I just read that Yale is declining to publish offending Muslim cartoons in a book that is precisely about those very images. The reason cited was that it was sure to result in a loss of life. That is definitely a valid reason--but it means for the rest of us that freedom of the press is diminished because of a perceived threat. It seems that freedom of speech is also on the defensive in numerous ways.
All this is to say that the Yale article brought to mind a little mocking antic we did as kids, not realizing that it had Muslim origins, nor to be truthful, that we were mocking anyone. Suffice it to say that it involved bowing and repeating the names of a couple of kinds of lunch meat. Although we had a lot of good foolish and childish fun, that antic is also lost forever. It would be considered offensive, even though as we performed it, we had no idea what the name of the religion was it offended, or even what the offense was. We only knew that all those funny Arabic characters in cartoons did it and we wanted to imitate Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd--none of whom seemed to be particularly attuned to ethnic, sexual or racial sensibilities. My latest quote posted on facebook will probably offend the elderly, even though a 90+ year-old man said it.
We laugh at things for a variety of reasons. Sometimes because it exposes our inconsistencies. Sometimes because it compares the incomparable. But sometimes we laugh so that life doesn't scare us. Let us not lose the ability to laugh. When humor goes, all that will be left is heaviness.