"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Pope and the Muslims: give me the T-shirt

Here we go again. This time, the Pope gives a sound, sober, and elegant academic lecture at a university where he once taught, in which he cites in passing a derogatory statement about Islam made by a medieval Byzantine emperor. The purpose of the citation was to illustrate one side of a contrast Benedict wished to describe, one that is found not just in Islam but in the West too. And if you read the lecture, to which I've linked, it is clear that he was focusing much more on the West's internal problem. But because the quoted statement was a negative one about Islam, the Muslims are angry again. Demonstrations have been held all over the world; effigies have been burned and car windows smashed; outraged clerics have called for an apology. We saw this movie less than a year ago over something far less subtle and intellectual: a cartoon in a Danish newspaper. So what else is new? And I ask: so what?

For the past few generations, Muslims have been getting angrier all the time. Some Muslims, especially young and unemployed ones in their home countries, are angry that they do not enjoy the freedoms and privileges of the West. Others, immigrants in Western countries, enjoy such privileges while hating what makes them possible. Most Muslims believe that they shouldn't be willing to live with the fact that the rest of the world isn't Muslim. And a small but very well-known minority of Muslims regularly targets and kills innocent people, including Muslims, as part of the jihad or struggle against what they consider the enemies of Islam. In such a context, it doesn't matter to most Muslims what the Pope actually meant. It doesn't matter that he has called for, and practiced, mutual respect and interreligious dialogue. It doesn't even matter that his view of Islam is much more balanced than that of Manuel II Paleologus, the angry, almost despairing leader of an ever-shrinking Byzantine state which he knew was doomed to extinction by Muslim armies. No, all that matters is that the Pope quoted something negative about Islam. Anybody who even cites something negative about Islam must be, if not an outright enemy of Islam, than terribly disrepectful of Islam. Such, apparently, is the Muslim rule for interreligious dialogue. They may and do say what they like about Christians and Jews, but the latter may not say or even cite anything negative about Islam. Such is the double standard of angry people.

Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn. The choices left us by the Muslim attitude are silence or dhimmitude, and neither is acceptable. The Pope had every right to say what he did. Presumably to calm the waters, he has issued a ritual expression of "regret"; he has to, if only for political purposes. But don't let that fool you. The Pope knows that what I'm saying is true, and he's not going to deny what he actually said, because it too was true. We should not hesitate to say so.

Over at Pontifications, one commenter has envisioned a T-shirt. On the front: “Islam: a religion of peace since A.D. 622″ and on the back, “Say otherwise and we’ll blow you up.” The thing should be said and the T-shirt made. I'd buy it. Of course, only those who want to live should feel free to wear it.
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