With a good deal of fanfare, a group of 138 Muslim clerics from around the globe released a statement to Christian leaders earlier this month calling for peace and understanding between the two religions. American and other Western newspapers and media lapped it up. "Muslim Leaders Reach Out to Christians" announced the Los Angeles Times. "Muslim Leaders Send Peace Message" headlined Time magazine.
Addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and a long list of metropolitans, patriarchs and archbishops, the letter literally cites chapter and verse in the Bible as well as the Koran spelling out the duty of believers to love God and one another. If "Muslims and Christians are not at peace," the clerics write, "the world cannot be at peace."
There is more -- much more -- along these lines. The missive closes with this peroration: "Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to one another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."
Fine words. Professor John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University (and the foremost American apologist for Muslim extremism), presented the letter to the American audience as "an historic event."
So what do we have here? The statement is chock-full of Biblical and Koranic injunctions to love one's neighbor and to pursue righteousness. And yes, it would be a lovely world if people could simply apply those dictates to their daily lives and abjure hatred, violence and sin. Arguably, millions do. But all of that skirts the elephant in the room. You can read through this entire letter and never learn that there are Muslims all over the world currently interpreting their faith as a license to slaughter innocent human beings (very much including fellow Muslims). Moreover, the overall thrust of the document suggests that misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians (rather than problematic interpretations of Islam) is what threatens world peace.
The clerics write: "As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them -- so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes." Where in the world are Christians waging war against Muslims on account of their religion, or driving them out of their homes and oppressing them? Clearly Americans have fought against some Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq -- but we have just as clearly fought alongside other Muslims. Nor do we fight Muslims "on account of their religion." This is al Qaeda talk. Their propaganda videos preach a perverted version of reality in which Islam is under siege around the world.
By contrast, Christians living in Muslim societies have in fact suffered on account of their faith. In just the past couple of years Rami Ayyad, owner of a Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip, was abducted, tortured and killed by Islamists. Two Palestinian Christian women were shot to death by the semi-official al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade for failing to wear the Islamic headscarf.
In Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace, Christians feel under siege from the increasingly Islamist Palestinian majority. Samir Qumsieh, owner of a Christian TV station, told the Jerusalem Post of beatings, theft and intimidation. "When I see what's happening to Christians here, I worry a lot for our future," he said. "They are targeting Christians, because we are seen as weak."
Christian churches have been firebombed in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, a Muslim who converted to Christianity was sentenced to death. In Egypt, the Copts face continuing persecution. And of course, in Sudan, a Muslim government has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Christian minority.
What do we make of Bosnia then? Good question. The nominally Christian Serbs did carry out an ethnic cleansing atrocity on the Bosnian Muslims. And guess who stepped in to stop it? A consortium of Western democracies. Where was the corresponding Muslim alliance to save the Christians of Sudan?
If the Muslim clerics are sincere in wishing for peace and understanding, they should issue a document that denounces Islamists; that rejects their violent interpretation of jihad; that affirms the human dignity of non-Muslims; and that condemns Osama bin Laden, Aymin al-Zawahiri and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name. That would be historic. This letter is worse than a bromide, it's a dodge.