The notion of Muslims attacking Dante is not as far-fetched as I thought. Anthony Burgess wrote about the idea in his epic poem, "Byrne," published thirteen years ago. A reader tells me:
One scene in the book involves a big, mealy-mouthed, vague European Union "culture conference" that's bombed by Muslim extremists offended by the big plastic statue of Dante among the Euro-great pantheon on display. A few choice stanzas from pages 116-119 follow:
'Liberium arbitrium', Tim sighing said.
'Not even Muslim nonsense can deprive
The questing soul of that. Go right ahead
But one who is Islamically alive
May not prefer to join the Christian dead.
Between the two of you you may contrive
To bring about a literal martyrdom,
But she can choose - liberium arbitrium.'
'Urbis praefectae honorablilis'
(Epithet used just once by Cicero),
'Legati, nuntii' (was that a hiss?),
'Civites, vos salvere jubeo.'
He got no further in his speech than this.
The bomb was deafening, a gleam, a glow,
Screams, shouts, collisions, runnings, eyes dilated,
Horrified howls. Dante disintegrated.
Switch off, doze, wake, give the bouton a push, de-
Siring news of bigger worlds without.
The sex-life of ex-President George Bush, de-
Linquencies no one cared a bit about.
A failed West End assault on Salman Rushdie.
Islam again. A loud Koranic shout
From Tehran, an imperious demand
That Dante's works be mondially banned.
Tim felt uneasy. He'd as good as doffed
The Christian armour meet for holy war.
The secular hardware was over-soft.
Should tolerance meet intolerance? Once we bore
Panyim-defying banners high aloft.
The Christian West was rotten to the core,
A culture facing in its deliquescence
The rigour of a million stars and crescents.
My dissent from Burgess: I do not think we are rotten to the core. I believe there is a deep and broad consensus out there that this kind of bullying must stop. If only we had leaders courageous enough to say so.