By contributing writer Mark Jabo

This latest furor is unfolding just in time to be included in the Taliban’s latest published work, Things That Piss Us Off. (This handsome 48-volume set is being updated for the holiday season and makes a great gift for that hard-to-buy-for politically correct friend who continues to refer to Islam as “a religion of peace.”)

What is Apple’s big offense? Are they offering downloadable Salman Rushdie e-books? MP3s of the collected speeches of George Bush? No, it’s something even more sinister than that: it seems that Apple’s Fifth Avenue store resembles the sacred Ka’ba which is a large structure that sits inside the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca.

To be fair, the Apple store does resemble the Ka’ba. But so do a few other things you can think of because the Ka’ba is shaped like… wait for it… a cube. So, if you own an X-Box, a Rubik’s cube or have a fuzzy dice hanging from your car’s rear view mirror, you should be aware you could be the target of a fatwa at any time. In order to avoid needlessly inflaming Islamic extremists, you’ll also want to avoid using traditional trays for making ice, paintings by Pablo Picasso (famous cubist) and most upholstered ottomans.

And, for Allah’s sake, do not go to work today. You are in immediate danger if you are seen with an extra-large stack of Post-It notes or if you work in your own cubicle. Another course of action would be to just go with the flow and try to convince your co-workers and office temps to bow down in homage to your cubicle six times a day.

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The problem here is not that Islamic extremists have yet another beef with the rest of the infidel world. That’s hardly news. The real problem is that all this sensitivity is making other fundamentalist religious groups jealous. It’s only a matter of time before religious zealots of all stripes are expressing outrage at the co-opting of their religious symbols.

Christian fundamentalists will profess to having a bunch of reasons to be upset at blasphemous uses of the cross. This means we can expect there will be threats to blow up traffic intersections in gay neighborhoods as well as severe retribution against anyone who uses the letter “t” inappropriately. As evidence of the offensive heresy that is all around us, right-wing Christians point out that a disgusting word like “prostitute” has three t’s. Interestingly enough, there are none in “Congressional page.”

In an exception to the recurring theme of religious aggression, hardcore Buddhists advocate non-violent demonstrations at the homes of fat people and pregnant women. Of course, some people might suggest setting yourself on fire in protest is a form of violence but this apparent paradox is addressed in the famous Zen saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear with a match.”

Not to be outdone, devil worshippers have vowed revenge on anyone caught dressed in red or using a fork. Of course, you can count on the fact that pretty much anything you do is going to piss off the Amish.

This is not to say traditional religions have some kind of monopoly on the use of fear and intimidation. We’ve all seen how incurring the wrath of Scientologists can come back to bite you in the ass. When Viacom President Summer Redstone refused to renew Tom Cruise’s contract all kinds of dire consequences were threatened. Career ruination and physical intimidation were hinted at. Many saw Cruise’s appearance on Oprah as a veiled threat that no one’s furniture was safe.

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It would be comforting to think that outbursts of religion-induced violence are simply the spontaneous inspiration of some higher power, but much of the resentment that precipitates religious violence has been festering for years. Can we really expect, as they stroll the aisles of their local supermarket, that the Quakers are going to stand for having themselves shilling for oatmeal much longer?

Does religious extremism necessarily lead to violence? While it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from a myriad of examples over the past 2,000 years, there does seem to be a common thread to today’s religious hysteria: it’s all the media’s fault.

I’m not going to tell you there’s a pattern here but, somehow, the only people who don’t seem to have a chip on their shoulders these days are the atheists.

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