Figaro Mocks Muhammad -- We're Back in the Eighteenth Century
Many have noted the irony that, whereas the pope quoted a long-dead Byzantine emperor [Manuel Paleologos] saying that Islam was not peaceful, was violent, destructive etc., Muslims worldwide protested the pope's speech precisely by being violent. Christians and Christian institutions were attacked in many places, mainly but not only in Muslim-ruled lands, although most Christians are not Roman Catholic and are in no way subject to the pope. Greek Orthodox chuches were attacked in Gaza, an Assyrian Christian was murdered in Iraq, a nun in Somalia [who was acting as a nurse for Muslims], etc.
This Islamic intolerance for any questioning or criticism of Islam, let alone mockery, however mild, was known long ago. Beaumarchais, author of The Marriage of Figaro, put some such mild mockery into the mouth of his comic hero 200 years ago. Most likely, this play could not be produced today in Paris or Brussels or Marseilles. Here is part of the offending passage:
FIGARO: Because you are a great lord, you think you are a great genius!. . . Nobility, fortune, rank, positions, all that makes you so proud! What have you done for so many goods? You took the trouble to be born and nothing more. For the rest, you are a rather ordinary man! While I. . . lost in the dark crowd, had to deploy science and calculation merely to survive. . .
. . . Is there anything more bizarre than my destiny? Son of I-don't-know-who, stolen by bandits, raised in their morality, I got disgusted and wanted to follow an honest career; and everywhere I have been rejected! I learned chemistry, pharmacy, surgery, and all the prestige of a great lord can scarcely put a veterinarian's lancet in my hand! Tired of making sick beasts unhappy, and in order to take up an opposite kind of trade, I threw myself recklessly into the theater. . . I stitched up a comedy on the morals of the harem. As a Spanish author, I thought I could mock Muhammad without a care. Instantaneously, an envoy. . . from where I don't know, was complaining that I offended by my verses against the Sublime Porte [Ottoman imperial court], Persia, part of the peninsula of India, all of Egypt, the kingdoms of Barca, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers [Barbary pirate ports at that time], and Morocco. And right away, my comedy was put to the fire in order to please the Muhammadan princes, not one of whom --I believe-- knows how to read, and who harshly strike our shoulder blades, calling us: Christian dogs. Not being able to degrade my mind, they took revenge by ill-treating it. . . printed foolishnesses only have importance in places where they are restricted; that, without the freedom to find fault, there is no really flattering praise; and only petty people fear little writings. . . Tired of feeding an obscure boarder, they put me out on the street; and because one must dine, since one is no longer in prison, I sharpened my pen again and asked everyone involved in such matters. I was told that during my economical restful retreat, a system of liberty in the sale of productions had been established in Madrid which even extended to press productions and that, provided that I did not speak in my writings about government, religion, politics, morality, nor about people in positions. . . nor about the Opera, nor about other spectacles, nor about anyone who insists on anything, I could print everything freely, under the inspection of two or three censors. In order to take advantage of this sweet liberty, I announced a periodical publication, and, believing that I was not competing with anyone else on his own ground, I called it Useless Journal. . . I saw a thousand poor devils with rags of their own rising up against me. I was suppressed and again I was without a job! Despair took hold of me. . .
FIGARO: Est-il rien de plus bizarre que ma destinée ? Fils de je ne sais pas qui, volé par des bandits, élevé dans leurs moeurs, je m'en dégoûté et veux courir une carrière honnête ; et partout je suis repoussé ! J'apprends la chimie, la pharmacie, la chirurgie, et tout le crédit d'un grand seigneur peut à peine me mettre à la main une lancette vétérinaire ! Las d'attrister des bêtes malades, et pour faire un métier contraire, je me jette à corps perdu dans le théâtre : . . . Je broche une comédie dans les moeurs du sérail. Auteur espagnol, je crois pouvoir y fronder Mahomet sans scrupule : à l'instant un envoyé. . . de je ne sais où se plaint que j'offense dans mes vers la Sublime-Porte, la Perse, une partie de la presqu'île de l'Inde, toute l'Egypte, les royaumes de Barca, de Tripoli, de Tunis, d'Alger et de Maroc : et voilà ma comédie flambée, pour plaire aux princes mahométans, dont pas un, je crois, ne sait lire, et qui nous meurtrissent l'omoplate, en nous disant : chiens de chrétiens. Ne pouvant avilir l'esprit, on se venge en le maltraitant. . . les sottises imprimées n'ont d'importance qu'aux lieux où l'on en gêne le cours; que, sans la liberté de blâmer, il n'est point d'éloge flatteur ; et qu'il n'y a que les petits hommes qui redoutent les petits écrits. . . Las de nourrir un obscur pensionnaire, on me met un jour dans la rue ; et comme il faut dîner, quoiqu'on ne soit plus en prison, je taille encore ma plume, et demande à chacun de quoi il est question : on me dit que, pendant ma retraite économique, il s'est établi dans Madrid un système de liberté sur la vente des productions, qui s'étend même à celles de la presse ; et que, pourvu que je ne parle en mes écrits ni de l'autorité, ni du culte, ni de la politique, ni de la morale, ni des gens en place, ni des corps en crédit, ni de l'Opéra, ni des autres spectacles, ni de personne qui tienne à quelque chose, je puis tout imprimer librement, sous l'inspection de deux ou trois censeurs. Pour profiter de cette douce liberté, j'annonce un écrit périodique, et, croyant n'aller sur les brisées d'aucun autre, je le nomme Journal inutile. Pou-ou ! je vois s'élever contre moi mille pauvres diables à la feuille, on me supprime, et me voilà derechef sans emploi ! Le désespoir m'allait saisir. . .Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais [1732-1799], Le Mariage de Figaro (V, 3) 
I saw part of this passage first in the daily LeFigaro, a newspaper named after our hero, in an op ed column, probably by Ivan Rioufol. LeFigaro today does not have the moral courage of Beaumarchais. It recently ran an op ed column by a philosophy teacher named Robert Redeker. He honestly wrote that Islam was a religion of violence. Duh. Rather than contest that assessment rationally and factually, Muslims the world over threatened Redeker and the paper with . . . violence. While Redeker has had to go into hiding, the paper's editor apologized to the world's Muslims. It was all a mistake he said. So it seems like poor Figaro is back where he started. He's out in the cold looking for a livelihood, or ought we say that Robert Redeker is hiding [with his family] in order to preserve his life. Not so funny. I'd rather read a play by Beaumarchais. The trouble is that what Beaumarchais joked about in the 18th century is all too real in the 21st.
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Coming: more on the foibles of peace and peace processes, more on Jews in Jerusalem, on Jews in Hebron in the 19th century, etc.