Regarding the Muhammad Cartoon Controversy
Posted on Feb 6, 2006
By Sam Harris
In recent days, crowds of thousands have gathered throughout the Muslim world—burning European embassies, issuing threats, and even taking hostages—in protest over twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper. The problem is not merely that the cartoons were mildly derogatory. The furor primarily erupted over the fact that the Prophet had been depicted at all. Muslims consider any physical rendering of Muhammad to be an act of idolatry. And idolatry is punishable by death. Criticism of Muhammad or his teaching—which was also implicit in the cartoons—is considered blasphemy. As luck would have it, blasphemy is also punishable by death. Pious Muslims, therefore, have two reasons to “not accept less than a severing of the heads of those responsible,” as was elucidated by a preacher at the Al Omari mosque in Gaza.
Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: on August 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car-bombing, rushed them to a hospital, and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives. Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world? Religious sociopaths murder innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated “in defense of Islam.” But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better demonstration of the manner in which religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipses basic, human goodness. This behavior would be impossible without religious belief. It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness. It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob. It is reason.