The many learned disquisitions on the pope's speech notwithstanding, this isn't about theology either. After all, no serious person can take lectures on religious tolerance from the Muslim world very seriously. Spare me tales of Jewish accommodation in the 15th century. Today, throughout the Muslim world, Jew-hatred and Christian-bashing are commonplace, state-sanctioned and fashionable.
No, this is about us. The best book for illuminating what's going on in the Muslim "street" isn't some weighty treatise on Islam; it's a short little tract called "White Guilt" by Shelby Steele. The book isn't even about Islam. Steele focuses on white liberals and the black radicals who've been gaming them ever since the 1960s. Whites, he argues, have internalized their own demonization. Deep down they fear that maybe they are imperialistic, racist bastards, and they are desperate to prove otherwise. In America, black radicals figured this out a while ago and have been dunning liberal whites ever since.
The West is caught in a similarly dysfunctional cycle of extortion and intimidation with Islam, but on a grander and far more violent scale. Whether it's the pope's comments or some Danish cartoons, self-appointed spokesmen for the Islamic street say, "You have offended a billion Muslims," which really means, "There are so many of us, you should watch out." And if you didn't get the message, just look around for the burning embassies and murdered infidels. They're not hard to find.
In response, the West apologizes and apologizes. Radical Muslims, who are not stupid, take note and become emboldened by these displays of weakness and capitulation. And the next time, they demand two pounds of flesh. Meanwhile, the entire global conversation starts from the assumption that the West is doing something wrong by tolerating freedom of speech, among other things.
This week, French President Jacques Chirac explained that everyone in the West must avoid everything that sparks tensions. In other words, we must forever be held hostage by the tactical outrage of a global mob. There's nothing funny about that.