You’ve probably heard about the movie on YouTube that says terrible things about Muslims and that inspired some Muslims to fight back against the slurs by proving them right. While it is far from the most loathsome thing on YouTube, it has certainly been the most lethal. So far the film has caused more than 50 deaths worldwide, an impressive figure that even “Ghost Rider” was unable to match.
Actually, I should say that the reaction to the film has caused these deaths. The movie didn’t do it. The movie is barely capable of being a movie, let alone killing people. No, it has been the Muslim extremists’ wildly disproportionate reaction to the movie that has been problematic. Murder is not a rational response to a movie, no matter how infuriating it is. (To someone talking during a movie, yes.) I mean, I’m hardly the picture of self-control, and I never detonated a bomb in a public place, not even after I saw “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
Yet we keep shifting the blame, sometimes subtly and sometimes not. It happened two years ago with that idiot pastor in Florida who was planning to burn a pile of Korans, and it happened again recently with this movie, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which used the twin evils of lying and bad acting to defame Mohammed. In both instances, sane people pleaded with the antagonizers not to do it, because it would only make the terrorists more terrorist-y.
Now, most of us agree that making movies for no other reason than to insult someone’s religion is a poor use of one’s resources, and that burning Korans is a pointless waste of perfectly good Koran trees. But one of the great things about America is that we are free to do any moronic thing that pops into our heads, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (or occur in an airport, which of course is a police state). So assuming that the filmmaker had the proper permits and didn’t break any laws while shooting, and assuming the pastor owned all those Korans he intended to burn and hadn’t stolen them from a Koran store*, they were well within their rights. In America, everybody’s free to make propaganda and set fire to holy books all the livelong day.
It all goes back to that famous quote about free speech: I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to make fun of you for saying it.
The problem isn’t that some bigot hates Muslims and made a crappy film to provoke them. The problem is that there are some Muslims who respond to insults BY KILLING PEOPLE. Trying to persuade people not to do dumb things out of fear that the dumb things will inspire crazy people to murder them is ridiculous. If you have a pet monkey that viciously attacks and kills anyone who taunts it, sure, you can advise people not to taunt the monkey. But you know what else you could do? Get rid of the monkey. At the very least, you can acknowledge that the monkey is the one with the problem here. Taunting a monkey is despicable and ignorant, but it doesn’t warrant that kind of reaction.
By the same token, however, let us not forget that the vast majority of monkeys do not respond to tauntings with violence. Many people — including, I’m ashamed to say, some of my fellow Christians — don’t give the same benefit of the doubt to Muslims (who, I hasten to add, are not monkeys. That was an analogy). Read any news article on the Internet about Muslim extremists and you’ll find people in the comments asserting that Islam as a whole is a dangerous, bloodthirsty religion — in other words, that the terrorists are the rule, not the exception. (The lesson here is that you should never read Internet comments.)
So is that true? Is it an article of Muslim faith that righteous Muslims must destroy America and all other infidels? One way to find the answer to this question might be to read the Koran and see what it says on the subject. But most Christians are reluctant to do this. Most Christians, let’s be honest, hardly read their own scriptures, let alone someone else’s. And even when they do read the Bible, they usually ignore 75 percent of it (i.e., the Old Testament) except for the parts that say it’s OK to kill gay people. So we won’t hold our breath waiting for non-Muslims to learn about Islam by reading the Koran.
But we don’t need to read the Koran to determine whether all Muslims wish to murder us. All we need to do is employ a little common sense. (Don’t worry! Just a little!) There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. If most of them were hell-bent on destroying America, America would already be destroyed. Heck, if even 10 percent of the world’s Muslims passionately hated and actively sought the death of non-Muslims, that would be 170 million people. An army that large — even an angry, disorganized mob with no money or sophisticated weapons, riding camels instead of tanks and wearing turbans instead of helmets — could easily wipe us out.
You don’t have to know anything about Islam to know that a religion doesn’t gain 1.7 billion adherents by focusing on a message of hate, outrage, and murder. The old axiom about catching more flies with honey than vinegar applies just as well to religion as it does to fly-catching.
For example, the most hateful of all religious groups is the Westboro “Baptist” “Church,” the douche-necks who protest at soldiers’ funerals and behave like attention-starved sociopaths. That group has something like 50 followers, most of them related to the pastor, “Rev.” Fred Phelps. Why the low membership numbers? True, it’s partly because the church is located in an obscure, hard-to-find place (Kansas). But it’s primarily because most human beings have little enthusiasm for ideologies that are centered on antagonism, on being against something rather than for something. That’s why fringe groups like Westboro Baptists, Muslim extremists, white supremacists, and Ayn Rand proponents remain on the fringe. When your central tenets are cruel, uncompassionate, and violent, the only people you’re going to attract are the lunatics. And as much as a visit to Wal-Mart or a small-town newspaper’s letters to the editor page might suggest otherwise, lunatics still make up only a tiny fraction of the human population.
I should think that Christians, of all people, would be careful about judging an entire religion based on the actions of a few of its believers. Do Catholics like it when people assume all priests are pedophiles? Do Mormons like it when people assume all Mormons are polygamists? Do Southern Baptists like it when people assume all Southern Baptists are conservative racists? Do Methodists like it when people assume whatever it is that people assume about Methodists? That they all smoke meth, maybe? In every case, the faithful of those religions would insist that the bad apples do not reflect the values of the church as a whole, and that those people have perverted the church’s teachings to suit their own agendas.
The same holds true for Muslims, as is obvious to anyone who gives 10 seconds of rational thought to the subject (which is to say, not Glenn Beck). There are 2.7 million Muslims in the United States. What, are they all secret sleeper agents, just waiting for the signal to attack from the inside? Or are maybe 99.9 percent of them perfectly ordinary, law-abiding Americans who love their country, and who shake their heads every time one of their fellow Muslims does something evil that gives the rest of them a bad name? You know — the same as with every single other religion?
Here’s what all of this boils down to: don’t be a jerk. Don’t go out of your way to aggravate people for no good reason — and if someone aggravates you for no good reason, don’t murder them. Don’t go looking for things to be insulted by, and don’t go looking for ways to insult people. You’re offended? Get over it. You’re being offensive? Cut it out. If you can’t follow these basic guidelines, I’m afraid I’m going to have to make you watch “Ghost Rider” again.
*Possible names for Koran stores: Koranthropologie; Korann Taylor; The Islamporium; Allah Dollar; Let’s Mecca Deal.