All this fuss over blasphemy got us thinking. We riot in the West, but not over religion. Racism, economic inequality, and environmental concerns can all whip a crowd into discontent — even violence. But blasphemy?

This is incomprehensible to the Western mind. Poking fun at traditional faith is considered sport, even art to enlightened Western sensibilities. There is no warrant for this paroxysm of violence which has harmed innumerable innocents, many of them fellow Muslims. Regardless, Muslim activists are letting the world know that they will not tolerate the denigration of their religion.

Is it a credit to the West that people of traditional faith are largely indifferent to their own faith being ridiculed?

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published a series of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the editors probably expected Muslims to respond with the same timidity and indifference that has characterized Christian responses to religious provocation and blasphemy. The editors couldn't have been more wrong.

Salman Rushdie probably thought he was being deliciously iconoclastic when he published The Satanic Verses in which he portrayed the Prophet Muhammad's sexual fantasies and compared his wives to prostitutes. This kind of thing goes over big in the literary salons of the West. Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeyni, on the other hand, issued a death fatwa against the author.

Obviously, in the Muslim world, blasphemy is a big deal. But if Muslim intolerance has gone too far, have Christians taken tolerance to excess?

In America blasphemy is a fashionable way for art to challenge conventional norms. Remember the fellow who got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for his photograph depicting a crucifix immersed in urine?

Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics are frequently portrayed by secular liberals as fierce religious fanatics who are trying to impose their morality on others and perhaps even to turn America into a theocracy. But what is striking about conservative Christians is how passive and invertebrate so many of them are when their deepest beliefs are violated. The distinguishing quality of the Christian seems to be niceness, and I don't mean this as a compliment. When a man calls your wife a whore it is not a virtue to respond with niceness. When your religion is mocked and blasphemed, it is sign of cowardice to pretend not to notice.

Sometimes in focusing so much on our rights, we are liable to forget what is right. The fact that you have a right to do something does not mean you are right to do it. The issue here isn't censorship, it is the blithe willingness to mock the sacred sensibilities of others.

Muslims don't. Activist Muslims were not amused by Rushdie's book, and they are equally incensed about the Danish newspaper's cartoons showing Muhammad wearing a turban with a lit fuse, and Muhammad telling would-be suicide bombers that they should slow down because heaven is running out of virgins. Protests have erupted across the Islamic world, and there have been calls to ban Danish products.

The reaction of newspapers in Europe has been to reprint the offensive cartoons in the name of freedom of expression. "We would have done exactly the same thing if it had been a pope, rabbi or priest caricature," wrote the editor of France Soir. He was reflecting the secular view of fairness. This concept of fairness was exhibited when Muslims complained that school girls were prohibited from wearing Islamic dress. The French government responded by declaring that Christians could not wear crosses either. Look, say the French, we are being fair by discriminating equally against all religions. This was the point being made by the editor of the paper: we are insulting the Muslims just like we routinely insult Jews and Christians.

When the movie The Last Temptation of Christ came out several years ago, it was shown to critical acclaim throughout the West despite its blasphemous portrayal of Christ's sexual fantasies at Calvary. The only countries that banned the movie were the Muslim countries. The reason is that Muslims consider Christ, like Moses, to be a prophet. Not only do Muslims protect the reputation of Muhammad, but apparently they also care about how Christ is portrayed as well. Whose reputation silent Christians are protecting is anybody's guess.

Yes, I know that freedom of speech is a right and maybe the Muslim protesters don't understand that very well. But there is an equivalent blindness that we in the West should be attentive to. Sometimes in focusing so much on our rights, we are liable to forget what is right. The fact that you have a right to do something does not mean you are right to do it.

The issue here isn't censorship, it is the blithe willingness to mock the sacred sensibilities of others. Secular Americans know exactly what I am talking about. If an American newspaper were to distort and discredit Martin Luther King's legacy by printing a series of cartoons depicting him as a drug-dealer or a street thug, the reaction might be quite similar to what we are now seeing in the Muslim world. The only difference is that, in the case of Martin Luther King, there would be widespread and justifiable howls of "racism" and the need for America to look into the darkness of its soul. I highly doubt that other American newspapers would reprint the cartoons to show their support for freedom of speech.

There are things that we in the West will stand up for. Unfortunately, traditional religious faith is usually not one of them.


Dinesh D'Souza. "Blasphemy." tothesource (February 7, 2006).

Tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.


Dinesh D'Souza is the Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. D'Souza has been called one of the "top young public-policy makers in the country" by Investor’s Business Daily. His areas of research include the economy and society, civil rights and affirmative action, cultural issues and politics, and higher education. Dinesh D'Souza's latest book is The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. He is also the author of: Letters to a Young Conservative, What's So Great about America, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus; The End of Racism; Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader; and, most recently, The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence. Dinesh D'Souza is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center. Visit his website here.

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