Friday, June 22, 2007

Letter to Dennis Prager

Yesterday Dennis Prager made some observations on his radio program that I responded to by e-mail, and he was gracious enough to reply to the points I made. Here is what I wrote to him:

Dear Dennis:

I am what you would probably consider to be politically "liberal." But I enjoy your program nevertheless because of your consistently intelligent and respectful discussion of so many substantive issues. I am also increasingly convinced that philosopher Ken Wilber is correct when he claims that there are valuable insights stemming from both "right" and "left" political perspectives and that it is wise to seek to integrate these perspectives and their insights. I have found you to be an outstanding spokesperson for a political perspective and for corresponding insights that I have largely shunned until recently but am now giving much more consideration and am struggling to incorporate into my own worldview. That is, as a result of listening to programs such as yours and Hugh Hewitt's and of reading "conservative" writings such as one finds on clinical psychologist-philosopher Robert Godwin's remarkable One Cosmos blog (by the way, one could say that his frequent mention and praise of you persuaded me to give you a serious listen), I have found myself developing a political and more general perspective that is less dogmatically "liberal" and, I would like to think, more reflective of a reality whose complexities transcend staunchly liberal and conservative understandings. I thank you sincerely for the significant role you are playing in this ongoing transformation.

However, I would like to take respectful issue with some of your comments during your opening hour of today's program. First, you said that Karen Armstrong is wrong to assert that all religious fundamentalisms are essentially equivalent in theory and practice. If I understood you correctly, you maintained that there is no moral equivalence whatsoever between Christian fundamentalism that will tolerate criticism and even outright mockery of its teachings and Islamic fundamentalism that will murder people for any perceived disparagement of the faith. I do not necessarily disagree with you here, but I would ask whether you think that hardcore Christian fundamentalists would be much more tolerant than hardcore Muslim fundamentalists if they lived in a society where they had the power to impose their views on everyone. I am inclined, rightly or wrongly, to believe that if Christian fundamentalists held unchecked power in this country, they would not necessarily be all that much more tolerant of mockery, criticism, or even substantive dissent than are Muslim fundamentalists. And if this were true, would fundamentalist Christianity REALLY be that morally superior to fundamentalist Islam, or is it now simply prevented by legal force from doing what it would otherwise do? It would be fascinating for you to discuss this on your program sometime, and especially if you could have Karen Armstrong on and discuss all of this with her. I, for one, would love to hear her explanation and defense of her claim that most religious fundamentalisms are equivalent.

Second, you argued that Robin Williams has shown no moral courage in mocking Christianity but not Islam after 9-11. A caller disputed your claim by stating that Robin Williams has done extensive routines mocking Islam and Islamic terrorists, and I suspect that he is correct. For instance, in just a cursory YouTube search, I found this.

Third, you asserted that the entertainment industry has displayed no moral courage in its failure to offer post 9-11 entertainment that realistically depicts the immoral savagery of Islamic terrorists. The same caller who disputed your claim about Robin Williams countered that "Hollywood" has in fact produced many movies that disparage Islamic terrorists. You replied that even if this is true, it has done so more in terms of comic book scenarios and caricatures than realistic depictions, and it has not been true at all since 9-11. Well, I do not watch a lot of TV or see many movies, but I am aware of several films and TV programs produced since 9-11 that have provided reasonably realistic and unflattering portrayals of Islamic terrorists. Among them are the acclaimed movie United 93, the Showtime two-season miniseries Sleeper Cell, and several seasons of the very popular Fox drama 24.

Furthermore, even if it were true that comics and the entertainment industry in general readily criticize and mock Christianity but not Islam in the wake of 9-11 out of fear for their safety, I wonder if YOU would dare to criticize Islam on your radio show or in your writings if you truly believed that doing so placed you and your family in serious jeopardy from Islamic terrorists. And if you did not speak out against Islam under these circumstances, would you be any less of a "moral coward" than others in the entertainment industry who criticize what they feel safe in criticizing and refrain from criticizing when they think it could lead to deadly violence?

Dennis, I am grateful for your radio program and for the time you have taken to read this overly long letter, and I wish you peace, prosperity, and happiness.

This is how Dennis responded:

Dear steve:

Thank you for the very thoughtful letter. It's an honor having listeners like you.

Some quick responses:

1. Christian fundamentalists often ha control in America and never imposed anything like an Islamic intolerant regime here.

2. Robin Williams did indeed make fund of suicide bombers. That's relatively easy and not comparable to making fun of RC priests in general.

3. United 93 was a documentary-film of one flight. And a great service it was. And it was a rare exception.

4. I have been very critical in both writing and radio of the Islamists, and frequently think of the danger it can put me in.

All the best,

Dennis Prager

I appreciate the fact that Mr. Prager took the time and trouble to respond, especially given the fact that he must be swamped with e-mail every day. However, I still wonder if Christian fundamentalists would not be far more repressive if they had unchecked power, if Robin Williams and other comics have not made much fun of Islam and Islamic terrorists since 9-11, if there have not been numerous "Hollywood" films and TV programs since 9-11 that paint Islam and Islamic terrorists in an unflattering light, and whether Dennis Prager truly feels endangered (say, the way Salman Rushdie undoubtedly feels endangered) for expressing the views he does about Islam and Islamic terrorists.

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