Can Islam Decipher Lessons From ‘Code’ Controversy?


I'm going out on a limb and predicting that when the blockbuster movie "The Da Vinci Code" opens this week, Christians outraged by what they consider the film's blasphemy will not riot in the streets, fire-bomb theaters or issue fatwahs on actor Tom Hanks, director Ron Howard or author Dan Brown.

Many Christians may feel the book and film blaspheme their faith, but there won't be anything like the Muslim reaction a few months ago to a dozen Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

That may be the most important lesson of the film based on Dan Brown's novel, which has been on The New York Times best-seller list for the past 162 weeks and sold some 50 million copies.

Catholic leaders have condemned it as blasphemy, calumny, confusing and "a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith." Some have called for boycotts, injunctions, lawsuits and "do[ing] something practical" to stop it. But no violence.

By contrast, the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed – no less a religious figure than Jesus – was ferocious and violent.

Few in the Muslim world seemed to appreciate the irony in responding to portrayals of Mohammed as a suicide bomber by fire-bombing embassies, and going on rampages of killing, burning and issuing death threats against enemies real and imagined.

It was in Mohammed's name that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Islamist groups have dispatched suicide bombers to murder and maim innocent civilians – particularly Jews – and then glorified them as martyrs and defenders of the faith for having carried out their slaughter.

Christianity once did similar things – remember the Crusades, the Inquisition? – but abandoned mass bloodletting in the name of religious purity centuries ago.

Muslim riots in Europe and elsewhere were not spontaneous; they were deliberately ignited by a Danish Muslim group calling itself the European Committee for Honoring the Prophet. It was encouraged by the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Danish and other Western embassies were attacked or fire-bombed in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Indonesia, Iran and elsewhere, usually with encouragement from state-run media and the government. Bounties were put on the heads of cartoonists and editors.

Reaction to "The Da Vinci Code" in the Christian world ranges from outrage to opportunism. While the Cardinals may be lamenting the film, others see it as an opening for evangelism, drawing people to their churches to hear about "the real Jesus."

Brown's novel has spawned some four dozen other books of fiction and nonfiction, from keys to the code to rebuttals of his thesis, plus countless TV programs, radio talk shows and Internet blogs.

In short, the controversy spells boffo at the box office.

For those just emerging from a long coma, Brown's novel contends Jesus is not God, but a mortal who married Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter whose descendants, despite efforts by the church to kill them off to conceal their ancestry, live in present-day Europe.

Jewish leaders are uncharacteristically – and wisely – silent as they watch the debate from the sidelines.

It's hard to understand Muslim complaints about not getting the respect they demand when their own media, mosques and leaders are boiling over with hatred and intolerance for Crusaders, Zionists and other infidels – routinely referred to as dogs, monkeys, sons of apes and pigs – usually with calls for Allah to "destroy Zionists and Americans."

That's not some crazy Islamic version of Pat Robertson, but the top clerics in the most important mosques, broadcast on state radio and television.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush made an admirable effort to portray the Islamists responsible as a fringe of what he called a peaceful religion. Unfortunately, he got little help from Muslim countries, where Osama bin Laden is revered, and money still flows to Al Qaeda and other terror groups.

Free speech and dissent are not tolerated in most Islamic countries, and violence is a widely accepted form of objection.

"The Da Vinci Code" has a message for Muslims, and it's not in code: Instead of responding to insults as an excuse for violent rampages, use them as opportunities to reach out to people around the globe to educate them about Islam and build a reputation for tolerance. It's the first step on the road to respect.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.



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