Om Pandya, Columnist
Ideology: Libertarian Conservative | Writing from: Florida

New York City is known for its open-mindedness, cultural sensitivity and general social liberalness. Which is why I was shocked when I heard about the results of the most recent Intelligence Squared debate, set in the heart of one of the most liberal neighborhoods in the nation. The I2 debates, for those of you not familiar with the format, pit two panels of famous academics, policy-makers and activists against each other in debating a controversial issue. Before and after the debate, the audience anonymously votes for the side that they agree with. Last week the participants tackled the difficult question of if Islam was a religion of peace or not.

The results were astounding. While before the debate, only 25% of people were against the motion “Islam is a religion of peace,” afterwards, 55% of the audience was against the same motion.

Yet, when someone in the media or politics voices an opinion that 55% of even the most liberal citizens agree with, they are castigated as extremists, bashed on TV and radio, left unemployed, or even banned from travelling to other countries.

Juan Williams, for making a (albeit ill-advised) statement about the demographics of hijackers, was dropped from NPR and was publically told by his boss to seek a psychiatrist. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being bashed by “open-minded” Americans for having the audacity to ask that immigrants learn to speak German and abandon forced marriages.

Any supposed “attack” on religion or multiculturalism, whether it has merit or not, is automatically dismissed publicly as extremism and racism, while privately even the most liberal people agree that, for example, Islam is an extreme religion.

The crusade against Dutch politician Geert Wilders went even further than public dismissal and the usual dozens of obligatory fatwa placed against those who speak against Islam. While Wilders may be slightly extreme in his views and prone to the same blustering grandstanding as all politicians, it is clear his goal is not to incite violence against Muslims. However, this did not stop the British government from banning him entry into the country under the policy that they can deny entrance to anyone who is a threat to security. Of course, no one actually believes that his presence will incite violent riots against Muslims, or that the UK should protest so-called “hate speech.” The ban was most probably due to public fear of a terrorist attack against the UK and is another example of Western nations making exceptions for radical Islam.

Even more disgraceful is his treatment in his own country, where he was prosecuted for “inciting hate speech.” True, he did call Islam a fascist religion and call for banning the Koran, but nowhere did he incite violence against anyone. The comments he made are commonplace in the political sphere where members of opposing parties are often called “fascist” and certain books that are deemed to incite violence, Mein Kampf for instance, are banned. Only when the comments deal with religion are they illegal.

You would also be hard-pressed to find a lie, or even a stretch of the truth, in the movie Fitna that Wilders has released or in any of his articles. His statements are less the rantings of a mad man, but rather evidenced-backed arguments that, despite being outside the positions of the most people, should be taken seriously. Juan Williams and Merkel are also not figures on the fringe making insensitive outbursts.

I am not a bigoted person, nor do I believe that all Muslims subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs. I am in favor of allowing the “Ground Zero mosque” to stay due to my belief in property rights, and I count many Muslims as very close friends.

But I do not believe that religion is a taboo subject and I believe that we should be able to have an adult conversation on it without fearing reprisals and shame. Unlike race, gender and even sexual orientation, religion is a choice. Like every choice that people make, it can and should be open to discussion.

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