If Kafka met Monty Python, and George Orwell edited their collaboration, they might have come up with something like the following real-life exchange.
It took place in an Australian court where two Christian pastors were found guilty of "religious vilification" of Muslims by lecturing to their flock on Islam -- a set-up that right away projects grimly satirical possibilities. At one point during the trial, defendant Daniel Scot began to read Quranic verses in his own defense. The Pakistani-born pastor hoped to prove to the judge that his discussion on the inferior status of women under Islam, for example, had a specific textual basis in the Quran.
As he began to read, a lawyer for the Islamic Council of Victoria, the plaintiff in the case, objected. Reading these verses aloud, she said, would in itself be vilification. Scot, ultimately convicted, put it best: "How can it be vilifying to Muslims when I am just reading from the Quran?"
Like a frustrating dream, the Australian experience echoes a depressingly similar situation in this country. Not in a court, not at a church-sponsored seminar, but in journalism. In the marketplace, literally, of ideas. I'm talking about an online bookstore run under the imprimatur of National Review magazine. There, "The Life and Religion of Mohammed" (Roman Catholic Books, 2005) by J.L. Menezes, a Roman Catholic priest, used to be for sale. So did "The Sword of the Prophet," (Regina Orthodox Press, 2002) by Serge Trifkovic.
Suddenly, last week, they weren't. It seems that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) decided National Review shouldn't sell these books. The magazine could have told the, shall we say, controversial Muslim lobby group -- three of whose former associates have been indicted on terrorism-related charges, and whose executive director, Nihad Awad, has publicly declared his support for Hamas -- to run along and boycott books somewhere else. Instead, National Review whipped those tomes off their e-shelves practically before CAIR could get its "action alert" online. Just a little pressure -- including a CAIR letter about the books to Boeing Corp., a big National Review advertiser -- did the dirty trick. (CAIR promised to copy its letter to ambassadors of Muslim nations that buy Boeing planes.)
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