Rightly, our response is always to reject vigilante, criminal violence of all kinds — regardless of how affronted they feel. There are, at the same time, other taboos with regards to Islam in our societies in the West – with dramatically fewer consequences, but still concerning.
On Saturday May 16, some of those fault lines showed themselves again: at a “National Security Action Summit,” Republican presidential hopefuls and others raised the fears of “civilizational jihad,” complaining about how “Christians can’t come into this country but Muslims can.” That wasn’t about radical Islamists like ISIS or al Qaeda-style ideology: but about Muslims en masse, and Islam as a religion.
I recently ran afoul of that same sentiment, in a highly unexpected way. CNN recently published a satirical piece I wrote about the relationship between Star Wars and Islam, and whether there was more of a relationship between the two than Islam and ISIS. It was clearly a sardonic offering, just from the bio that preceded the piece (unless the description of me as a Jedi knight is to be taken seriously), let alone the rest of the piece. Tens of thousands of hits, and a translation for the Spanish version of CNN later, there was a plethora of reactions at this ironic piece looking at how easy — and incorrect — it was to ascribe to Islam and Muslims the extremism of a few.
Much of that reaction was positive, with many sending messages privately and publicly about the humorous, while not mocking, engagement with a serious and delicate subject. But it was the negative responses that were particularly instructive. Unsurprisingly, some of those were ISIS supporters, who are not exactly known for appreciation of humor.
But contrary to what one might expect, the most vitriolic opposition wasn’t from radical Islamists who couldn’t take a joke. Islam is discussed in media, academia, and public life in a variety of ways, usually in relation to the “How Islamic is extremism” question.