How the West was duped
When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini announced on Valentine's Day 1989 the death sentence on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, and others associated with its publication and translation, it was his last major pronouncement as the radical religious leader and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Khomeini died in June 1989. His notorious edict as the opening salvo of the Islamist war against the West, however, still remains lethal in censoring free speech and driving fear into the hearts of anyone daring to submit Islam and Muslim history to critical scrutiny.
It would be fair to say the West did not know what to make of Khomeini's incitement to murder 20 years ago. Or of Rushdie who was forced to hide under British protection from those who might kill him for the $5.2-million bounty on offer.
The edict against Rushdie was lifted officially by Khomeini's successors in 1998. But to the ever-lasting shame of many around the world, the edict sparked a debate over the propriety of any expression, such as Rushdie's book, that could be viewed as insulting Islam.
This debate is far from over and it continues to cast a chilling spell over freedom of expression that could well be characterized as the essential value of the secular West. Khomeini's success in confounding the West came from a simple, yet ingenious tactic of dressing his politics in the garment of religion.
Instead of repudiating Khomeini's politics, and that of the Islamists, the West contorted itself, with its policy of official multiculturalism, to accommodate the vulgar and neo-barbaric politics aggressively promoted as religion.
Twenty years on and it would be fair to say the West has become somewhat complicit in the politics unleashed by Khomeini, and pushed relentlessly by Islamists ever since, to silence and punish critics of Islam and Muslim history.
The profound irony here is that Muslims can only be politically liberated by subjecting Islam to unfettered critical inquiry as was done with Christianity. Only then they may recover their faith as a matter of personal conscience, instead of being suffocated by an Islam perverted into a tool of totalitarian politics ever since the early years of Arab-Muslim history.
Within the Muslim world any effort to engage in such a task, that eventually demolishes the totalitarian control of the power holders over Islam, carries with it mortal risks. Khomeini's edict against Rushdie was to set a forbidding example.
Only in a relatively free and secure environment could anyone, especially Muslims, engage in the task of salvaging Islam's pristine message of monotheism and God's mercy in a world of unending struggle between good and evil. It is also through such efforts, and by not appeasing Islamists, that a mutually respectful and genuine coexistence of non-Muslims and Muslims might be constructed.
But when the West concedes to Islamists in the mistaken belief that subjecting Islam and Muslim history to intensive criticism amounts to "hate speech" and must not be allowed, then freedom is undermined and totalitarianism in the Arab-Muslim world gets further entrenched.
Muslims need to become free of totalitarian Islam and the least the West can do in support is not concede an inch of its own hard-won freedom in quest of false peace with Islamists.