Though myself critical of the Newsweek reporting about the Koran in the toilet, it is important to keep in perspective who is to blame for the rioting that caused sixteen deaths in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The responsibility lies squarely and uniquely on the radical Islamic movement, not on American reporters or even American soldiers. As many others have pointed out, there are plenty of legitimate responses to blasphemy, but murderous rampage is not one of them.
This incident brings to mind the even larger episode in 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced novelist Salman Rushdie to death for his novel, The Satanic Verses, leading to the death of twenty people. I devoted a chapter of my book to the question "Blame Rushdie for the Furor?" In it, I looked at two main topics: Rushdie's own intentions to provoke vs. the prior history of blasphemous writings about Islam, and reached this conclusion:
despite the evident sacrilegious content of … others' writing, none of their works attracted Khomeini's ire. Rather, they continued quietly to be sold and read. This contrast with The Satanic Verses points to the absence of a predictable connection between the writing of sacrilege and retribution by Muslim authorities. These examples confirm the experience of all those who live with censorship; there is no way to guess in advance when the pot will be stirred. Some Muslims have done more than Rushdie and been punished less; others have done less and been punished more. According to strictly logical criteria, the demonstrators and Khomeini could have picked on any number of other books, or ignored Rushdie's. So, while it is true that Rushdie knew what he was doing, he could not have predicted what the Muslim response would be, for ultimately it was capricious.
Just as Rushdie cannot be held responsible for the death and disruption that followed his book's publication, so are Michael Isikoff and John Barry innocent in the current case. (May 20, 2005)