The Islamic world, along with the politically correct world, is in a snit because Pope Benedict had the bad judgment in an academic forum to quote a Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam’s justification of forced conversion during his time. Islamic spokesmen reacted quickly, asserting that theirs is a religion of peace, condemning the Pope and blaming him as their followers began a new round of torching Christian churches around the world and killing those who attend them.
I am agnostic on the question of whether Islam is at its heart peaceful or warlike and I’m reluctant to believe that Muslims like their Christian and Jewish counterparts haven’t changed over the centuries, but cannot fathom why a religion’s leaders claim to be peaceful while so often encouraging or at least condoning violence against all who dare to disagree with them. I know there are moderate Muslims out there, but I must say that they are difficult to find when Muslim extremists take to the airwaves or streets.
The Turkish Prime Minister, though he heads a secular nation, was quick to condemn the Pope, but was much less vocal in his condemnation of those of his countrymen who killed a Catholic priest last year to protest the publication of cartoons in Denmark that Muslims found offensive and therefore intolerable. The demand that others recognize theirs as a religion of peace and tolerance begins to ring hollow in the face of silence when those who kill adherents to other religions or anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities on religious, historic or cultural questions is put under sentence of death or actually killed.
Imagine what would happen if Christian mobs began burning mosques and killing Muslims simply because, for example, Muslim religious and political leaders have been and are continuing to compare the Pope to Hitler. The Pope himself and every religious leader in Christendom would condemn such activities, the extremists responsible would be quickly marginalized, condemned and consigned quite properly to the outer darkness and many would rally to the cause of repairing the damage and hurt thus incurred.
In this country, since 9/11 the president and just about every other politician has taken pains to argue that the Osama bin Laden and his friends are representative not of Islam, but of a lunatic fringe group that must be defeated without identifying it with the mainstream of the religion it purports to represent.
David A. Keene is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington, D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm.
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