A Tunisian woman named Amina Tyler has been targeted by Islamists after posting a picture of herself on Facebook. In the photo, she is naked, and has scrawled across her body the words "Fuck Your Morals" and "My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone's Honour".
This is extremely brave, and could easily result in her death.
Tyler has founded the Tunisian branch of the the Ukraine-based protest group Femen (remember them?), which in solidarity declared April 4th "International Topless Jihad Day," at least in Paris. Yes,that's right: the streets of of Paris were full of naked women, and we were stranded across the ocean. There is no justice. (Actually, "full" is an overstatement. There may have been a protester or two.)
The Guardian raises the legitimate question of whether the best response to religious extremism is anti-religious extremism. The truth is, as observers of the American scene know well, that fundamentalists thrive on the reactivity of their ideological opponents. Stuff like this just gives them more ammunition.
But we're not convinced. Propaganda -- literally, the art of spreading an ideological message -- requires strong, in-your-face symbolism. The Islamists already have theirs: burning flags, "Death to America" and Kalashnikov rifles pointed in the face of everybody who disagrees with them. So too do the Christianists: burning Korans, threatening gynecologists, Jesus riding a dinosaur.
The people who support personal freedom, whether of speech or of a woman's decision about her own body, need symbols, too. In America, they have the Constitution (most notably its first, thirteenth and nineteenth amendments); in Europe, we suppose, Luther and Voltaire. But none of those has the power to speak to the Muslim world, or indeed to most of the southern hemisphere, as clearly and as powerfully as Malala Yousufzai's gunshot wounds, or -- we hope -- Amina Tyler's marked-up bosom.