I have the right to fart in a crowded lift, or cultivate halitosis by failing to brush my teeth regularly. And, even if my neighbour is a Hindu, I would be entitled (health regulations permitting) to slaughter and barbecue a cow down by her back fence just to give her the shits. But if I did any of these things I would be unlikely to be labelled a courageous freedom fighter. I’d rightly be dismissed as an odious, ill-mannered slob.
So why do so many otherwise sensible, intelligent people regard as somehow heroic the newspapers and bloggers who have gratuitously published cartoons that they know many Islamic people will find offensive? Of course, the Muslim thugs who have killed, made death threats and torched embassies as a result of those publications are immeasurably worse, but I haven’t actually noticed any blogger for whom I have any respect congratulating them on their actions. The actions of these Muslim hothead thugs do not somehow miraculously convert the cartoon publishers from ignorant yobs into fighters for democratic freedom. Almost no-one in the western world is arguing that the publication of cartoons, however gratuitously offensive to the beliefs of others, should be prohibited.
I could at least partly comprehend such a reaction to publication of the cartoons if they conveyed a powerful or important political message (as opposed to merely setting out successfully to offend the beliefs of a particular group). But the only one of the 12 cartoons containing a coherent, sensible political message is the one showing a group of presumably just-deceased suicide bombers lined up at the Pearly Gates with a St Peter-like figure saying “Stop! Stop! We’ve run out of virgins.” It’s also the only one of the twelve that is actually funny.
Incidentally, that cartoon also reminds me to mention a Guardian article I recently came across that discusses some fairly recent linguistic research throwing doubt on the Koranic translation of the promise of eternal access to 72 virgins for Islamic “martyrs”. It seems that the relevant word (“hur”) might actually be Aramaic for “chilled raisin” rather than Arabic for “virgin”:
As Luxenberg’s work has only recently been published we must await its scholarly assessment before we can pass any judgements. But if his analysis is correct then suicide bombers, or rather prospective martyrs, would do well to abandon their culture of death, and instead concentrate on getting laid 72 times in this world, unless of course they would really prefer chilled or white raisins, according to their taste, in the next.
PS – To head off misunderstanding, I view the creator and exhibitors of the Piss Christ in exactly the same way. Their actions should not have been (and weren’t) illegal, but nor were they in any sense admirable. The work set out merely to shock and offend, and not to convey any coherent political message.