In the wake of mass rioting and death in Afghanistan and other Islamic nations ignited by a fallacious Newsweek story, furious finger-pointing has ensued. The White House, the departments of State and Defense, and most conservative radio talk show hosts are blaming Newsweek for carelessness and irresponsibility. Newsweek, while apologizing for the error, protests that the story was vetted by a Defense Department official who objected to other aspects of the piece but remained silent on the Koran flushing part. Others are suggesting that the Bush administration prepared the ground for this rumor by engaging in routine degradation of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Absent from this blame exchange is any recognition that many Muslims can be incited to violence by anything or nothing. It's as if they live poised for outrage. In 2002, the Miss World Pageant had to high-tail it out of Nigeria after rioting took more than 200 lives. Angry Muslims rampaged through the streets after a young fashion writer penned an article wondering how Muhammad would have reacted to the pageant, and suggesting that the Prophet (who had 14 wives) might have chosen a wife from among the assembled beauties. The offices of the newspaper were firebombed. A few weeks later, after many deaths, the Islamists remained unsatisfied. The deputy governor of a northern Nigerian province issued a "fatwa" declaring it the duty of religious Muslims to track down the 21-year-old author of the story and kill her.
Recall that Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death while bicycling to work in Amsterdam last year. His offense? Producing a movie that exposed Muslim mistreatment of women.
Salman Rushdie remains a marked man for writing a book Muslims detest. Norwegian/Swedish Pentecostal preacher Runar Sogaard received death threats last month -- not anonymous ones, but direct threats from an organized Islamic group, for using highly insulting language about Muhammad. Sogaard was impolite to be sure. But since when is the proper punishment for impertinence death? Isioma Daniel, the Nigerian journalist whose musings sparked the Nigerian riot, remains under 24-hour-a-day guard.