Vital Signs

Taboos and Blasphemies

When I first read that the now late Ayatollah Khomeini had sentenced Salman Rushdie to death, I, like most of you, reacted with both horror and disgust. The leader of Iran sent out an order to kill a citizen of the United Kingdom for something he wrote about Mohammed. This was as clear a violation of freedom of speech as I knew of. But then I came to the realization that we have taboos and blasphemies in the West just as they do in the Muslim world. Our taboos and blasphemies are simply different from theirs. Let mc give you two examples that I know of from working in academe.

The first concerns mass murder. In this century, there have been five major (I better say "alleged" here) mass murders: one, the killing of Armenians by Turks around 1915; two, the deaths caused by Stalin in the period 1928-1939, and perhaps even later; three, the Jewish holocaust before and during World War II; four, the deaths of many Chinese under Mao during the Great Leap Forward around 1960; and five, the deaths caused by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the period 1975-1978. There have also been "smaller" killings: the slaughter of Bahutu in Burundi in 1972; the mass killings in East Timor by the Indonesian army in the mid-1970's; and the mass killing of Kurds by Saddam Hussein's army between 1988 and 1991, etc.

There is not much literature about the mass murder of the Armenians because the data kept by the Ottoman...

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