WASHINGTON -- Religious fanatics, regardless of what name they give their jealous god, invariably have one thing in common: no sense of humor. Particularly about themselves. It's hard to imagine Torquemada taking a joke well.
Today's Islamists seem to have not even a sense of irony. They fail to see the richness of the following sequence. The pope makes a reference to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's remark about Islam imposing itself by the sword, and to protest this linking of Islam and violence:
-- In the West Bank and Gaza, Muslims attack seven churches.
-- In London, the ever-dependable radical Anjem Choudary tells a demonstration at Westminster Cathedral that the pope is now condemned to death.
-- In Mogadishu, Somali religious leader Abubukar Hassan Malin calls on Muslims to ``hunt down'' the pope. The pope not being quite at hand, they do the next best thing: shoot dead, execution-style, an Italian nun working in a children's hospital.
``How dare you say Islam is a violent religion? I'll kill you for it'' is not exactly the best way to go about refuting the charge. But of course, refuting is not the point here. The point is intimidation.
First, Salman Rushdie. Then the false Newsweek report about Koran-flushing at Guantanamo. Then the Danish cartoons. And now, a line from a scholarly disquisition on rationalism and faith given in German at a German university by the pope.
And the intimidation succeeds: politicians bowing and scraping to the mob over the cartoons; Saturday's craven New York Times editorial telling the pope to apologize; the plague of self-censorship about anything remotely controversial about Islam -- this in a culture in which a half-naked pop star blithely stages a mock crucifixion as the highlight of her latest concert tour.
In today's world, religious sensitivity is a one-way street. The rules of the road are enforced by Islamic mobs and abjectly followed by Western media, politicians and religious leaders.
The fact is that all three monotheistic religions have in their long histories wielded the sword. The Book of Joshua is knee-deep in blood. The real Hanukkah story, so absurdly twinned (by calendric accident) with the Christian festival of peace, is about a savage insurgency and civil war.
Christianity more than matched that lurid history with the Crusades, an ecumenical bloodbath that began with the slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland, a kind of a preseason warm-up to the featured massacres to come against the Muslims, with the sacking of the capital of Byzantium (the Fourth Crusade) thrown in for good measure.
And Islam, of course, spread with great speed from Arabia across the Mediterranean and into Europe. It was not all benign persuasion. After all, what were Islamic armies doing at Poitiers in 732 and the gates of Vienna in 1683? Tourism?
However, the inconvenient truth is that after centuries of religious wars, Christendom long ago gave it up. It is a simple and undeniable fact that the violent purveyors of monotheistic religion today are self-proclaimed warriors for Islam who shout ``God is Great'' as they slit the throats of infidels -- such as those of the flight crews on 9/11 -- and are then celebrated as heroes and martyrs.
Just one month ago, two journalists were kidnapped in Gaza and were released only after their forced conversion. Where were the protests in the Islamic world at that act -- rather than the charge -- of forced conversion?
Where is the protest over the constant stream of vilification of Christianity and Judaism issuing from the official newspapers, mosques and religious authorities of Arab nations? When Sheik 'Atiyyah Saqr issues a fatwa declaring Jews ``apes and pigs''? When Sheik Abd al-Aziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, professor of Islamic law, says on Saudi TV that, ``Someone who denies Allah, worships Christ, son of Mary, and claims that God is one third of a trinity. ... Don't you hate the faith of such a polytheist?''
Where are the demonstrations, where are the parliamentary resolutions, where are the demands for retraction when the Mufti Sheik Dr. Ali Gum'a incites readers of al-Ahram, the Egyptian government daily, against ``the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers ... who prepare (Passover) matzos from human blood''?
The pope gives offense and the Mujaheddin Shura Council in Iraq declares that it ``will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose the 'jizya' (head) tax, then the only thing acceptable is conversion or the sword.'' This to protest the accusation that Islam might be spread by the sword.
As I said. No sense of irony.