Now I have to offend Muslims, ladies and gentlemen, just to show how fair I am, and I’m going to work at it. For a while I was poking pretty regular fun at Christians, and they would write to me and say, “Why don’t you ridicule Jews? Are you afraid of being called anti-Semitic? Why don’t you attack Muslims? Afraid of them too?”
As for Jews, to some extent it was true. I was leery of being called anti-Semitic, though I also figured that Jews don’t try to force their religion on other people like Christians do — nobody has ever come to my door urging me to keep kosher — so I don’t have that against them, besides which, for a gentile to mock Judaism is a rather delicate proposition, considering history.
But my recent trip to Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied lands of the West Bank put steel in my spine, and I have taken a shot at it — with results that anyone could have predicted.
So now that leaves Muslims. A couple of years ago I wrote a review of the Quran and another of the Hadith, which I thought were appropriately irreverent, but it’s true, I have not assailed Islam with the same enthusiasm I have deployed against Christianity and Judaism. It was just gentle mockery of their scriptures.
There are a couple of reasons. The theology of Islam is not nearly as rich terrain as that of Christianity, with its saints and miracles and seven-headed demons, or of Judaism, with its bizarre taboos and its devotion to primitive legalisms.
Islamic theology is simple: There is only one god. If you believe in him you go to heaven and enjoy cool streams and shady gardens. If you don’t you go to hell and burn for eternity.
It’s not a lot to work with. The Hadith is richer than the Quran, with its injunctions to stone adulterers, chop off the hands of thieves, and kill people who abandon the faith, and I did what I could with it, but admittedly it wasn’t much.
Then too, Muslims are prudent enough not to admit me to their devotions where I can actually see them at worship. In Morocco the mosques are closed to infidels at all times. In Jerusalem, the same. In Turkey, the only other Muslim territory I have visited, they are open for architectural sightseeing, but infidels have to leave at prayer time.
My wife and I did experience a memorable exception in Istanbul, at the Rustem Pasha mosque, where we fell into broken-English conversation with a friendly imam who not only invited us to stay for prayers but brought out plastic chairs for us to sit on.
It was an Arabian-Nights sort of experience, with the imam doing his other-worldly chanting, the men bowing their foreheads to the floor, the women (except my wife) secreted behind a screen, all of us surrounded by the most beautiful tilework in the world. I was ready to sign up right on the spot and had to pinch myself to remember that, for all its exotic charm, it was as much malarkey as any other religion.
And what about the nightmare of terrorism? What about Muslim holy warriors blowing up buildings and subways and airplanes, killing thousands of people, including other Muslims, to advance their maniac vision of Islamic rule on earth.
Well, you don’t need me for that. You can write that column just as well yourself. I like more of a challenge.
What I mean to do is dig around the Internet for stories that demonstrate the depravity of which Muslim believers are capable, besides spectacular examples like 9/11.
For example, the story a few years ago of a 13-year-old Somali girl who was stoned to death for having been raped. The BBC reported that after being sentenced by a Sharia court she was buried in sand up to her neck and then pelted with rocks by about 50 men. At one point she was removed and examined by a nurse to see if she was still alive, and when it was determined she was, she was reburied and pelted some more till the job was done. How’s that for an exercise in faith? How’s that for applied Islam?
Or the Saudi Arabian writer who was recently extradited from Malaysia and sent back home to face charges of having insulted the Prophet Muhammad in tweets that he posted on the alleged prophet’s birthday. That was in February. I haven’t been able to learn what happened to him back in Saudi Arabia, and I’m not sure I want to know.
Not to mention the more celebrated cases arising out of the publication of cartoons or the making of movies — a Dutch moviemaker being shot and stabbed to death, a couple hundred people dying in riots around the world over Danish cartoons caricaturing the alleged Prophet Muhammad.
The Torah prescribes death for anyone who tries to get a Jew to convert, but I’m not aware of it ever being applied. Christians and Jews alike ignore the more barbaric prescriptions of their Holy Scriptures. Islam is the only religion I know of where those prescriptions are actually applied. Not in all Muslim countries, but in some. Death for abandoning the faith — in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, at least.
There are Christians and Jews of liberal stripe who take their scriptures with a grain of common sense, interpreting the more fantastic parts figuratively rather than literally, but no such thing is permissible in Islam. The Quran was dictated by Allah, and every tedious word of it is a sparkling jewel.
Of course plenty of Muslims go about their business without regard to the nonsense embalmed in their holy books, just as plenty of Christians and Jews do also, which is one of the nice things about religion — it can be conveniently sequestered in one corner of the brain — but in Islam it has to be more of a challenge, since a fundamentalist reading is the only permissible one.
I note that the fear of Muslim fanaticism is such that most Western newspapers did not dare reprint the Danish cartoons even to illustrate news stories about the ensuing upheaval. And I don’t blame them.
Christians ask me tauntingly if I am afraid to make fun of Islam, and the answer is to some extent, yes. In the news media we all are. We remember the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, we remember Theo Van Gogh, we remember the bombs thrown at Danish embassies.
When I deride Christianity and Judaism all I have to worry about is letters to the editor. Islam is different. Its fanatics are what Christian fanatics were a thousand years ago. So I’m going to work on this, but I’m going to be careful too.