No middle ground

“A major form of blasphemy”

by Marcia Inhorn

As a cultural anthropologist and scholar of Egypt, . . . I cannot agree with Klausen’s conclusion that the violent outcry against the cartoons was simply the product of political manipulations. Having lived and traveled in about half of the 22 Middle Eastern Muslim countries over the past 25 years, I have never once seen the Prophet Muhammad or any other historically important religious personage depicted (with the exception of Ayatollah Khomeini in Shia-dominant Iran). It is clear from the book that Klausen has spent very little time in the Middle East or in other Muslim countries. If she had, she would know that portraying the Prophet Muhammad . . . is simply not done. Such portrayals violate a strongly held and religiously inspired cultural taboo.

Beyond the cultural taboo, portraying the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemy in the laws of many Muslim countries. For example, the penal code of Pakistan—a large, religiously mixed nation of both Sunni and Shia Muslims—defines blasphemy quite clearly. Portraying the Prophet Muhammad is considered a major form of blasphemy, and severe punishments (including death) are mandated. Such blasphemy laws are taken quite seriously in many other countries, both majority Muslim and non-Muslim.  

Marcia Inhorn is the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs and Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale.