We should start raising money for a secret Christian commando forcethe special-action arm of the Poor Clares, maybe, or the rapid-response team of Beeson Divinity School.
Well, probably not. But why, in fact, shouldnít we? Violence works, after all. The mere threat of violence works.
Hereís a recent example: Iím on the board of a literary magazine at a small state university, and, at the boardís meeting this spring, the editor mentioned that he had wanted to reprint the blogger Iowahawkís hilarious swipe at the archbishop of Canterbury. (If you havenít read it, itís worth a look: A description of the archbishopís mention of a British application for Shariía law, told as a lost Canterbury Tale, in pseudo-Chaucerian English.)
Unfortunately, the editor said, the magazine couldnít reprint it. The legal adviser from the universityís administration had said nonot on the grounds that it was offensive to Anglicans and their archbishop, but on the grounds that it mentioned Islam, and the school could receive bomb threats as a result of publishing it.
This was the first time Iíd encountered a straightforward admission of simple cowardice in these things, with no attempt to hide it under any cloak of multiculturalism or even good manners. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; the mob that might riot gets the deference; the group with the bombs gets the preemptive self-editing.
And look how far down itís reached. I like what this new literary journal is trying to do. Thatís why Iím on the board. But it is, in truth, a very minor start-up magazine, at a very minor state school. And it stops itself from republishing an already widely distributed parody of Anglicansbecause the schoolís administrators have internalized the message that Muslims cannot be mentioned in any unflattering context.
Iím sure they donít see this as actually motivated by fear. They probably think itís merely good administration: You donít give the faculty an excuse to make votes of no-confidence, you donít give the groundskeepers excuses to strike, and you donít give Muslims excuses to phone in bomb threatshowever unlikely such threats might actually be.
Itís old news that we have a double standard these days: People who attack and insult Christianity are braveoh, so bravetransgressive artists, while people who attack and insult Islam are insensitive and bigoted. The legal blogger Eugene Volokh had an interesting note a while back, comparing editorials in the Boston Globethe editorials the newspaper had run denouncing the Danish cartoons and the editorials it had run praising Piss Christ and the elephant-dung portrait of Mary. A more recent example comes from the comic writer Ben Elton, who this week denounced British television for censoring his scripts. ďThere is no doubt about it,Ē he told the Daily Telegraph, ďthe BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.Ē
For a long time, I attributed all this to a weird kind of disbelief in the actual reality of Islamor, at least, to the possibility of its achieving any significant success. A certain line of modernity has always aimed, as one of its fundamental projects, at the undoing of Christianity. And for that project, any stick is a good one, even an Islamic one.
In this view, we neednít worry about Islam as an actual religion, because not many people are going to become Muslims, and besides, theyíre all off somewhere in the unreal part of the world. No, Islam is good because itís un-Christianbecause itís anti-Christian, and good-speaking of Muslims is bad-speaking of Christians: Islam, that religion of peace, unlike Christianity, which has a long history of violence; Islam, under which medieval Jews were tolerated, unlike Christianity, which has a long history of intolerance.
Something like this view probably helped put in place the current double standard. But the administrators at that little state school arenít consciously echoing it. In the day of a universal culture in America that assumed Christianity, they would have assumed Christianity for their decisions. In a day of a culture that treats Islam with wary respect, they assume wary respect. They are operating, as they always have, in simple avoidance. Who cares about the fact that the chance of any reaction is infinitesimal? Best not to tread on those toes when itís so much easier just to self-censor anything that might offend them. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; the mob that might riot gets the deference; the group with the bombs gets the preemptive change in ourselves.
Just think how easily the special-action arm of the Poor Clares could end the double standard. No more Piss Christs, no more elephant-dung icons. A few well-placed bombs, a carefully ginned-up riot or two, and that little university would still have rejected publication of the parody, but this time not because it made fun of Muslims but because it pilloried the archbishop of Canterbury. Christianity could start getting some respect again, and all it would take is a little violence.
Well, a little violence, together with the loss of much of what it means to be Christian. And that, of course, is the problem. Itís easy to mock Christianity, because the people who do it know that the rioters arenít actually going to come after them. Theyíre too Christian, and the Poor Clares arenít actually going to start their commando training. But can we at least stop hearing about how brave people are when they insult Christianity and carefullyoh, so carefullyleave out Islam?
Iowahawkís Chaucerian parody of the archbishop of Canterbury
Eugene Volokh on the Boston Globe
Ben Elton in the Daily Telegraph