Here’s the scene — on the fifth anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11th, 2001, George “Brother Jed” Smock, a Christian preacher, stood holding a Bible in one hand and a Koran in the other at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. He was denouncing Islam as violent and calling Allah a false god. According to the Minnesota Daily newspaper, an unidentified Muslim woman took offense at his words and tried to take the Koran from him. When he refused, she hit and kicked him. She succeeded in breaking his glasses, and she tried to choke him with his own tie.
When the University police arrived, they arrested the woman for assault and battery. Yeah, right. Maybe in another parallel universe, but not here. There is no report of the Muslim woman being arrested for her physical abuse of the street preacher. But Smock was warned (read: threatened) that if he didn’t stop preaching, he could be arrested for disorderly conduct.
I can feel badly for the Muslim. I’m sure she wasn’t used to the fact that people have freedom of speech in the United States, and they can use it to attack other religions. Smock did exactly that when he was bad-mouthing Islam. Trey Parker and Matt Stone routinely bash and mock religions in their television cartoon, South Park. And artists like Madonna and Andres Serrano create Christian-themed art and media that are seen as objectionable, even blasphemous, to many Christians. Either Christians are too wimpy to stand up for their beliefs, or they are mature enough that they don’t need to lash out at their detractors like a five-year-old in a snit. I believe it is the latter.
In Muslim nations, insulting Islam, attempting to convert someone away from Islam, or choosing to convert to another faith are punishable acts. So I can understand why the woman tried to physically restrain Smock from saying what he did. But this is the United States, and we still have our First Amendment rights, even if that Amendment is under assault. You can tell that this isn’t a common understanding in Islam. Consider Batool Al-Alawi, a Kuwaiti student who confronted Smock and another preacher at Indiana State University at Terre Haute. According to the Indiana Statesman, Al-Alawi charged the steps where Smock was preaching and told him, “You have no right.” Well, sorry, Ms. Al-Alawi, but he does have the right, no matter how much you might dislike it.
I’ve noticed recently that not everyone is treated the same way when religion and freedom of speech come together. Every six months, the followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather for a conference in Salt Lake City to receive teachings from their leaders. This gathering also attracts many people who object to the LDS Church and its teachings, and some of their demonstrations and actions can be deeply insulting to church members. One notorious street preacher paraded before the long lines of faithful Mormons waiting to enter the Conference Center, dragging Mormon scriptures along the ground and using Mormon religious vestments to mime wiping his rear end. To make this relevant to other religions, imagine someone using a Jewish prayer shawl or a Catholic Bishop’s stole in like manner. Most LDS members, knowing that they were being taunted, ignored the antics of these street preachers, but one person lost his temper and tried to take the religious garment from the preacher. The police promptly arrested the Mormon and allowed the preacher to continue doing his thing. Strangely, this is the polar opposite of what happened to Smock and his fellow preachers, who were forced off campus by police at both ISU and the University of Minnesota.
Why the difference between Mormons and Muslims? Muslims are treated differently because they are now part of a protected minority here in the States. You can’t treat them as Christians are treated, because the Council for American Islamic Relations would scream “hate crime” if you did.
And I can’t help but think there is another reason why Christians are punished, but Muslims are treated with kid gloves. Christians, as a rule, don’t riot in the streets and issue fatwas calling for people’s deaths. That’s reserved for the followers of Islam, who collectively display the maturity of a five-year-old in a snit.
UPDATE (9/22/2006 1:48:29 PM): This article has been corrected from its original format; there were two separate incidents involving “Brother Jed” Smock, which were accidentally compressed into one in the original article. –TPK