In late September I went along to what was described as an “anti-blasphemy” rally in the middle of Toronto. It was in response to the notorious “Innocence of Muslims” movie trailer, which was shown on YouTube but watched by very few of the Muslim fanatics who murdered people, destroyed property, and generally fell into paroxysms of theocratic angst as a result. The demonstration took place opposite the US Consulate, and most of the manic yells consisted of condemnations of the United States and Israel, with one genius holding a large poster announcing, “Islam Condones Racism.” Actually it does, and Islamic societies are often grotesquely racist, but he had intended to say “Islam Condemns Racism.” I considered correcting him, but it was much more fun not to, and he’d probably have only said that language was part of a Zionist or Christian conspiracy.
As I was there with a film crew and covering it for my television show, there was a certain, if limited, safety. Nevertheless, I was barged, abused, and threatened. I spoke to dozens of the perhaps 2,000 people who were there. They called for laws protecting Islam from offense, wanted to arrest people who insulted Muslims, and screamed for the death penalty for the man who made the film. They denied that there was such a thing as a blasphemy law in Pakistan, claimed that no Muslim had ever said anything ill about a Christian or persecuted Christians, and generally displayed an invincible ignorance and malice. The brother of Omar Khadr was there. Khadr is the terrorist who killed an American medic in Afghanistan, and was then imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. As he was born in Canada, Islamic and leftist activists were demanding he be brought back. His brother told me that he was proud of his sibling, who had done nothing wrong, and that he was a good Muslim. There were endless cries of Islamic triumphalism, anti-Semitism, and calls for violence.
Oddly enough, little of this was reported in the mainstream media in Canada, when there is ample evidence on film of what happened. But, as we’ve been told repeatedly for so long—in Canada as well as in the United States and Western Europe—all religions are the same and it is fundamentalism that is the problem. Thing is, I’ve never been threatened with death by a Christian fundamentalist, never seen hundreds of people slaughtered by them, never really met more than a handful in my entire life. There is a difference between handling snakes and handling rocket-launchers.
So let us consider a tale of two religions. On the one hand, Catholicism: regularly abused and slandered both in the Western world and the Islamic heartland. On the other, Islam: protected by violent and strident blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority states, and by a blanket of fear, political correctness, and the racism of lowered expectations in the West. As I’ve said, we know what happened when one of those incredibly rare events occurred, and a film offensive to followers of Mohammad appeared on YouTube. The same thing occurred when a group of cartoons depicting Mohammad were printed in a Danish newspaper, or when Pope Benedict XVI repeated in Germany an entirely moderate and sensible comment about Islam made by an early medieval leader.
Yet at exactly the same time as Muslims were killing Americans in Libya, attacking people in Europe and Egypt, and salivating in Canada, the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York opened its exhibition of “Piss Christ,” depicting a crucifix with the dying Jesus submerged in a jar of the artist’s urine. The creator of this trash, Andres Serrano, said that it was supposed to “question the whole notion of what is acceptable and unacceptable.” Oh please! You know this is acceptable, because it is accepted, just as it was a generation ago when you first displayed it. You’ll win even more awards this time, get lots of applause for being so brave toward those nasty Christians, and that will be the end of it. Just as when we had displays of the Virgin Mary covered in dung, and the Pope also in urine—quite a bodily waste fetish among these fellows!
The point is not so much the bad, sad, pathetic art, but the reaction to it from those it directly offends. The film about Mohammad is appallingly made, but does contain some truth about the man’s life. The Christ-in-urine display is also appallingly bad, and says nothing of interest or authenticity about the life of Christ. The Muslim response to the former is extreme and mindless violence and demands for blasphemy laws; the Christian response to the latter is a press release and general indifference. Perhaps we should do more to show our displeasure, but no serious Catholic would advocate anything resembling the Islamic example.
So, are all religions the same? Only to the extent that all political ideas are the same, and all people the same. Fascism, for example, is not democracy, and a saint is not a mass murderer. They are as different as are religions. Frankly, we all know this—it’s just that some are too terrified to say it in public. The Church has always taught that thought, consideration, and free will are intrinsic to Catholicism, and that faith can never be and must never be removed from intellect. Yes of course some Catholics, and even some Catholic leaders, have sometimes got this wrong, but we judge an idea or a theology by its norm and teaching and not by its exceptions and heresy.
In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, evangelical Christians have just been told that if they want to continue to meet in otherwise empty public schools on Sunday mornings, they will face an 800 percent rent increase. They can’t afford it. Muslims, however, are allowed, free of charge, to take over an entire cafeteria on a Friday afternoon in one of those schools and conduct prayer services, where girls who are menstruating are told to sit at the back of the room. Yes, a tale of two religions. And a tale of two attitudes, two reactions, two treatments, two faces.
The West may hate Catholicism and be too intimidated or seduced to stand firm against Islamic extremism, but one day it will discover just how different those religions are, and feel the consequences in a manner it cannot even imagine.