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Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

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Can We Just Agree Not to Rip Apart One Another's Teddy Bears?

Posted: 09/24/2012 5:08 pm

My friend Miriam, who just happens to be both a Yogini and a relatively non-observant Jew, called me recently in something of a righteously indignant snit. Because she found me in a similar snit, we proceeded to discuss the ongoing attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East. We lamented the loss of life, the injuries, the senselessness of it all. We're committed Yoginis -- we've taken vows of compassion and tolerance -- but we both could not get over the fact that someone would, once again, be taking public pot shots at Islam's most revered figure.

"Why can't people just get it through their heads that casting aspersions on the Prophet Muhammed [blessings be upon him, my own addition here], or on Jesus Christ, or on Abraham, Buddha, Krishna, etc., etc. [blessings be upon all of them, as well] is the moral equivalent of yelling 'fire!' in a crowded theater?" asked Miriam, sputtering.

I couldn't agree more, I told her.

"OK, I'm all for free speech -- totally free speech -- by law-abiding American citizens, in America," she went on, "but, as I understand it, the director -- and I use the term loosely, as this clown's no auteur -- is a convicted felon who should not be going around sheltering under our free-speech umbrella while casting aspersions on an entire religious group's particular sacred cow." (I'm not quoting Miriam precisely, but she said words to this effect, and the nationality/identity of the director is still up for grabs, though authorities have identified him as 55-year-old Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, a Coptic Christian living in California who has been convicted of federal bank fraud charges.)

I concurred and added, "When it comes to religion, a great many of us are like 3-year-olds clutching teddy bears, and one does not march up to a toddler, snatch away his transitional object, and then dismember it before his very eyes, not unless one is prepared for the consequences. Also, there's a very thin line between free speech and hate speech," I went on, "and dissing the Prophet is pretty much understood by all sentient beings these days to be the equivalent of yelling 'fire!' in the universal theater." I'm not saying all "observant" Jews, Muslims, Christians (etc., etc., world without end) are 3-year-olds, but many of us do have about that much maturity under our belts.

In related news, my husband shelled out big bucks to take me to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway, here in New York. The audience was diverse. I even sat next to two frothing-at-the-mouth Republicans and managed not to go for their jugulars, despite the fact that both (men, of course) watched the Bears game on their iPhones throughout the musical. In fact, there were many Mormons in the audience, and at least one Mormon, or former Mormon, in the cast. None of them threw brickbats at the stage, though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was repeatedly and thoroughly and scatalogically dissed, which may mean we've come a little further toward greater tolerance for free, unfettered mockery of particular religious beliefs since Martin Scorsese adapted Nikos Kazantzakis' 1953 novel The Last Temptation of Christ for the screen in 1988. (Long, long after Kazantzakis' book was published, and even long after the author's death, his gravesite on Crete was regularly defaced with excrement, and following the release of Scorsese's film, all hell broke loose amongst observant Christians the world over.)

No ambassadors or consular staff were murdered back then, but Muslims take the defamation of their Prophet very, very seriously, as all of us should know by now (Salman Rushdie perhaps best of all). I am not in any way condoning violence in response to the mockery of Muhammed, Jesus, Abraham, Buddha, Krishna, etc., etc. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words, no matter how offensive, are just best ignored. And I do think Muslims should get a grip and just turn the other cheek when the odd Coptic Christian (and God knows, Muslims have persecuted this group mercilessly throughout history) releases a low-budget howler purportedly about the Prophet. But, still, run over any sacred cow and you just know, given Homo sapiens' general shortcomings, someone is going to get hurt.

That in the 21st century someone gets killed for speaking freely, if idiotically, is somewhat beyond belief. Can't we all just get along? Can't we all reach and pass our fourth birthdays, at least, realize our teddy bears are immune to insult and injury, and coexist?

"I guess not," Miriam and I concurred. "I guess not."

For summaries of the brouhaha that followed the publication of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ and Martin Scorcese's adaptation of it, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Temptation_of_Christ, http://www.filmsite.org/controversialfilms15.html, and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/flashpoints/theater/lasttemptation.html.

 
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