What is most disturbing is that it is almost impossible to imagine an Islamist-influenced system protecting the religious rights of skeptics, agnostics and atheists. Blasphemy, satire, independent scholarly investigation of early Islamic history, or merely a profession of fundamental skepticism about faith in general (and not simply Islam) are all likely to remain criminal offenses. Protection for apostasy and conversion are another key test of real religious freedom.Religious freedom was not generally well protected by the old dictatorships, and all the evidence suggests that the policing of independent thinking will intensify in the new systems. This means that there is a whole class of citizens virtually guaranteed of being denied its fundamental rights, and of being persecuted by Islamist-influenced regimes: agnostics, atheists, apostates and skeptics. Unless, of course, these individuals keep their mouths shut.Professed commitment by Islamists to pluralism and tolerance is almost always framed in terms of faith. It seems beyond the scope of their imagination that, while people may belong to various religions, any sane person would question the very notion of religious belief, and view all religious claims with rational skepticism.Yet without genuine religious freedom and pluralism, real freedom and equal citizenship will be illusory. What Islamists, and many other Arabs, have yet to accept is that in order for freedom of religion to be genuine, it must allow the freedom to reject faith entirely and to promote non-religious perspectives.
Islamists paying lip service to ideals of tolerance and pluralism while only accepting monotheism in practice is no more incoherent than Western Christians professing belief in the stark choice offered by the one and only son of the one true God while championing the equal validity of all religious paths; less so, actually, because at least in the Islamists’ case, political opportunism doesn’t directly conflict with the higher law. This is why I say that I can have a certain respect for hardcore believers; at least they’re capable of following the internal logic that proceeds from accepting what they think is the ultimate truth according to the ultimate authority.