The Satanic Verses
Muslims the world over took umbrage at the book, and demanded that the books be withdrawn from shelves. It was banned in India within a month; other countries followed suit. Bookstores in the United States and United Kingdom received thousands of threats. In the United Kingdom, bookstores and department stores that carried the book were bombed. In the USA, the office of a community newspaper that defended the right to read the book was destroyed. And to top all of this, that excuse for a human being, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Rushdie or anyone associated with the book including publishers, editors and translators. Iranian officials offered a bounty to anyone who killed Rushdie.
"We are from Allah and to Allah we shall return." (Qoranic verse). I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, a text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Koran, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay, so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth. And whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr, Allah Willing. Meanwhile if someone has access to the author of the book but is incapable of carrying out the execution, he should inform the people so that [Rushdie] is punished for his actions. Rouhollah al-Mousavi al-Khomeini."
Many people were attacked and killed directly as a result of this fatwa. Several more were killed in riots that stemmed from this mindless decree. Even today, over 23 years after the publication of the book, Rushdie cannot live in peace. He was invited to address a literary festival in Jaipur, India on the 20th of January, but Muslim leaders objected and threatened violence if he were allowed to come to India. Mullahs and maulvis offered substantial amounts of money to anyone who would physically harm him. Political leaders said that they would not allow Rushdie enter the city. Sadly, in a cowardly move that threatens the very foundation of the Indian right to free expression, the Indian government caved to the demands of the mob and persuaded the organizers to take Rushdie's name off the guest list. It's sad to see India sliding down the slope of demented illiberalism into the abyss of mental slavery that is the hallmark of Muslim nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Jyllands-Posten Mohammad Cartoons
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of 12 cartoons that depicted Mohammed, none of which could even be considered offensive. This was in response to an article about self-censorship in another Danish newspaper, Politiken. As expected, Muslims in Denmark were infuriated and demanded that the editors apologize. Two imams created a dossier containing the 12 cartoons as well as three additional cartoons that had nothing to do with Denmark. The three additional cartoons which could be considered offensive, were added and captioned by the imams in order to further rouse Muslims everywhere. They traveled across the Middle East to gather support for their cause.
And again, as expected, there were protests and riots. And where there were protests and riots, destruction of property, injuries and deaths weren't far behind. Muslim countries called for a boycott of Danish goods. Death threats were issued against the cartoonists, editors and publisher of Jyllands-Posten.
The Double Standard
These are not the only two issues that have incensed Muslims. Dutch director, Theo van Gogh was murdered for his work on the film, Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in Islam. Taslima Nasreen suffered physical attacks after the publication of her novel, Lajja, and a bounty was offered for her death. Even a mild criticism or debate on Islam has caused severe outrage. Yet, Muslim countries heap scorn on other religions. They desecrate and insult religious beliefs that differ from their own.
In Saudi Arabia, people of other faiths cannot worship in the open. Any religious symbols are censored and possession of non-Muslim religious artifacts are illegal. Imagine the US or India deciding that Muslim religious artifacts including, but not limited to, the Quran are illegal. Imagine these countries denying Muslims the right to pray or talk openly about their faith. The hue and cry that such a move would raise would be staggering. Yet, numerous Muslim countries deny the same rights to people of other faiths.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims in Muslim majority countries is illegal, punishable by prison, sometimes even death. Yet, Muslims are free to proselytize and coerce non-Muslims into converting to Islam. And they demand the right to do the same in countries where they are in the minority too. Numerous people were forcefully converted to Islam in countries like India during periods of Muslim rule. Christians and Hindus are terrorized and subjugated in Islamic countries. But, speak a word against Islam or a Muslim in a Western country and lo!, it is profiling and unfair treatment. After 9/11 many Muslims complained about how hard it was for them to lead a normal life in the US. But just imagine what would happen if a Christian terrorist group flew a plane into the residence of the Ayatollah of Iran. Every Christian in Iran would have been rounded up and killed.
Books that are critical of Islam are routinely burned, their authors threatened and bookstores bombed. But somehow Muslims have the right to criticize other religions. There are numerous Islamic texts and scholarly articles that deride other religious beliefs. Take idol worship for instance. Muslims waste no opportunity in condemning the practice that is a part of Hinduism and other pagan traditions. But criticize a word in Quran and they are up in arms.
What makes Islam so above criticism? It's time this double standard was stopped. If Muslims can deride and scorn other faiths, they should expect the same treatment from other religions and atheists. Moreover, it's time they learnt to accept that freedom of expression is not only for them and their beliefs. If they want to live in progressive liberal countries they have to accept that every one has the right to free speech and that includes criticism of their faith. If they want to live in peace in the Western world (which they do, more often than not), they have to open up their countries to all other points of view as well. Till they do, Muslims have no right to cry foul over imagined threats to their culture.
"The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where one must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [...]"
-- Flemming Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten