Recently my face was on a billboard with a slogan that read: “I am a secularist and I vote.” I sent a photo of the sign to a friend in Canada, thinking she’d be amused. Instead, she emailed to ask if I wasn’t afraid to identify myself as an atheist. Given the rise in conservative views in this country, the demands of some Muslims that blasphemers be beheaded and calls in the United Nations for an international ban on the exercise of free speech where religion is concerned, I replied that it was more dangerous to remain silent than to speak out.
Later that week, Salman Rushdie appeared on public television to talk about his 10 years in hiding after the publication of The Satanic Verses. He’s written a memoir about the experience, Joseph Anton, named for his favorite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. Now that his death sentence has been lifted, he’s returned to public life with kind words for the publishers and bookstore sellers around the globe who promulgated The Satanic Verses at great risk to themselves.
I had to agree with Rushdie that those book purveyors showed courage while he was in hiding and wondered, had I been in Rushdie’s place, would I have disappeared too. I think I would have and my respect for those who defended the author, subjecting themselves to violent reprisals, grew.
Adding to my consternation was an almost simultaneous event: the attempted assassination of Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old old girl living in Swat Valley, Pakistan who, by championing a girl’s right to an education, took an awe-inspiring stance against the Taliban. For her temerity, she was shot in the neck and the head by grown men, a cowardly act by any measurement. They called her stance an obscenity and promised another attempt on her life should she survive their attack. (Yahoonews.com, article by Sherin Zada, AP, 10/9/12)
What these ignorant men fail to understand is that fear used as a means to advance goals is the obscenity. Faced with such ignorance, each of us must decide whether it is better to hide or speak out against intolerance.
(Courtesy of www.gg2.net)