In his syndicated column today, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby evaluates the reaction of U.S. government officials and media to the Muslim riots sparked by a rumor that American soldiers had desecrated a copy of the Koran. Jacoby points out that both the Bush administration and conservative media pundits blamed Newsweek for the riots. While acknowledging the magazine's culpability in the matter, Jacoby points out that there were no "deadly protests triggered in recent years by comparable acts of desecration against other religions," as in 1989 "after photographer Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ'—a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine—was included in an exhibition subsidized by the National Endowment for the Arts," or when "singer Sinead O'Connor, appearing on 'Saturday Night Live,' ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II," or "in 2000, after Arabs demolished Joseph's Tomb, torching the ancient shrine and murdering a young rabbi who tried to save a Torah from the flames," or "in 2001 in response to the destruction of two priceless, 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha by the Taliban government in Afghanistan."
Religious conflicts are always a part of human life, given that religion is a fundamental part of a person's mindset. However, we have a right to expect a sense of perspective on these things, and as Jacoby's examples indicate, it is by no means impossible today for religious people to show restraint in such instances.
Jacoby points out that the sort of behavior both non-Muslims and Muslims themselves seem to expect of Muslims is perfectly infantile and would not be tolerated from any other group. I would add that claims of earlier oppression by colonizers from other cultures certainly have some validity and may merit redress today (although all ethnic and religious groups can make such claims; such is the nature of human history). Nonetheless, the kind of perfectly mad reactions in which Muslims today indulge in response to the smallest presumed slights cannot be excused by either past wrongs or claims about the sanctity of their religious symbols and artifacts. People should respect one another's religions, but other groups have similar claims about their sacred objects, yet they do not routinely engage in such hysterical overreactions today. Complaining in the press, as American Catholics did in response to the slights Jacoby mentioned, is a far, far, far cry from riots and murder. Such behavior certainly is not expected from nor accepted of groups other than Muslims.
Jacoby points out that the people leading Islam today harm non-Muslims and Muslims alike, and the latter worse than the former. In this they are abetted by the acceptance of the Muslim poeples in their own oppression. Hence, Jacoby says,
"the real desecration of Islam is not what some interrogator in Guantanamo might have done to the Koran. It is what totalitarian Muslim zealots have been doing to innocent human beings in the name of Islam. It is 9/11 and Beslan and Bali and Daniel Pearl and the USS Cole. It is trains in Madrid and schoolbuses in Israel and an 'insurgency' in Iraq that slaughters Muslims as they pray and vote and line up for work. It is Hamas and Al Qaeda and sermons filled with infidel-hatred and exhortations to 'martyrdom.'"
"But what disgraces Islam above all is the vast majority of the planet's Muslims saying nothing and doing nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. It is Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, calling on Muslims and Middle Easterners to 'converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism' this month—and having only 50 people show up.
"Yes, Islam is disrespected. That will only change when throngs of passionate Muslims show up for rallies against terrorism, and when rabble-rousers trying to gin up a riot over a defiled Koran can't get the time of day."