under to these demands — expressed with threats of violence — out of “sensitivity” or “respect.”
Others, however, are drawing their line in the sand. “No,” they say. No to submitting, no to bartering away their rights, no to surrender.
The traditional response to such stiff-necked resolve is usually the sword. We’ve seen that time and again in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the calls for beheading.
Bring it on.