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Double Standards Toward Islam & Christianity

By Peter Brown

I once had a boss who strictly followed corporate policies prohibiting name calling that involved race, gender or ethnicity, but never disciplined a worker who liked to rant about the "white boys."

My boss' view was that those who held a perceived position of power based on their birth did not need the same protections from harassment as did blacks, Hispanics or women.

I was reminded of that double standard by the debate over the Da Vinci Code, and how perceived blasphemy against Christianity doesn't seem to raise the ruckus that it does against Islam.

More specifically, compare the debate over the movie and the reactions of those it offends, with the Muslim reaction to what they saw as blasphemy against Islam several months ago.

Then, the publication of cartoons by Danish newspapers that poked fun at the Prophet Muhammad provoked officially encouraged riots across much of the Muslim world.

Complaints that this response was an affront to the notion of free speech were then shouted down by those who suggested the need for greater sensitivity to Muslim religious views.

Now that Hollywood is making millions of dollars on The Da Vinci Code, which challenges Christian dogma, some bishops (outside the United States) are talking about taking legal action, while others are suggesting a film boycott.

And we wonder why the West has difficulty understanding how the Muslim world ticks, and why it doesn't understand our views and values.

Although it might be politically incorrect to point out these differences in response by the two cultures, failing to do so would be the functional equivalent of sticking one's head in the sand. Nor is it parochial to acknowledge a preference for a society where verbal sparring, no matter how heated, is the norm rather than actual violence.

The cartoons that depicted the founder of Islam last fall led to riots throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and Indonesia, in which a number of people were killed. In Syria, protesters burned the embassy of Norway, where the cartoons did not appear -- hopefully not because they didn't know the difference between Scandinavian countries, but from rage that needed an outlet. And there has been a boycott of all Danish-made products in many parts of the Muslim world that reportedly is still hurting that nation's economy.

The violent reaction stemmed from the belief among many Muslims that depicting the Prophet Muhammad is forbidden. It didn't help that one of the cartoons portrayed Muhammad's turban as a bomb, implying that Islam's holy man was a terrorist.

One can only imagine what would happen if Hollywood made a movie that suggested the long-held beliefs of Muslims about Muhammad were a lie

Simply put, religious faith plays a much, much more visceral role in Muslim culture than in Western nations, which leads to more emotional and sometimes violent reactions. We should have known that already, but if there was any doubt, this comparison should drive that point home.

The issue is not why this difference exists, since that really doesn't matter. It would be both presumptuous and counterproductive to suggest that there is something that Western nations can do to make "them" more like us.

And, to be sure, despite the increase in political clout among conservative Christians in the United States, the West is becoming more secular, so the chances of us becoming more like them are even smaller.

The Da Vinci Code is probably even more an insult to Christian believers than the cartoons were to Muslims, because it challenges fundamental long-held doctrines about the divinity of Jesus and the Bible.

There is some irony that when the uproar over the cartoons surfaced, most U.S. newspapers and television stations declined to show the offending drawings to avoid offending the beliefs of the more than a billion Muslims around the globe.

Meanwhile, portions of the U.S. media are not just offering the movie, but encouraging through their coverage of it a discussion about the truthfulness of Christianity's basic tenets.

None of this is to imply that there is anything wrong with making and showing the movie. I'll probably watch it.

However, I'm happy I won't have to worry about Christians burning down the theater around me. And, it does make me think about my former boss and whether we need to think about double standards.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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