The Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran, made the front pages for weeks in February for ordering the execution of British author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie’s offense? In the pages of his most recent novel, The Satanic Verses, Rushdie mocked the Moslem faith.
Khomeini’s violent reaction was denounced by governments and attacked by writers and authors. As it turned out, many used the opportunity to demand complete freedom of expression.
There was another feature to the controversy. “Odd how the Ayatollah’s sins get to convict the Christians,” observed Ted Byfield, publisher and columnist of Alberta’s Western Report.
Editorials appearing in the Edmonton Journal and the Toronto Globe and Mail, and authors like Anthony Burgess claimed or suggested that Christians were equally intolerant.
Although no one heard a Christian leader call for the assassination of Martin Scorsese, producer of the film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Byfield noted that many seized the opportunity to condemn objections to blasphemy.
This bigotry is remarkable, but “utterly invisible to the practitioners” he observed.
The Ayatollah Khomeini was too good an opportunity to miss for journalists, broadcasters and Toronto School of Theology lecturer, Tom Harpur.
His syndicated column – appearing in such papers as Vancouver’s Province and the Toronto Star – bore the title: “Religious intolerance comes in many shades.” Among the extreme forms of intolerance he listed were the Vatican’s campaign to silence theologians; Israel’s attempts to define who is a Jew; and Christian objections to “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
Producer of the film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Byfield noted that many seized the opportunity to condemn objections to blasphemy.
He concluded, “Some extreme anti-abortionists have tried character assassination, devoting, on one occasion, a whole center spread in their newspaper to the task.