My brother’s a vegetarian. Yet he doesn’t insist that the rest of us should forgo meat when he’s around. By the same token, we don’t insist that, if he wants to break bread with us, he must also swallow ground cow. That’s tolerance.
Contrast that with the “tolerance” we see from Iran’s president.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad skipped a recent luncheon at the United Nations because alcohol was being served. Now, he could certainly have dined without drinking. That’s what President Bush did. But with Ahmadinejad, it’s “my way or the highway.” Serve alcohol and he won’t come.
Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad’s attitude is similar to the one some in the Islamic world have toward the West. Instead of tolerance they demand “do what we say, or else.” Consider the recent uproar over one of Pope Benedict XVI’s speeches.
The pontiff quoted a 14th century Christian, who asked a Muslim to “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The point of the quote is that Islam is frequently spread through violence -- even though the Koran says “There is no compulsion in religion.”
Just recently, of course, journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig spent two weeks in captivity in the Palestinian territories. They weren’t released until they converted to Islam -- converts recruited quite literally by the power (and threat) of the sword.
Although the Pope’s speech was factually accurate, it was widely attacked in the Muslim world. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry warned, “Insufficient knowledge of the history and ideology of Islam had been in the past exploited by some elements to create misunderstanding about Islamic ideals, among the adherents of other faiths, so any reference which could strengthen such misperceptions needed to be strictly avoided.”
Well, how are we going to learn the history of Islam if we’re not allowed to read certain books? A tolerant faith should be confident enough to encourage its followers to read widely and be prepared to handle any doubts that arise with rational argument, not violence.
Instead, in Basra, Iraq, demonstrators burned the Pope in effigy. In the West Bank, several Christian churches were torched. And some warn worse is on the way. “You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” warned extremists led by al Qaeda in Iraq.
Still, some were quick to blame the victims. The Pope’s remarks “will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade,” wrote author and former nun Karen Armstrong in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry.”
She’s wrong on two counts. First, the problem here isn’t “Islamophobia.” It’s the fact that some Islamists are ready to destroy things any time their faith is criticized. Second, as Oriana Fallaci writes in her book “The Force of Reason,” the Crusades weren’t really an offensive operation (as we’ve so often been told). They were a defensive reaction to an Islam that spread deep into Europe behind the power of the sword.
By the year 711, Fallaci notes, Islamic warriors had conquered the Iberian Peninsula, parts of which they held until 1492. “As for the much-flaunted detail that the infidel-dogs were not obliged to convert to Islam,” she writes, “do you know why they were not? Because those who converted to Islam did not pay taxes. Those who refused, on the contrary, did.” The Crusaders, she writes, were simply trying to stop the spread of Islam by meeting its violence with violence of their own.
Fallaci died last week after a long fight with cancer. She spent most of her twilight years in New York, since she faced a European Arrest Warrant if she dared travel to the Continent. Because of her writings, she’d been charged with thought crimes.
“If you speak your mind on the Vatican, on the Pope, on the Catholic Church … nobody touches your ‘right of thought and expression,’” Fallaci noted correctly. “But if you do the same with Islam, the Koran, the Prophet Mohammed, some son of Allah, you are called a xenophobic blasphemer who has committed an act of racial discrimination.”
Despite the persecution, Fallaci finished her life confident. Western ideas would eventually prevail, she wrote, because the West is a river, “water that runs, that flows, and in flowing purifies itself, renews itself.”
That’s what the Pope was getting at, too. As the Vatican explained, he simply aimed “to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam.”
The West has, at least for the most part, already mastered that. Now, it’s time for radical Islamists to join us. They could start by showing some real tolerance.