Sunday, April 03, 2011

Why "The Book of Mormon" is a Broadway Hit, But No One is Staging "The Koran."

The creators of South Park have a Broadway hit on their hands. "The Book of Mormon" is sold out for weeks. Reviews of the musical comedy appear in the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, nowhere in either publication did the reviewer question in the slightest respect the propriety of a musical comedy based on the ridicule of an entire religion. It's as if the reviewers concluded that the idea of skewering Mormon beliefs is so far within the boundaries of appropriate discourse that it's not even controversial.

Meanwhile, in Florida, an obscure Protestant minister of a tiny church "put the Koran on trial" for rape and murder, found it guilty, sentenced it to burning and carried out the sentence. A month later, clerics in Afghanistan, probably in the service of the Taliban insurgency there, used the Koran burning incident to whip up mosque worshipers into a frenzy that erupted in deadly riots. The rioting over the next three days took some 18 lives, including 7 UN guards and workers murdered in an attack on the UN office in the city where the rioting began.

Now I am not going to give a pass to the Florida pastor whose Koran burning set off the incident. It was entirely forseeable that the Koran buring would lead to the loss of innocent lives, and one must take moral responsibility for the foreseeable results of one's acts.

However, at the same time, his moral culpability by no means rises to the level of the Moslem clerics who deliberately provoked the riots and to the murderers themselves. (To his credit, President Obama publicly expressed the same opinion.) Such violence would be improper even if directed at a person who actually burned a Koran, and of course the victims of the mobs in Afghanistan had nothing to do with the burning of a Koran in Florida.

While many of us might have foreseen that such violence would result from the burning of a Koran, and would therefore fault the Florida pastor for his actions, we would never be concerned about riots and murders possibly resulting from Mormon anger over "The Book of Mormon." There is no risk that Mormons will attack non-Mormons out of fury over the Broadway musical. Indeed, here is the official statement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on "The Book of Mormon" musical:
The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.

Not only need the creators of "The Book of Mormon" not fear Mormon retaliation, but although the musical could justifiably be attacked as racist (in its portrayal of Ugandans), Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably are not looking over their shoulder for vengeful African Americans either.

So in view of this atmosphere of tolerance, may we look forward to the Broadway opening of "The Koran," a musical comedy that applies the same approach to Islamic scripture? Not bloody likely. Indeed, the only time that Parker and Stone have been threatened with death by a religious group was when a radical Muslim group was angered by a South Park episode depicting the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

Which brings me to my main point. While pundits are piling on the Florida pastor, I would hope they display a modicum of cultural loyalty and courage and issue a challenge to the real villains in this story--radical Islamist clerics who react with murderous fury to what they deem to be insults to Islam, but who themselves are unwilling to extend respect to other religions and beliefs. They say that Jews are monkeys, Christians are "Crusaders," and call for the death of both.

It often seems that there are no values or sacred cows left in American--certainly musicals such as "The Book of Mormon" and shows such as "South Park" show that everything and everyone is open to ridicule. The only enduring values in modern Western civilization appear to be tolerance and diversity. If so, let's at least not patronize Islam by giving its advocates a pass on those values. The price for full Islamic participation in Western society must be respect for other religions and beliefs, and tolerance of critics of Islamic belief. We must always defend the free speech rights of critics of Islam. And those Islamists, both in Western countries and worldwide, who reject Western values should be called to task for their hate and bigotry.

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