Many commentators have noted the apparent irony: The Pope suggests Islam encourages violence – and Muslims riot in protest.
Many commentators have pointed out the apparent hypocrisy: Muslims are outraged by cartoons satirizing Islamic extremism while in Muslim countries Christianity and Judaism are attacked viciously and routinely.
Many commentators are missing the point: These protestors – and those who incite them -- are not asking for mutual respect and equality. They are not saying: “It's wrong to speak ill of a religion.” They are saying: “It's wrong to speak ill of our religion.” They are not standing up for a principle. They are laying down the law. They are making it as clear as they can that they will not tolerate “infidels” criticizing Muslims. They also are making it clear that infidels should expect criticism – and much worse – from Muslims.
They are attempting nothing less than the establishment of a new world order in which the supremacy of what they call the Nation of Islam is acknowledged, and “unbelievers” submit – or die. Call it an offer you can't refuse.
If you don't understand this, listen harder. In London, Anjem Choudary – a Muslim Fascist if ever there was one -- told demonstrators that Pope Benedict XVI deserves to be killed – for daring to quote a Byzantine emperor's description of Islam as a religion “spread by the sword.”
"The Muslims take their religion very seriously,” Choudary explained as if to a disobedient child, “and non-Muslims must appreciate that and must also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the Prophet. Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment."
Iraqi insurgents – some Europeans admiringly call them “the resistance” -- posted on the internet a video of a scimitar, a symbol of Islam, slicing a cross in half. It would be a stretch to interpret this as a plea for interfaith understanding.
In Iran, the powerful imam Ahmad Khatami said the Pope “should fall on his knees in front of a senior Muslim cleric." In no culture of which I am aware is that a posture from which brother addresses brother.
Dr. Imad Hamto, a Palestinian religious leader, said: "We want to use the words of the Prophet Muhammad and tell the Pope: 'Aslim Taslam'" The Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh explained: “Aslim Taslam is a phrase that was taken from the letters sent by the Prophet Muhammad to the chiefs of tribes in his times in which he reportedly urged them to convert to Islam to spare their lives.”
It is not only those readily identified as extremists who voice such views. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, seemed to strike a conciliatory note, saying that the Pope's expression of regret for his remarks was “acceptable.” But he added: “[W]e hope there are no more statements that can anger the Muslims."
Similarly, on National Public Radio, a George Washington University professor, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, argued that statements such as those quoted by the Pope – expressing sentiments some Muslims may find offensive – must be viewed as a form of violence.
Is the Western ideal of freedom of speech and of the press threatened? Of course but that's only part of what is at work here. More significantly, Americans and Europeans are being relegated to the status of a dhimmi -- the Arabic word applied to those conquered by Muslim armies between the 7th and 17th centuries. Based on shari'a law, dhimmis are meant to “feel themselves subdued,” to acknowledge their inferiority compared to Muslims.
In some ways, we already have done so. For example, Muslims are welcome in the Vatican, even as Christians are banned from setting foot in Mecca. We do not object to Saudis building mosques in America and Europe, even as they prohibit churches and synagogues on Arabian soil.
We pledge to abide by the Geneva Conventions when waging wars against Muslim combatants. We do expect those combatants to follow the same rules. They are engaged in a jihad and they will show no mercy to infidel soldiers or even to infidel journalists. The “international community” does not seriously protest. With our silence, we consent to inequality.
Most of the world's Muslims are neither rioting nor calling for the death of the Pontiff. But quite a few may reason that if Christians and Jews haven't the confidence to reject dhimmitude and defend freedom, they would be foolish to stick their necks out. After all, a Muslim who challenges the Islamist Fascists brands himself as an apostate – as deserving of death as any uppity pope.
Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.