An Outcry Over Mohammed

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The magazine, called Studi Cattolici, is not an official Opus publication, but is produced by Opus members. Coming after the outcry over a Danish newspaper's cartoons of Mohammed, there was an almost endearing cluelessness in the magazine's decision to portray the Muslim prophet in perdition. The cartoon borrowed an image from Dante's Inferno, in which Mohammed languishes in hell, sliced in two for the crime of "dividing" faith in God. Studi's editors then placed in the mouth of Dante's infernal tour guide, Virgil, the remark that a guy next to Mohammed "with his pants down" represented Italy's current policy toward Islam, which the magazine's editors apparently regard as too lenient.

The controversy came in the midst of Opus Dei's attempt to squash what it thinks will be a negative caricature of its own group in the upcoming movie version of The Da Vinci Code. Having failed for months to privately extract a promise from Sony not to actually name the organization behind the self-flagellating assassin in the film, Opus on Monday went public with a letter on its website requesting that Sony add a "disclaimer" before the movie explaining that it is fiction, admonishing that "an eventual decision of Sony in this direction would be a sign of respect towards the figure of Jesus Christ, the history of the Church, and the religious beliefs of viewers."

It speaks well for the growing sophistication of Opus's publicity people that they see the folly of demanding the neutering of one offensive "cartoon" while their members are cheerfully printing another. The Opus website now bears an additional release noting, "As we participated in the discussions about The Da Vinci Code we have tried to show maximum respect towards all parties." By apologizing for the Studi cartoon, the statement continued, "We have tried to show others the kind of treatment we ask for ourselves. Anything else would be inconsistent and hypocritical."

Would it have been better if Studi Cattolici had not run the cartoon in the first place? For that matter, would it be better if on May 19 we were to discover that director Ron Howard had decided not to paint the grotesque portrait of Opus (which has its weirdnesses, but probably not including assassination) that Dan Brown did in his novel?

Sure, but it may be to much to expect from the all's-fair-in-war-and-religion world we live in. Given the givens, we should probably see Opus's oops as enlightened progress.