The hot issue in the news is - amazingly enough - "Muslim Rage." Can you imagine? The latest thing they are enraged about is a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg University in Germany this past week, in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's disparaging comments about the prophet Mohammed's spread of Islam by violence.
As you might suspect, the adherents of the peaceful religion which has given us literally thousands of suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, are enraged that someone would suggest that they are other than peace-loving. You may recall that these are the same people who rioted and burned embassies around the world over editorial cartoons which, in their view, insulted the prophet Mohammed.
It's hard to pick out the worst part of this ridiculous fiasco: whether it's millions of Muslims rioting over a portion of a speech none of them has ever read, or the spineless grovelling of news reporters who consistently fail to press the Muslims they interview for opinions beyond the tired old chestnuts that are always paraded by Muslim spokesmen blaming all the ills of the world on the West.
Here are a few points for you to consider:
First, read the Pope's speech and understand what he actually said. You can find the full text of the speech on the Vatican website at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html. The speech was to an academic audience at the University of Regensburg, and dealt with the relationship between faith and reason, and the importance of each to the other. While much of the speech consists of fairly dense philosophical argument, the meaning is clear: it is not a deliberate slap at Islam as a faith, but a call for a balance between faith and reason in the world, and his arguments were based on the philsophy of ancient Greece that has shaped much of Western thinking. The Pope said that violence is contrary to reason, and that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature." I doubt that any of the Muslim authorities who have screamed for apologies and thundered about the defamation of their faith have thought to consider what Benedict really said...it's much easier just to spin up huge crowds of followers who have no tradition of independent thought and will shout whatever their imams tell them to.
Next, consider this: Muslims everywhere are in a towering rage over perceived insults to their religion. I would find this outrage much easier to accept were it not coming from the adherents of a religion which routinely depicts Christians and Jews as apes and pigs. Evidently, if you are a Muslim it's perfectly all right to heap the most vile and despicable insults on other faiths, but utterly wrong for the merest hint of criticism - much less insult - to be uttered against Islam.
Yesterday evening on CNN Headline News, the anchor interviewed Yahya Hendi, the Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University and asked him to explain why Muslims were so enraged by the Pope's comments. Mr Hendi said, in essence, that Islam is a religion of peace and that the Pope's comments were a direct insult to that religion and its tradition of peace and understanding. The anchor then asked Mr Hendi how he would answer Americans who find it difficult to reconcile his depiction of Islam as a peaceful religion with the day to day reality of savage violence in Iraq (most of it inflicted by Muslims on other Muslims) and suicide bombers who are encouraged to kill Americans. Mr Hendi's response was typical: he didn't answer the question. Instead, he harped on the standard Muslim themes of evil Christians, the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc, etc, etc. His bottom line was, don't point fingers at Muslims, because Christians and Jews have red hands, too.
I was appalled by this drivel from an imam accredited to a major Catholic university, and even more appalled by the news anchor letting him get away with it unchallenged. The utter bankruptcy of Mr Hendi's words is easy to prove:
1. As I recall, the last Crusade took place somewhere around the year 1271...whereas Muslims are being urged to kill Americans today.
2. The Inquisition (and I believe he refers mainly to the Spanish Inquisition) was started in 1478 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and was finally abolished in 1834 by Queen Isabel II.
3. As for the accuracy of the depiction of Islam as a religion spread by violence, once might point to the Moorish invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the year 711 under the leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. Muslim domination of the area known as al Andalus (modern Andalusia) lasted from 711 until 1492, when the last Muslim ruler surrendered his possessions in Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same ones who founded the Spanish Inquisition). One might also consider the Muslim invasion of Europe defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in October, 732.
I don't pretend to be a completely conversant historian, nor do I claim to be the final authority on anything I've written. But what I am is a stickler for the truth...and no one is holding the Muslim world to any standard of truth. We tend to cringe back, wringing our hands at perceived past injustices and letting loud, ill-educated crowds shout their hatred at us without calling them to account.
I like to think of myself as a realist. And the reality is that nothing we say will make the least impression on any deeply-believing Muslim. Muslims believe that they are the possessors of the final, revealed word of God, spoken directly from God's lips to Mohammed's ears in Arabic and absolutely true in every detail and syllable. To be fair, many ultra-fundamentalist Christians believe the same thing about the Bible. The difference is, though, that Christianity has moved away from the excesses of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the bloodier parts of the Bible, while Islam not only has not had a similar transformation, but doesn't want to recognize that other religions have.
I believe the best we can do is ensure that Christians and Jews, and the Western world in general, stands up to the wildest excesses of the Islamic world in the hopes that we can someday see them understand that the glories of the seventh century are unlikely to be recreated in the twenty-first.
One final note: as I write these words, the CNN website is reporting that the Pope is "very upset" that he has offended Muslims. I can only hope that he does not offer a groveling apology for something that requires none. It is the Muslim world which offers the rest of humanity an apology...but we'll never get one. They know, after all, that they and only they have the final and revealed word of God on their side.
Have as good a day as you can. More thoughts tomorow.