When all is said and done -- when protestors junk their placards, when burning churches cool, when a murdered nun's grave grows grass -- "shut up" is the underlying message of Pope Rage, the latest fulmination to come from Islam, this time over Pope Benedict's recent lecture on faith and reason. When the pope argued, quoting a Byzantine source on Muhammad, that the practice of forced conversion -- key to Islamic expansion over the centuries -- is inimical to both faith and reason, the reaction of anger and violence was instantaneous. Just shut up, the umma exclaimed.
Or, to put it more elegantly, as did Daniel Pipes: "The Muslim uproar has a goal -- to prohibit criticism of Islam by Christians and thereby impose Shariah norms in the West. Should Westerners accept this central tenet of Islamic law, others will surely follow. Retaining free speech about Islam, therefore, represents a critical defense against the imposition of an Islamic order." The question is, will we retain our free speech about Islam? Speaking at the United Nations this week, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf asked the international community to ban the "defamation of Islam" -- a rendition of "shut up" that's a constant refrain at the United Nations -- but it looks like mum's already the word. Just read through George W. Bush's address to the world body. "Islamic fascists" are out. "Extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear" are in.
We probably have presidential pal and roving ambassador Karen Hughes to thank for Bush's discreet-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible talk. "Diplomats say that Muslims hear (the phrase 'Islamic fascists') as an attack on their religion, thereby validating the extremists' false charge that the United States is at war with Islam," writes Morton Kondracke, explaining Hughes' semantic sentiments, which he says have put the kibosh on administration straight talk. But maybe there's more (less) to it. Earlier this month, Hughes wrote: "As I have traveled the world, I have met those who try to justify the violence based on policy differences, long-held grievances or a perceived threat from the West."
Differences, grievances, threat: Isn't she missing some little old jihad thing? Not that she's alone. Take Hughes mentor Edward Djerejian. Veteran diplomat to assorted Middle Eastern countries -- warm to Arabs, cool to Israel (just like his close associate James Baker, who now co-chairs the vaunted Iraq Study Group) -- Djerejian is another happy warrior of ambiguity. The "seminal challenge" of our age, as Djerejian describes it, is "the struggle for ideas between the forces of moderation and extremism, whether it be secular extremism or religious extremism of no matter what religion, no matter what culture."
This is a challenge, all right -- a challenge to know what he's talking about. But such obfuscation is more than just the antithesis of reasoned critique. It also happens to comply with what Pipes calls "Shariah norms" in the West.
Islam prohibits "blasphemy," which includes criticism of its prophet Muhammad. The sharia penalty is death. But if it is "extremists" who carry the penalty out -- as in the ritual murders of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam (2004) and Mohammed Taha in Sudan (2006) -- what Pope Rage reveals is how shockingly little separates "moderates" from "extremists" when it comes to the blasphemy-taboo in the first place.
"Even the most moderate and Westernized Muslims will not tolerate insults to the Prophet Muhammad," writes Tulin Daloglu, commenting on Pope Rage from the moderate side of Islam, in The Washington Times. "Each offense unites Muslims against Western prejudices and rejection -- and the extremists gain more credibility."
So shut up.
Blogging online, columnist Mona Charen reported on another moderate, George Washington University's Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In an interview with NPR host Diane Rehm, Nasr contested that Pope Rage violence against Christians was not unprovoked. As Charen wrote, "Diane Rehm equably restated his position (I paraphrase): 'So you think words are violence.' He confirmed." So shut up.
Meanwhile, listen to the voice of bona fide "extremism," Great Britain's own Anjem Choudary, as reported in the Evening Standard: "The Muslims take their religion very seriously and non-Muslims must appreciate that and must also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the prophet."
He continued: "Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment."
"Shut up," say the moderates, "or else," say the extremists. Frankly, this sounds an awful lot as if the "moderates" are as non-reasonable as the "extremists." This may be shocking -- but it's nothing to be left speechless over.