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Free speech deamds fair treatment

Adam Brailove's letter ["Westerners deplore Rushdie threat, not book criticisms," March 7] left me facing an unusual dilemma: what was I to think of a letter whose general principles I was often in agreement with, yet whose attitude often left me dumbfounded? Let me start out by saying that I agree with Brailove's defense of the freedom of speech, even if that speech may be considered offensive by some. Yet, free speech is best served when complemented by a fair and respectful treatment of others when they speak, even if one disagrees with what someone else is saying. It is in this regard that I believe Brailove did not always accord Semseddin T"urk"oz ["Satanic Verses is libel against Islam," Feb. 28] the fair treatment and respect that he deserved.

Brailove bases many of his arguments on the death threat of Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie and faults T"urk"oz for not addressing that issue. Yet, these arguments miss the whole point of T"urk"oz's letter: that The Satanic Verses in and of itself is offensive to Muslims. The whole of the T"urk"oz letter was an attempt to show how and why Muslims find this book offensive; Brailove even realizes this when he says that we "must respect his sincere desire to tell us how deeply offensive this book is to those of the Islamic faith." Yet, if this was T"urk"oz's desire, then why is he to be required to explain or condemn the actions of a fanatic whom he has probably never met and may not even support? However, as president of the MIT Islamic Society, it would have been helpful, although not required, for him to state in his letter that he and other Muslims at MIT condemn the Ayatollah's death sentence and find it unconscionable.

By not making such a declaration, T"urk"oz left himself open to a charge of actually supporting the death sentence. T"urk"oz ended his letter with a line stating "we pray that this entire matter is resolved swiftly and justly." Despite the vagueness of what a just resolution could be, Brailove rhetorically asks what this sentence could be "except a prayer for Rushdie's murder?" To accuse someone of supporting a death threat on the basis of the desire to see a swift and just resolution to a problem in an extreme overreaction that was totally uncalled for. Could this line have been a call for support of Ayatollah's death threat against Rushdie? Yes. Could it have been a call for support of some peaceful outcome? The answer again is yes. Should be say someone is supporting a death threat merely on the basis of their supporting a swift and just resolution of a problem? I think the answer should be no.

To return to the point T"urk"oz was making in his letter, Islam is often misunderstood in the West, and many Muslims feat that The Satanic Verses will only serve to heighten this misunderstanding, or in Brailove's words, T"urk"oz "condescendingly worries that Rushdie's book is misleading to the non-Muslim world..." T"urk"oz was not being condescending, but merely worried over how Westerners may not get a true picture of Islam from this book. After all, even a free speech advocate like Brailove can ask "who can blame Westerners for holding these prejudices (about Islam) when Muslim intellectuals, including T"urk"oz, are unwilling to denounce Khomeini's uncivilized behavior?" If I missed the sarcasm in that statement, I am sorry; but think of how it must feel to T"urk"oz and other Muslims to see someone apparently defending the right to harbor prejudices against Islam -- perhaps they missed the sarcasm as well.

Finally, I must return to Brailove's statement that "we must respect his [T"urk"oz's] sincere desire to tell us how deeply offensive this book is to those of the Islamic faith." I must also point out that Brailove goes on to say "T"urk"oz betrays his own zealotry when he reminds us twice that there are `one billion Muslims' and says that we Westerners `should consider the fact that Muslims strive toward the example of the Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) more than that of any other human.' Who cares?" Now I ask, how can T"urk"oz explain why The Satanic Verses is offensive to Muslims if someone's first reaction is going to be "who cares?" If we truly respect someone's desire to explain why something appears offensive to him, we will not respond to his attempt to explain why it is offensive by responding "who cares?" but instead by responding, "I care."

I would like to reiterate that I fully support the freedom of Rushdie to write and publish his novel -- I only wish people were more able to disagree with something without feeling so anguished that we often act in a way contrary to what is otherwise perfectly civilized behavior.

If I have offended anyone with my views or attitudes, I am sorry; and to Mr. Brailove, I would like to reiterate that I am in full agreement with you in supporting the freedom of Salman Rushdie to write and publish his novel--I only wish that you, Mr. T"urk"oz, many Muslims around the world, and I, myself, were more able to able to disagree with something written without feeling so anguished that we often act in a way contrary to what is otherwise perfectly civilized behavior.

David Tabak '90->