Islam and the making of christian martyrs

Posted: Oct 30, 2001 12:00 AM
As the man said, a religious war -- the man being Osama bin Laden, his most recent targets (or those of his fervent disciples) being Christians. Now, it's true that plenty of the prophet Osama's original targets in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Christians, but that was only one of the offenses chalked up against them. The men, women and children butchered last Sunday in the Pakistani town of Bahawalpur were Pakistanis, singled out specifically for their Christian faith. They were practicing that faith when into the church burst the gunmen, spraying death all around. A total of 16 died. It was like the old days in the seventh century -- kill the infidel dogs! The bin Ladenites certainly have a way of clarifying their intentions. We might somehow have gotten the notion that they hate only Americans. We find instead that what really agitates them is America's identification with a religion that doesn't pass muster in Mecca and Medina. The corresponding gesture on our part would be a Jerry Falwell-led attack on a mosque full of worshippers. Except that you don't see such an attack, nor will you. The virulent hatred on display in the world is remarkably one-sided. The virulence is odd when you think about it. Christianity as a menace to Islam? Not as modern-day Christians see it. These couldn't be stirred up at any price for an old-fashioned "crusade" -- literally, a military venture to advance the cross of Jesus Christ. Such warlike ways as they ever had, Christians dropped several centuries ago, in the pursuit of tolerance. Tolerance, a product of the Enlightenment, meant, roughly, "If you're bound and determined you're going to hell, I'm not going to stop you." To this position, still more "enlightened" 20th century Christians added a qualifier: "That's assuming there IS any hell." In the proclaiming and defining of the faith, modern Christianity couldn't be any more, shall we say, non-aggressive. Consider a recent resolution from the Episcopal Church's executive council, urging that Christians, in response to Sept. 11, "engage in local inter-faith dialogues among peoples of the three Abrahamic faiths"; this, while the U.S. government pursues "policies that promote the eradication of terrorism through justice and reconciliation abroad." Among policies the Episcopal Church would like our government to adopt is the "commitment of .7 percent of the gross domestic product to foreign and humanitarian development ... " Whatever the butchers of Bahawalpur might imagine, proposals of this sort don't come under the heading of "militant Christianity," booted, spurred, and hungering for vengeance. Perhaps we could add, praise the Lord for that. Still, not to know your enemy is the biggest mistake a potential victim can make. Not to appraise our present challenge in religious as well as secular terms would be to disable our present and prospective responses. Just because American Christianity is about as bloodthirsty as a cocker spaniel doesn't mean Islam is housebroken in quite the way Western statesman and pundits have diplomatically been portraying it. Our adversaries have weighed us on Meccan scales; we have been found seriously, if not fatally, wanting. As plain as Osama's beard is that Christianity's central secular offense is the emphasis it puts on freedom (with ultimate consequences left to God/Allah). Freedom, a Christian invention, logically offends the unfree -- those who live in closed societies and who, proud rather than ashamed of it, discourage or actively oppose free choice. Islamic societies vary in their emphases, but a common denominator is cultural oppression. Pakistan ("Land of the Pure") restricts the practice of Christianity; Saudi Arabia (Land of the Bin Ladens) virtually obliterates that right, even for foreigners. Sudanese Christians, that's different. The country's Islamic government lets them worship as they like -- provided they don't mind being killed instantly for the privilege, or thrown into prison, or sold into slavery. Quickly -- name me three "Christian" countries that denigrate and oppress their Moslems the way Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan denigrate and oppress their Christians. OK, two then. One? Do I hear one ... ?