Jonah Goldberg

"No One Murdered Because Of This Image."

That was a recent headline from The Onion, the often hilarious parody newspaper.

The image in question is really not appropriate to describe with any specificity in a family newspaper. It's quite simply disgusting. And, suffice it to say, it leaves nothing to the imagination.

Four of "the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity," according to The Onion, and yet "no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday."

"Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day."

There was one conspicuous no-show for the celestial orgy: the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The Onion's point should be obvious. Amidst all of the talk of religious tolerance and the hand-wringing over free speech in recent days, one salient fact is often lost or glossed over: What we face are not broad questions about the limits of free speech or the importance of religious tolerance, but rather a very specific question about the limits of Muslim tolerance and the unimportance of free speech to much of the Muslin world.

It's really quite amazing. In Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, Christians are being harassed, brutalized and even murdered, often with state support, or at least state indulgence. And let's not even talk about the warm reception Jews receive in much of the Muslim world.

And yet, it seems you can't turn on National Public Radio or open a newspaper or a highbrow magazine without finding some oh-so-thoughtful meditation on how anti-Islamic speech should be considered the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a movie theater.

It's an interesting comparison. First, the prohibition on yelling "fire" in a theater only applies to instances where there is no fire. A person who yells "fire" when there is, in fact, a fire is quite likely a hero. I'm not saying that the people ridiculing Muhammad -- be they the makers of the "Innocence of Muslims" trailer or the editors of a French magazine -- have truth on their side. But blasphemy is not a question of scientific fact, merely of opinion. And in America we give a very wide legal berth to the airing of such opinions. Loudly declaring "It is my opinion there is a fire in here" is not analogous to declaring "It is my opinion that Muhammad was a blankety-blank."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jonah Goldberg's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.