I offer the following recent news items, in no particular order:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is demanding an apology from a Los Angeles talk show host for making fun of Muslims. In reference to the oft-repeated spectacle of Muslim pilgrims stampeding each other to death during the Hajj, KFI’s Bill Handel suggested the annual Hajj should feature a “Hajj In The Sky” traffic copter.

This is a joke. It is not allowed.

On Monday, armed Muslim gunmen stormed an office of the European Union in Gaza in protest of a series of editorial cartoons in a Danish newspaper. The comics featured 12 different artistic visions of Muhammed, including one where the Prophet’s turban is also a bomb with a lit fuse, and another showing Muhammed in heaven telling newly-arrived suicide bombers “Stop! We have run out of virgins!” In addition to the armed assault on the EU, Saudi Arabia recalled its Danish ambassador, Syria demanded the cartoonists be punished, and Danish products were pulled from store shelves across the Middle East.

These cartoons are jokes. They are not allowed.

Just days before they were kicking in doors over cartoons, the Palestinians voted 70 percent for Hamas, a group previously identified by both the US and the EU as a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including some Americans. Hamas won this election over the Fatah Party, whose armed wing — the Al Aqsa Brigades — is responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, including Americans. On 9/11, Palestinians watching 3,000 Americans die live on satellite television were so overjoyed they danced in the streets and handed out candy to children.

Last year, American taxpayers gave more than $400 million to the Palestinians.

That is not a joke. It’s a foreign policy.

When CAIR sent out their press release attacking LA’s Bill Handel over his “Hajj in the Sky” joke, they also complained that Handel referred to Islam as a “strange religion.” And they didn’t like his suggestion that Muslims had a problem with anti-semitism.

Now, where’d he ever get that crazy idea…

“Strange religion” seems pretty mild to me. If masked Methodists were hijacking newsrooms over the latest installment of Doonesbury, I’d consider that a bit odd. If cracking jokes about Christian Scientists led their members to threaten public safety, I’d view that as somewhat out of the ordinary.

If Scientologists started getting all freaky about … well, that’s a bad example.

My point is, when you’re talking about the only religion in the world currently linked to suicide bombings, honor killings, the stoning of homosexuals and a return to the electoral ideology of the Nazi Party, it’s hard to avoid mildly-judgmental terms like “strange,” “disconcerting,” and, “Holy crap, what they hell are these whackjobs thinking?”

If you can’t use the words “strange” and “religion” in a conversation about Islam’s influence on the world, then you can’t have an honest conversation about Islam. That doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be negative. But the potential for negative, critical, and harsh comments must exist for the conversation to be worthwhile. How can there be open, meaningful discourse with people who are ready to blow your brains out if Charlie Brown and Lucy misquote the Koran?

Don’t Muslims ever kid around? Doesn’t anyone in the Islamic world ever crack a joke? I mean, other than the classic, “These two Jews walk into a bar … AND ARE BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS BY A MARTYR! ALLAH AKBAR! ALLAH AKBAR!”

Comedy is, by its very nature, critical. For there to be a joke, there must be somebody or something to joke about. Big boys and girls understand this. When people crack wise about us, we take our licks and go on.

If, for example, the Billy Graham Crusades resulted in a parking lot pile-up of crazed, car-crashing Christians year after year, I wouldn’t be offended if radio talk hosts made fun of it. I would expect it. Then again, I would also expect the Billy Graham folks to figure out how to prevent another crash before the next crusade.

It’s not talk radio’s fault that Muslim pilgrims being stampeded to death while throwing stones at a symbol of Satan has become almost an annual event. It’s shameful and embarrassing, and the Saudi government and others responsible should be ashamed. Instead, they’re outraged that somebody noticed it and snickered.

Iran wants to host an international conference to determine the real facts about the Holocaust. Of course I’m going to laugh. What else — take them seriously?

The insurgents in Iraq insist that American soldiers are “forcing” good Muslims to violate their faith and participate in democracy. “The Americans have no right to force us to choose our own leaders! They can’t boss us around by making us be our own bosses!” What, you want me to pretend that’s an argument?

No, that’s a punchline.

It is impossible to look honestly at the current state of Islam in the world and not either laugh or cry. I choose to laugh. What the leaders of the Muslim world choose to do, we’ll have to wait and see.

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