Does the Koran enjoy a protected status in the West that other holy books, such as the Bible, do not? Consider a pair of news items that emerged from Great Britain over the summer:

  • A publicly funded art exhibition in Glasgow, Scotland, invited visitors to deface a copy of the Bible, stating: "If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it." According to the Times, people filled the book with "abuse and obscenity." The show also was reported to include "a video of a woman ripping pages from the Bible and stuffing them into her bra, knickers, and mouth."
  • In an interview that ran on August 23, author Sebastian Faulks described the Koran as "a depressing book" with "no ethical dimension" and "no new plan for life," just "the rantings of a schizophrenic." But one day later Faulks was in full retreat, offering saccharine apologies and assurances that he believes Islam's ethics to "have become the equal of other religions." Furthermore, he explained, "To me the idea that anyone could have achieved what the Prophet achieved in military and political — let alone religious — terms while suffering from an acute illness of any kind seems completely absurd."

Free people must retain the right to critique all holy books and even to disrespect them in the crudest of ways — though taxpayers should never be forced into bankrolling such acts. However, one religious text appears to benefit from special protections in the public square.

It is hard to imagine that a gallery in the über-multicultural UK would use government funds to encourage defilement of the Koran, a point that Catholic officials made explicitly. First, we have the PC deference to and even promotion of Islam that are common on both sides of the Atlantic. Second, the fear factor comes into play. Last year IW noted that Islamist violence has left many artists reluctant to tackle Islam. Moreover, in 2009 separate allegations of intentionally damaged Korans fueled riots in Greece and murders in Pakistan. Bibles and Christianity are safer targets. Indeed, Christians responded to the Glasgow show with condemnations and online petitions.

America has witnessed its own double standards with regard to the Koran and the Bible. For example, an ex-student at New York's Pace University was charged with hate crimes in 2007 for depositing library copies of the Koran in campus toilets, but "a search of Lexis/Nexis did not disclose any hate crime prosecutions for destroying a Bible." As the Middle East Forum's Win Myers explained, "Anything goes — unless the keepers of Islam are offended."

In addition, while one can only speculate about Sebastian Faulks' thought processes, the speedy and groveling retraction of his comments is suggestive of the self-censorship and second-guessing that mute criticism of Islamic scripture but rarely apply to its Christian counterpart.

As a previous IW article warns, "There can be no true freedom in a climate of fear." And without freedom to scrutinize the book that jihadists themselves cite as inspiration, the West has little chance of understanding, let alone combating, radical Islam.