Harry Potter. The DaVinci Code. A “BC” comic strip. The Passion of the Christ. The Last Temptation Of Christ. Claims that Jesus was a vegetarian who would not drive an SUV. A journalist’s speculation that Mohammad would consider marrying beauty pageant contestants.
Which does not belong?
All have been topics of religious debate. The last item differs from the others on two counts. First of all, it occurred in Nigeria, while all the others are purely American or Anglosphere-wide phenomena. There is a much more significant difference that is evident in my November 21 post on the story:
ThisDay, a newspaper in the northern city of Kaduna, published a column by Isioma Daniel that challenged the claims by Muslim protestors that the upcoming Miss Universe contest scheduled to be held in the capital city of Abuja on December 7 is an affront to Islam. “What would [the prophet] Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among [the contestants].” The newspaper printed a brief retraction Monday and a lengthier one Thursday. Rioting broke out in Kaduna, killing over 50 and injuring over 200, with at least 10 churches burned. The newspaper’s regional office in Kaduna was burned. Rioters looted shops and lit bonfires.
There’s your answer: the Nigerian episode is the only one on the list that has any direct ties to violence. Nobody is committing murder, assault, vandalism, or theft over the other issues. Nobody is issuing fatwas against J. K. Rowling, Mel Gibson, Johnny Hart, Martin Scorsese, Abraham Foxman, or militant vegans. (Unfortunately, there have been purely secular acts of vandalism targeted against SUVs.)
Why is religious discord, or ideological discord in general, violent in some places and relatively peaceful in others? In one of my earliest blog posts I explored this issue. I pointed to two factors, one involving the law, and the other – the key factor – involving cultural attitudes:
America has the most peaceful ideological discord on the face of the Earth. Laws protecting speech, even disagreeable speech, guarantee a peaceful outlet for expressing ourselves without fear of government reprisal. The vast majority of Americans cherish the rights of all, including our ideological adversaries, to their physical safety, their property, and their choice of beliefs. We reject that anyone is disposable for having the “wrong” beliefs, and while we may disagree with others on various issues and try to persuade them otherwise, we do not begrudge their legal rights to disagree with us.
While I point specifically to America, this applies to the rest of the Anglosphere as well (although speech rights are not respected equally in all Anglosphere countries.) Jay Manifold remarks on this phenomenon as it relates to anti-Semitism:
An anti-Semitic backlash [resulting from the Mel Gibson film] is essentially inconceivable in the US, or indeed in the rest of the Anglosphere, where existing anti-Jewish sentiment is confined to Muslims and, for lack of a better term, incorrigibles who aren’t going to get any worse than they already are just because they watched a movie. Anglo-Jewish relations have remained consistently constructive for, by my count, 348 years, and explicitly so in the US for at least 213 years (19 kB *.pdf).
(I would add that many of those “incorrigibles,” both left and right, are also anti-Catholic bigots – not exactly Mel Gibson’s top demographic.)
In the same post, Jay illustrates that people of two faiths can come together without resolving any of its key doctrinal differences:
[E]vangelical Protestants have acquired the ability to closely observe a deeply traditionalist Catholic work and not see anything they don’t like. It’s inadvertent Christian unity. Now, what do we do with it?
Well, we’ve got Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and pagans linking to each other in the blogosphere…