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Necessary tolerance of religious vilification

By Peter Hodge - posted Wednesday, 9 April 2008

“Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in America,” says the Muslim. “And you people should FEAR US!”

The stereotypical Arab with a great bushy beard, dressed in flowing white robes, is addressing an urbane looking Christian man. “We expect a Muslim flag to fly over the White House by 2010,” asserts the Muslim.

The Christian patiently assumes the role of teacher, explaining to the Muslim that Allah “was just one of the 360 idols in the Kabah in Mecca”.


Surprisingly, the Muslim accepts the indisputable logic that his religion is a sham. “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” pleads the sobbing ex-Muslim, now being comforted by the compassionate Christian.

I found the comic Allah Had No Son abandoned on a seat near a busy shopping strip in Coburg - a Melbourne suburb that has one of the city's largest Muslim populations.

The depiction of Mohammed in one panel, bowing low and engulfed in flames, is eerily reminiscent of the Danish cartoons that sparked a ruckus in 2006.

Putting this aside for a moment, the booklet is quite hilarious. Particularly the footnotes attached to the numerous claims, as if in some pseudo-academic sense, it makes them all true.

Then, there's a breathtaking switch from the application of reason to attack the foundations of Islam, to pure dogma, as the Christian imposes his faith on the chastened Muslim.

Material of this nature cuts to the heart of what constitutes “religious vilification” and, conversely, “freedom of religious expression” in public forums. In a pluralistic society, religious groupings cannot have total freedom from vilification (perceived or not) and an unfettered right to publicly assert the absolutist consequences of their faith.


Most Western societies have settled on a balance between these two extremes, otherwise known as “tolerance”. The position of the fulcrum varies across time, and from country to country. Shifts may occur in response to pressure groups lobbying for greater freedom of expression and less “political correctness”. A wave of anti-Semitic attacks, for example, could lead to a push in the opposite direction.

Since 9-11, the morale of beleaguered and stereotyped Muslim communities across the Western world has been in freefall. Material such as the Allah Has No Son comic certainly does not contribute to social harmony. The question of whether or not it constitutes religious vilification is less clear.

That's not always the case. In 2004 the Islamic Council of Victoria won the first ruling based on Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001.

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First published in Eureka Street on April 3, 2008.

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About the Author

Peter Hodge works as a teacher and freelance journalist.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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