Friday, September 15, 2006

Muslim anger grows over Pope’s remarks 


Pakistan's parliament unanimously condemned Pope Benedict XVI on Friday for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam and demanded he apologize.

The Vatican has said Pope Benedict did not mean to offend Muslims with remarks he made in Germany this week about Muhammad and holy war.

In a speech, Benedict quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying,"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
This isn't the only Islamic outrage that has been registered against the Pope's quote. But what struck me in reading the article was that none of the Muslim condemnations bothered to clarify exactly what they felt was derogatory or wrong with the remarks:

Muslim clerics, organizations and Web sites have expressed outrage at the pope's remarks.

Turkey's top Islamic cleric asked Benedict to apologize and unleashed a string of accusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pope’s planned visit to Turkey in November on what would be his first papal pilgrimage to a Muslim country.

Religious Affairs Directorate head Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who sets the religious agenda for Turkey, said he was deeply offended by remarks about Islamic holy war made Tuesday during the pilgrimage to the pontiff's homeland, calling them "extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate."

Bardakoglu said that "if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred and enmity" of others in the Christian world, then the situation was even worse.
Perhaps the MSNBC article isn't telling us the part of Bardakoglu's statement where he explains exactly what offends him about the statement quoted by the Pope. But so far, despite looking quite a bit, I haven't seen anything clarifying his criticism. Let's see a couple other impassioned papal smackdowns from the article:

In Egypt, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, also called for an apology.

"The remarks do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West," Akef said.

The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia said it regretted "the pope's quote and for the other falsifications." It expressed hopes that "this sudden campaign does not reflect a new trend for the Vatican policy toward the Islamic religion."

Militant Islamic Web sites also unleashed a scathing campaign against the pope.
It's no big surprise that Islamic militants would object to anyone drawing reform-minded attention to their principles of Jihad. What is puzzling is why the others quoted so blandly in the article, presumably spokesmen who would hope to be identified to the West as "moderates," would openly support the militants in quashing non-Muslim statements that raise awareness of Jihad's historical and present goals. The quoted objections don't even bother raising the usual point that when rioters raise signs calling for Jihad against the West until Islam dominates, they are only speaking about a Jihad of self-improvement. Perhaps focus groups have shown that argument has grown tired and lost its persuasive power after the Jihad fever that has violently gripped much of the world in recent years.

So what exactly is there in the Pope's words that has so bothered these guys? What is so "derogatory" or "wrong and distorted"?

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Is it the claim that Muhammad ordered the faith of Islam be spread even by the sword? They don't say. If that was indeed their objection, I'd love for them to speak of it loudly and at length and quite explicitly, crafting their peace-loving message especially for their sword-wielding co-religionists. Alas, no such entreaties asking the Jihadists to lay down their sword is found in these criticisms of the Pope.

But, aside from the fact that the statement is basically true -- Muhammad did spread the faith by sword, but apologists speaking to modern Western listeners hasten to obscure the interpretation of the Koran's positon on such jihad == Perhaps none of the quoted spokesmen wanted to come out and object to this phrase explicitly right now, trying to somehow claim Islam does no such thing, because they recognize it would be a pretty hard sell. Aside from the growing worldwide popularity of the Jihad brand right now, and public claims of Islam fighting to create a global Islamic world under a single ruling Caliphate, they would also have to compete with the recent forced videotaped conversion of two kidnapped Fox reporters in Gaza; although, technically, in the case of the Fox reporters Islam was spread at gunpoint not by sword.

Perhaps the objection is to calling "evil and inhuman" the jihad practice of spreading the Muslim faith by force -- that any practice of Muhammad, no matter how objectionable to us infidels, must by definition be discussed with respect and admiration. They very well might believe such an objection, but I suspect they know speaking openly of it would give up the game to a vast number of listeners in the West, who do believe that spreading faith by force is evil.

Of course Bardakoglu and others are quick to point the finger back at the Pope, saying that the world should be focusing on the Christian world's history of spreading religion by the sword centuries ago, rather than talking about the ongoing and insufficiently opposed practice alive and well in much of the Islamic world today. Obviously not every mosque in Ohio advocates congregants running around in the street with swords looking to smite the necks of those who don't accept Allah and Muhammad as his prophet. But they aren't registering any sort of effective or even perceptible objection to the practice being done on their behalf in numerous other parts of the world either -- and they appear to have no trouble condemning as Islamophobes those non-Muslims who insist on insensitively pointing this out.

The only points I see where an objection I might accept could be lodged against the Pope's literal words are against the two words: "new" and "only":

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

Clearly Muhammad did not invent religious coercion, even if he did advance the state of that art a few centuries. And claiming he only brought things evil and inhuman is incorrect. On that basis, while I do share a strong concern for the part being played by Jihad in the world, I would personally not back the 14th century emporer's statement as being fully correct. But those are only the words of a 14th century emporer, not the Pope himself, who quoted them only in order to draw attention to Islam's practice, even today, of Jihad in the name of spreading the faith. The words "new" and "only" were not his point. His point was that Islam has not reformed this violent and coercive tendency in itself, even in all the centuries since the 14th. The Christian church, once a similar practicioner of violent coercion, long ago gave up this practice.

While Islamic spokesmen use Christianity's ancient history to challenge the Pope's right to speak on this topic, it is precisely Christianity's reform that qualifies the Pope to speak on the issue.

(FOLLOWUP POST on the subject, The "Death to the Pope for Calling Us Violent" Protests, "...I am not anti-Islam; I'm anti-Jihad. The fact that so many AK-47 wielding masked Muslims object to the second position as if it is identical to the first is a big problem...")

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