My intrepid blog-ancestor has an essay up on the satirical mock-holiday “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”. The crux of his/her argument is in this paragraph:
This is not an argument over the right to be “provocative” or “offensive”; rather, is it something much more significant — an argument over who gets to determine what counts as provocative or offensive in the first place. The Western world dragged itself out of the church-dominated Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment in part over this precise issue: The freedom to engage in speech and actions which formerly had been classified as the crime known as “blasphemy.” It seems such a trivial and quaint issue in retrospect, and hardly worthy of note from our hyper-secularized 21st-century perspective, but tell that to the millions of people who for centuries lived under the yoke of governments which used accusations of blasphemy and other religious misbehaviors as a primary tool of tyranny and oppression. The modern world dawned with the American and French Revolutions and the emergence of the explicitly secular state — the Americans rejecting the Church of England as Britain’s legally enforced national religion, and the French shrugging off centuries of acquiescence to domination by the Catholic Church in civil affairs. In both cases, new governmental paradigms were established in which there was an inviolable separation of church and state, which in practice meant no civil laws enforcing religious doctrines and (most importantly for our discussion) no laws against blasphemy.
In 19th-Century France and Belgium, paleoconservative Catholic clericalists known as “ultramontans” (from “ultra montes”/”beyond the mountains”, i.e., Rome) and the emerging [classical-]liberal bourgeoisie were locked in an existential struggle for the soul of their societies. A similar struggle (mixed in there with nationalist elements pitted against the Papal State) existed in Italy during the risorgimento. Contemporary anti-clerical propaganda was as offensive as anything one can see on Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Of course there were protests, and of course the clericalists retaliated in kind (with propaganda depicting anticlericals as devil-worshippers etc.) — but few anticlericals seriously feared for their lives. Of course, nothing would have been further from the truth a few hundred years before. But who (outside perhaps Spain itself) still expected the Spanish Inquisition?
Everybody Expects the Islamic Inquistion
Well, the Spanish Inquisition may be a distant memory now relegated to Monty Python skits, but the self-appointed Islamic Inquisition is threatening to take its place. Remember that the Spanish Inquisition (and the much larger papal inquisition which preceded it) existed for the purpose of enforcing religious dictates on the general populace, including and especially religious crimes such as heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. Punishment for these deeds could be severe and often as not included torture or execution. This is exactly what the Islamic fundamentalists want to impose on us in the 21st century: Obedience to religious dictates, enforced where necessary by violence.
Islamic extremists still seem to think that banning Facebook or threatening to kill the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day organizers will somehow make the problem of blasphemy go away. They don’t yet understand that we in the West have spent the last 600 years not merely earning the right to be blasphemous, but more importantly creating a society and a worldview in which there is no such thing as blasphemy, because all forms of speech are permitted and religious bullies no longer get to determine what is forbidden.