We should start raising money for a secret Christian commando force¯the special-action arm of the Poor Clares, maybe, or the rapid-response team of Beeson Divinity School.

Well, probably not. But why, in fact, shouldn’t we? Violence works, after all. The mere threat of violence works.

Here’s a recent example: I’m on the board of a literary magazine at a small state university, and, at the board’s meeting this spring, the editor mentioned that he had wanted to reprint the blogger Iowahawk’s hilarious swipe at the archbishop of Canterbury. (If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look: A description of the archbishop’s mention of a British application for Shari’a law, told as a lost Canterbury Tale, in pseudo-Chaucerian English.)

Unfortunately, the editor said, the magazine couldn’t reprint it. The legal adviser from the university’s administration had said no¯not 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 I’d 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 it’s reached. I like what this new literary journal is trying to do. That’s why I’m 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 Anglicans¯because the school’s administrators have internalized the message that Muslims cannot be mentioned in any unflattering context.

I’m sure they don’t see this as actually motivated by fear. They probably think it’s merely good administration: You don’t give the faculty an excuse to make votes of no-confidence, you don’t give the groundskeepers excuses to strike, and you don’t give Muslims excuses to phone in bomb threats¯however unlikely such threats might actually be.

It’s old news that we have a double standard these days: People who attack and insult Christianity are brave¯oh, so brave¯transgressive 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 Globe ¯the 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. “There is no doubt about it,” he told the Daily Telegraph , “the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.”

For a long time, I attributed all this to a weird kind of disbelief in the actual reality of Islam¯or, 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 needn’t worry about Islam as an actual religion, because not many people are going to become Muslims, and besides, they’re all off somewhere in the unreal part of the world. No, Islam is good because it’s un-Christian¯because it’s 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 aren’t 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 it’s 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. It’s easy to mock Christianity, because the people who do it know that the rioters aren’t actually going to come after them. They’re too Christian, and the Poor Clares aren’t actually going to start their commando training. But can we at least stop hearing about how brave people are when they insult Christianity and carefully¯oh, so carefully¯leave out Islam?

References:

Iowahawk’s Chaucerian parody of the archbishop of Canterbury

Eugene Volokh on the Boston Globe

Ben Elton in the Daily Telegraph

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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