Kristof Gets It Wrong

I am a big fan of Nicholas Kristof so I was disappointed by his argument with Sam Harris and Bill Maher and his defense of his position in his New York Times column today, "The Diversity of Islam." In it he restates his case, the essence of which is: just because some Muslims are bad doesn't mean all Muslims are bad and therefore we shouldn't criticize them.

This misses the point of what Harris and Maher were saying. Some Muslims are chopping heads off in the name of god. Most Muslims believe their religion should get special protection from criticism. By demanding this, even moderates protect the worst aspects of their faith as well as the best. This makes them culpable.

Kristof defends the moderate Muslim by saying, "Yes, almost four out of five Afghans favor the death penalty for apostasy, but most Muslims say that that is nuts. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, only 16 percent of Muslims favor such a penalty."

Indonesia has a population of almost 205 million. About 88 percent of these are Muslim. That's about 180 million believers. Sixteen percent of 180 million is about 28 million. Let's be generous and subtract 10 million on the basis that they're children who don't believe anything yet.

Now we're left with "only" 18 million Indonesians who believe their fellow Muslims should be killed if they abandon Islam. At best, this is a widespread threat leading to philosophical and intellectual captivity. At worst, it's conspiracy to murder. Kristof thinks he's defending the moderate; in fact, he's empowering the fanatic.

If I were to write that there were "only" 18 million American Christians who believed it was morally acceptable to kill other Christians for apostasy, I wonder how Kristof would feel. Would he say, "Oh, it's only 18 million and really it's just those pesky Southern Baptists who actually do it, so let's not be mean to all of them." Or, if it was this close to home, might he insist that every element of the religion be open to fearless examination and criticism?

I could say more, but I am afraid.