The Pope’s recent remarks have set off a particularly revealing firestorm of criticism. Distracted by the Al Durah trial, I haven’t paid close attention until now.
Dismaying is probably putting it mildly. At a distance, one gets the following impression. The Pope expressed disapproval of Jihadi “thinking” in Islam; Muslims the world over expressed vigorous if not violent objection to the Pope’s remarks; and responsible Westerners waxed indignant at the pope’s unnecessary provocation. Under the double pressure of a politically-correct public sphere and a violent or threatening Muslim “street,” the pope apologized.
Of course, the second stage of this story — the Muslim response — is nothing less than a very bad joke. “Call me violent? I’ll show you! I’ll riot and rampage until you stop calling me violent!” This is the kind of silliness even a five-year-old can get.
But the “adults” are not laughing, at least not in public. So what happened?
Let’s look briefly at what the Pope said.
Here is some of the most relevant material in the speech. He starts with a famous quote from the Koran, and then quotes the late 14th-century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II:
The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed 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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God.
Criticism of the Pope’s Speech: James Stodder’s Decent Response
Now I can certainly understand some people responding to these reflections with a sense of “the pot calling the kettle black.” Granted Christianity does have a long and turbulent love-affair with philosophy — shared for a measure of time by Islam — but this is, after all, the religion one of whose early theologians exclaimed (something akin to) “I believe because it is absurd.” It is also the religion whose great Catholic theologian, Augustine, articulated an elaborate explanation for how coercion is not only legitimate but effective in converting people… a religion that spread much of its dominion by first taking over the sword-weilding institution (Roman Empire) and then spreading the faith further by either the sword, or, after the collapse of “Christian Rome” through “top-down” conversions in which, once the king-bee converted, everyone had better convert “or else.” The good emperor was hardly heir to a kingdom built on sweet reason.
So noted a classmate of mine, Jim Stodder, on our class list. In a thoughtful analysis, he lays out the humane and generous understanding of how the Pope’s words were unfair, one worthy of a modern progressive thinker:
Benedict is clearly CONTRASTING Islam with spiritual-reason in this piece, although Islam is not his major focus. I think the entire context is actually somewhat more damning of Islam than the widely distributed quote, since it archly suggests that
a) the reservations Muhammad had about conversion by force were only emphasized when his new faith was in a position of weakness, but not thereafter, and
b) that Islam maintains a profoundly irrational-transcendent view of god — with the implicit question of whether this is related to its traditions of violence.
[NB: As far as I understand, few historians of Islam would deny the dramatic difference between the early Mecca and later Medina phases of Muhammad’s career, that the expressions of tolerance mark the early, a-political phase when Muhammad could only depend on his ability, as a prophet of the imminent Last Judgment to win over followers by appealing to their conscience, and that the violent Jihad corresponds to the later, politically potent phase. As for some operative link in Islam between a meta-rational God (which is something of a “no duh” for any believer) and violence, that strikes me as weak explanation. I would sooner go for honor-shame dynamics — political dominion as “proof” of true belief, lack of dominion as humiliation — as an explanation of that violence, but that doesn’t mean that such dynamics don’t receive their theological garments.
Manuel II was one of the last Byzantine emperors, and his recorded conversations with a Persian Muslim supposedly took place while Constantinople was under siege around 1400 — and doomed to fall to Turkish arms about 50 years later. So his view of militant Islam must have been colored by the fight for his life and realm. Benedict notes this context.
I don’t like sentences like “doomed to x, y, or z, fifty years later,” even if they describe events centuries ago. Too deterministic. Moreover, the analogy with today’s world faced with an aggressively expansive Islam — will you accept that possibility, JS? — may well be significant in just this sense. Is Europe doomed to fall to Islam in the next 50 years as some like Bernard Lewis seem to think? Or can it do something to save itself?
But while justifiably criticizing the use of force in religion in his speech, nowhere does Benedict mention the comparable crimes of Christianity; e.g. the Crusaders massacring Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem, or the Inquisition’s persecution of Muslims, Jews, and ‘conversos’.
In summary, if he really wanted to open up a wide conversation about the inadmissibility of force in religion — to not just mention Muslims but to INCLUDE them in the conversation — I think his words were very badly chosen. It’s not that I see anything to disagree with particularly in what he says, as far as it goes. But the speech is startling in its omissions.
I think it is important to have a balanced view of this. I was at a meeting last night where some fellow was complaining about how ‘extraordinarily thin-skinned the Muslims are’. I think they have some reason to be pissed about this one….
… [A]s the Pope, he was making a terrible strategic error in being so publicly provocative about the nature of Islam. In the current ‘clash of civilizations’, this error is much more serious than Summers’ provocation [i.e., his remarks about women and science].
As I said, this is a very generous view. “Let’s not accuse them of bad faith… let’s be self-critical if we want them to be so… let’s invite them into a conversation… let’s not pour oil on the fires of religious conflict.” It expresses a characteristic indignation at the Western critic of Islam, and the projection of a good-willed Islamic “dialogue partner” out there whom we are offending with our needlessly “provocative” criticisms.
But under current conditions, no matter how well-intentioned it is, I think it qualifies for candicacy in the “dupes of demopaths” category. I say that not because I think all Muslims who are engaging in dialogues are demopaths, nor because all non-Muslims who think they have sincere friendships with Muslims are dupes. I say it because of the way this kind of thinking “inscribes itself” (to use the pomo term) in a larger public discourse.
Three Muslim Responses
We have two broad Muslim responses to the Pope’s words and one minor one: 1) violent outrage, 2) indignation and 3) a mature criticism and self-criticism. And the pattern follows closely that of the reactions to Danoongate: in the Muslim world, violence — angry demonstration, death threats, attacks on Christians (including a nun!), hate speech and demands for abject apology — and in the Western world, where Islam is not majoritarian, we have indigant expressions of shock and horror at the Pope’s Islamophobia.
I don’t have to go over the violent reactions in detail They are known to most readers of this blog and can be found listed at the Wikipedia article on Pope Benedict XVI Islam Controversy. Among the more shocking include the burning of churches in many places including Gaza and the West Bank, and most of all, the killing of Christians in Iraq, and the gunning down of an elderly nun in the back in Somalia, shortly after a prominent cleric called for killing the pope:
“We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion,” he said in Friday evening prayers.
“Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim,” Malin, a prominent cleric in the Somali capital, told worshippers at a mosque in southern Mogadishu.
“We call on all Islamic Communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the pope,” he said.
Self-Criticism and Shame at the Behavior of Fellow Muslims
I will return to this idea that any Muslim anywhere should kill anyone who offends the prophet below. In the meantime, note the language: hunt down, kill, revenge… From the perspective of any apologist for Islam in the larger global community that cannot exist without peaceful co-existence, this is pretty embarrassing and primitive stuff. And yet, rarely among those who try and “explain” Islam to the outside world do we have the one that might match my classmates for maturity, something on the order of:
“I am so mortified by the reaction of my fellow Muslims whose behavior proves how correct the Pope’s words were… indeed, they may be more accurate today than when Manuel II made them over 700 years ago.”
Among the brave few, Irshad Manji takes a strongly self-critical Muslim stance:
(CBS) As a faithful Muslim, I do not believe the pope should have apologized. I’ve read what’s been described as his inflammatory speech. Actually, he called for dialogue with the Muslim world. To ignore that larger context and to focus on a mere few words of the speech is like reducing the Koran, Islam’s holy book, to its most bloodthirsty passages. We Muslims hate it when people do that. The hypocrisy of doing this to the pope stinks to high heaven.
Yet some Muslims have gone further. In the West Bank, churches have been firebombed. During a big protest in London, placards proclaimed “Islam will take Rome.” In Somalia, a Catholic nun was murdered shortly after a Muslim cleric urged violence against the Vatican.
Coincidence? I think not.
And thinking is what the Quran encourages. It asks Muslims to reflect far more than to retaliate. Even if someone mocks your religion, the Koran says, walk away. Later, engage in dialogue. Wasn’t that the pope’s point?
We Muslims should remember that God told the Prophet Muhammad to “read.” My advice to fellow Muslims: Read the pope’s speech — in its entirety — and you’ll see that his message of reason, reconciliation, and conversation would make him a better Muslim than most of us.
But beyond this exceptional woman who’s working on a modern form of Islam, and who does have some brave “followers” and “fellows,” but is largely shunned if not threatened by many Muslims, it’s slim pickings.
We get close to something like restraint if not self-criticism in a news item came from Iraq where, as noted above, at least two Christians were killed in the wake of Muslim call for revenge at the pope’s remarks:
As to the official response from the Iraqi government, Dr. Ali Al-Dabagh, official spokesperson for the government in Iraq called on Iraqis to exercise restraint and act wisely in response to statements by the Vatican Pope, in which he criticized Islam. Al-Dabagh said in a press conference, “The Iraqi government asks all who love God’s prophets and messengers to not act in a way which would harm our Christian brethren. They are our partners in this nation and are not to be judged by the statements of the Pope. The problem is that the Pope attributed behavior of some Islamic leaders of a certain era in history with Islam and its beliefs. If we were to look back in history, we will also find Christian leaders who committed crimes in the name of the cross. We do not hold Christians responsible for these actions since they were crimes of singular deviant leaders. What is needed now is an international agreement to punish all who insult God’s religions.
On the other hand, it was a Christian Iraqi paper that carried the story, not a major Muslim Iraqi paper; and that last line is quite a doozy. Religions of the world unite and punish blasphemers? Ummm, I’m not sure this particular Muslim quite gets it. Modern democracies are civil societies, based on voluntary participation, not coerced subjection.
Maybe Emilio Karim Dabul made some really self-critical remarks… he certainly could have.
But these still lone voices so rarely say publicly what they whisper in private, as Dabul says:
Well, I’m sick of saying the truth only in private – that Arabs around the world, including Arab-Americans like myself, need to start holding our own culture accountable for the insane, violent actions that our extremists have perpetrated on the world at large.
Now that was in the context of a long-overdue apology from Arab-American Muslims for the behavior of their co-religionist on 9-11. But it applies to the rest of the issues from Rushdie to Danoongate to the Pope’s remarks, to all the ways in which Islam tries to bully the West into submission.
Indignation at the Pope’s Words, Apologetics for the Violence
The real problem is not with wild masses ready to get violent whenever their leadership, via their almost irremediably demonizing media, whip them into a frenzy, be it with fake pictures of a Muhammad-as-pig cartoon, or faked pictures of Israelis killing little boy in cold blood.
The real problem lies in the realm of “dialogue,” in the encounter between Muslims who claim to speak for their own community in discourse with the West, on the one hand, and the responsible Western leaders and intellectuals on the other. Here we find something disturbingly close to demopathy.
CAIR, for example, suggests that Muslims and Catholics should use the Pope’s unfortunate remarks as a spur to dialogue. Of course, that dialogue hardly looks at the problems with Islam but insists on an apologetic, missionary Islam in which:
Jihad is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense (e.g. — having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression. ‘Jihad’ should not be translated as ‘holy war.’
Note here an interesting slide. We start out with the apologetic definition of Jihad — inner struggle against evil inclinations, self-improvement and social betterment — but then move quickly into more explicitly violent forms of struggle — self defense (i.e., the Palestinians having a standing army), fighting against tyranny and oppression. Well, if we define tyranny and oppression as the rule of infidels over Muslims, or as modernity with its corrupting mores, then we have an easy slide into global Jihad the violent way. So why shouldn’t Jihad be translated as “holy war”?
The Quran, Islam’s revealed text, condemns forced acceptance of any faith when it states: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ (2:256)
Muslims are also asked to maintain good relations with people of other faiths, and to engage in constructive dialogue. ‘And dispute not with the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) except with means better (than mere disputation)…but say, ‘We believe in the Revelation that has come down to us and in that which came down to you.’ (29:46)
Never mind that these assertions systematically ignore not only our current urgent problems the West has with an insanely aggressive Islamic Jihadi movement — that claims that everything it does is “defensive” and that makes a mockery of the apparently enlightened principles here expounded — but this statement even ignores the remarks of the medieval Emperor who was responding to the verse about “no compulsion in religion.” It’s hard to imagine a more evasive answer to so serious a problem. CAIR is not calling for dialogue — they have no intention of listening to what non-Muslims think and feel and experience about Islam, certainly anything critical. They just wants to tell us what we should think.
The equivalent organization in Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain made a more indignant remark:
One would expect a religious leader such as the Pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” Muhammad Abdul Bari, the council’s secretary-general, said. “Regrettably, the Pope did not do so.”
Now if this is not demopathic discourse, then what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander — the Muslim Council will surely denounce terror threats from Muslims as unacceptable expressions of Islam that cannot lead to harmonious relations between Islam and any non-Muslim group.
Instead, his attitude towards Islamic zealotry and violence is to justify it, indeed use its potential emergence as an open threat to the British:
“Some police officers and sections of the media are demonising Muslims, treating them as if they are all terrorists, and that encourages other people to do the same… If that demonisation continues, then Britain will have to deal with two million Muslim terrorists, 700,000 of them in London. If you attack a whole community, it becomes despondent and aggressive,” he added.
Now this is stunning. Dr. Bari, who so regretted the Pope’s inappropriate behavior is now telling us that if you criticize Muslims — demonize in his terms — then they will all turn into terrorists. Pretty amazing. No Western progressive would ever speak so carelessly about all Muslims being all potential terrorists. And here we have it as a warning. Nothing about how appalling the tendency to get violent among Muslims, no disapproval. On the contrary, any problem with Muslims in Britain is because of the British non-Muslims demonizing this unhappy minority. And these unfairly criticized citizens, reluctantly to be sure, might all become terrorists and seek to kill their fellow Brits because they’ve been…
What? What’s the complaint? What’s the provocation?
Some police officers and sections of the media are demonising Muslims, treating them as if they are all terrorists…
And presumably that makes them “despondent and aggressive.” Again a clue to what “defensive” means. I’m unaware that the two (opposite) emotions are so predictably linked that you have to expect that if you treat people with suspicion and hostility that they will blow you up in suicide attacks. [By the way, by those standards — demonizing and treating them all as terrorists — wouldn’t the Israelis have the right to wipe out the Palestinians? Or is this only a one-way right of response?]
As Melanie Phillips remarks
What was this ‘demonisation’of Muslims? Peter Clarke, the head of the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch, said ‘thousands’ of British Muslims were being watched by police and MI5 over suspected terrorist links. Was Mr Abdul Bari’s reaction to this dismaying news one of shock and shame that his community was harbouring such an enormous threat to Britain, and his earnest pledge to root this out wherever he found it? It was not. It was to threaten Britain that its entire Muslim community of two million would turn into terrorists and attack the country of which they are citizens. Mr Abdul Bari is the head of Britain’s largest Muslim representative institution. What was the response of the British media or politicians to this abuse of his position by threatening violence by an entire minority community against the British state? Silence. If anyone is demonising Britain’s Muslims, is it not Mr Abdul Bari?
[Hopefully. But the rest of them are not really speaking out, are they?]
And this is not a joke; it’s a huge problem. Given that the British non-Muslims don’t have a clue as to what’s going on in their nation’s mosques, that a new survey shows that one out of ten British Muslim students wouldn’t tell the authorities even if they knew of a plot (one has to imagine that the figures in such a poll are, if anything, low) and that 24% of Muslims polled think that under certain circumstances it is legitimate to carry out terror attacks in defense of Islam, it seems understandable that the Brits might be looking askance at their Muslim communities right now. (To paraphrase my classmate, “I think we have some reason to be concerned about this one…”)
I think the real focus here belongs on the terms “demonize” and “Islamophobia.” Both are primarily demopaths terms, used by Muslims who have almost nothing to say about the staggering levels of demonization at work in their own religious and political cultures, while showing the most remarkable incapacity to handle criticism from outside. They are “remarkably thin-skinned,” and contrary to Jim Stodder’s (and Karen Armstrong’s and James Carroll’s) reading of matters, it is not at all appropriate for us non-Muslims, and especially us Westerners with a hard-earned social capital that prizes freedom of speech — and hence of the right to disagree, to criticize, even to accuse — to abdicate our rights here… lest we insult the Muslims.
Honor-Shame: The Intolerability of Insult
Listen to the language of outrage among the Muslims to the Pope’s remarks:
“the result of pitiful ignorance” about Islam or a deliberate distortion of the truth, said Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of the strongly Islamic party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister. “He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages,” Mr Kapusuz added. “Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.”
Apparently, for Mr. Kapusuz, two wrongs do make a right. Insulting language is the order of the day… “pitiful ignorance” [actually not too inaccurate]… “mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages” [which the Turkish Muslims can lay the strongest claim to having left behind… and even that’s hardly conclusive]… “unfortunate and insolent remarks… Hitler and Mussolini.”
I find the term “insolent” the most telling. These comments ring true as the angry response of someone who feels he (and his people) have been insulted.
Another Turkish Muslim, an Imam, picked up the same notes:
“The Pope’s aggressive, insolent statement appears to reflect both the hatred within him towards Islam and a Crusader mentality. I hope he apologises, and realises how he has destroyed peace.”
Insolent, again. And the classic demopath’s move: you are responsbile when things go bad; we Muslims bear no responsibility for the destruction of peace, we are only responding to your inexcusable provocations. As Abu Saqer, a Gaza Imam, responding to the violence in Gaza made the classic demopaths claim: my violence (which I condemn) is your fault.
“We are deeply sorry for these acts that we condemn,” [Abu Saqer] said. “But I am sorry that this little racist [the Pope] did not think of the consequences upon the Christians in the Arab world when he insulted our prophet. It is an open war – the Muslims against all the others.”
In Pakistan, the Parliament issued a statement on the issue, again sounding all the same tropes:
“The derogatory remarks of the Pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Muhammad have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions”
All this is the language of honor-shame, the language of someone with a very thin skin quick to anger and violence when criticized. And this issue of Muslim honor goes very deep. As one apparently modern Turkish journalist put it, it unites all Muslims behind the extremists:
“Even the most moderate and Westernized Muslims will not tolerate insults to the Prophet Muhammad,” writes Tulin Daloglu, commenting on Pope Rage from the moderate side of Islam, in The Washington Times. “Each offense unites Muslims against Western prejudices and rejection — and the extremists gain more credibility.”
This notion that criticism is insult, unbearable insult, is a classic expression of honor-shame cultures, which give the insulted the right to shed blood to preserve his honor. Thus, Anjem Choudry, an extremist British Muslim explains that Muslims have the right to retaliate:
The Muslims take their religion very seriously and non-Muslims must appreciate that and must also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the prophet. Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment.
Hence the profusion of death-threats, declarations of Holy War, assurances that the green flag of Islam would soon fly from the Vatican, days of rage, and attacks on Christians including the murder of an elderly nun, and attacks in the Palestinian territories.
Nor are these specifically pope-related threat and outbursts of violence the only problem. For an example of the astounding a-symmetrical nature of the Muslim attitude, look at the Nigereian case of a Muslim man who accused a Christian woman of worshipping a “useless Jesus” when she refused his sexual advances, but when she returned the insult and spoke of a “useless Muhammad,” the man set off rioting that drove 5000 people from their homes.
The Pope’s “Apology”
Faced with such responses, and roundly denounced by Western intellectuals who faulted him for his provocative remarks, the Pope made something of an apology:
At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a Medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.
Not surprisingly, no one was happy with the results. Those who had looked to the pope for real leadership in the struggle against global Jihad felt betrayed, especially by his remarks about how this “in no way expresses my personal thought…” while the Muslims knew a weasely excuse — I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings — when they saw one.
Turkish State Minister Mehmet Aydin criticized the pope’s comments before reporters in Istanbul by saying, “you either have to say this ‘I’m sorry’ in a proper way or not say it at all. Are you sorry for saying such a thing or because of its consequences?” A number of other Muslim leaders likewise accused Benedict of evading apology.
As Dry Bones put it quite aptly (hat tip TB):
And the story is far from over.
The Western Response: The Magnanimous as Dupes?
The real problem, however, stems less from the response of the Muslim world — at this point fairly predictable — as much as from the responses of the Western intelligentsia, including not only my classmate James Stodder, but public figures like Karen Armstrong and James Carroll. In a Boston Globe column, he writes scathingly of the Pope:
President Bush famously used the word “crusade,” then backed away from it. But playing by bin Laden’s script, Bush launched a catastrophic war that has become a crusade in all but name. Now Benedict has supplied a religious underpinning for that crusade. Claiming to defend rationality and nonviolence in religion, the pope has made irrationality and violence more likely, not less. Bush and Benedict are in sync, and bin Laden is grinning.
Classic liberal spin: the Pope, in denouncing the Muslim tendency to violence, is responsbile for provoking violence. (Never mind that Carroll misquoted the Pope’s citation of Manuel II to make his remarks even worse than they were.) “The pope has made irrationality and violence more likely, not less..” In this very formula lies the rub — as if not talking about Jihad and other forms of (pervasive) Muslim violence would make violence less likely, rather than, by assuring them that no one will object to their bullying, making it just as likely. We Westerners fail to understand that the most likely scenario in either case — whether we’re nice or confrontational — is more Muslim violence. Global Jihad is not anywhere near abating.
Not that Carroll is wrong about his critique of the Pope, which cuts deep into his posture of pontiff of reasoning, non-coercive Christianity. Pointing out how much this is a modern fantasy that does not even recognize the role of secularism in forcing Catholicism kicking and screaming into the modern world and the renunciation of coercion — the last “heretic” executed by the Inquisition was Cayetano Ripoll in 1826! — he emphasizes the way Benedict XVI has whitewashed the Church to the detriment of both the Muslims and the Jews. Notes Carroll:
The pope’s refusal to reckon with historical facts that contradict Catholic moral primacy has been particularly disturbing in relation to the church’s past with Jews. Last year, he said Nazi anti-Semitism was “born of neo-paganism,” as if Christian anti-Judaism was [sic] not central. This year, at Auschwitz, he blamed the Holocaust on a “ring of criminals,” exonerating the German nation. By exterminating Jews, the Nazis were “ultimately” attacking the church. He decried God’s silence, not his predecessor’s. A pattern begins to show itself. Forget church offenses against Jews. Denigrate Islam. Caricature modernity and dismiss it.
All serious matters to contemplate, especially for those cheering on the Pope. But I don’t think it justifies the conclusion which, whether Carroll intends it or not, makes unacceptable concessions to violent Muslim honor.
In all of this, Benedict is defending a hierarchy of truth. Faith is superior to reason. Christian faith is superior to other faiths (especially Islam). Roman Catholicism is superior to other Christian faiths. And the pope is supreme among Catholics. He does not mean to insult when he defends this schema, yet seems ignorant of how inevitably insulting it is. Nor does the pope understand that, today, such narcissism of power comes attached to a fuse.
Let’s shift from a hierarchy of faith — obviously a problem, but possibly an impossible one to solve since most true believers think their faith is the best — to a hierarchy of violence. After all, that’s what really matters. What one privately thinks about his or her religion’s superiority only becomes a serious problem for others when one tries and shove it down their throats.
Granted the Pope’s remarks can be considered insulting from a variety of points of view. But modernity, tolerance, and the renunciation of violence demands a high threshhold of insult before provoking violence. “Narcissism of power” may characterize the Pope’s remarks, but infantile narcissism of violent power characterizes the Muslim world’s vocal leaders.
And while Carroll has no problem tossing out psycho-critiques of the Pope’s and jumping all over his own Catholic Church, he steps on eggshells when it comes to the Muslims. After all, how long would the author of The Sword of Constantine have lived had he been a Muslim writing about the appalling role of Muhammad’s Sword in shaping a religion in desperate need of reform in the 21st century? In 800 words, not a one criticizing the existence of this fuse with which he ends his critique.
Classic Western progressive behavior: lambaste your own tradition, avoid upsetting your enemy. (Does Carroll even understand that a) the “fuse” to which he refers are autonomous moral agents, not objects subject to some kind of “law of physics,” and b) those folks who do respond so predictably and explosively are his enemies?)
The Bad Joke, Dhimmis not Laughing
What’s appalling here is that our bien-pensant intelligentsia don’t understand what’s going on. Immersed in their world of progressive egocentrism, eager to excuse Muslim violence as “understandable responses” to “unfair criticism,” they don’t seem to have any idea of the theater on which these issues are playing out. The New York Times, for example, welcomed the Pope’s apology, complimented the Muslim leaders who accepted it and urged more dialogue, further criticizing “Benedict’s skepticism of dialogue with Muslims.” No, “Muslims and Catholics should put aside the pontiff’s ill-considered comments and move forward in a conciliatory spirit.” As if, on the other side, aside some tiny minority of mad Jihadis, Muslims were just waiting eagerly for open and frank dialogue.
But many Muslims have difficulty with the basic rules of religious dialogue, partly because they see the forum primarily as a theater of missionizing, partly because of Taqiyya, partly because their own insecure certainties (question to James C.: “narcissism”?) make it extremely difficult to adopt the openness required. Imagine the honest reaction of a Muslim to the following “9th Commandment” of religious dialogue:
Persons entering into interreligious, interideological dialogue must be at least minimally self-critical of both themselves and their own religious or ideological traditions. A lack of such self-criticism implies that one’s own tradition already has all the correct answers. Such an attitude makes dialogue not only unnecessary, but even impossible, since we enter into dialogue primarily so we can learn–which obviously is impossible if our tradition has never made a misstep, if it has all the right answers. To be sure, in interreligious, interideological dialogue one must stand within a religious or ideological tradition with integrity and conviction, but such integrity and conviction must include, not exclude, a healthy self-criticism. Without it there can be no dialogue–and, indeed, no integrity.
These are modern demands… precisely those that the honor-shame driven Islamic identity of yore and today find unacceptable, indeed blasphemous. But apparently the good folks at the NYT don’t know about this. Earnest, well intentioned, committed to world peace and understanding, they chide the pope for only wanting it his way.
They don’t get the joke. Cartoonists, and the denizens of the blogosphere do:
So some Muslims are burning churches, murdering nuns, and threatening more war, assassinations and bombings because someone quoted a text that called them violent? It’s kind of a sick joke, and one shouldn’t laugh. But in a nasty way, it’s funny.
As Holding Them Acccountable noted:
In what sounds like a joke by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show”, Muslims in the Middle East have reacted to the comments last week by the Pope about Islam being too violent by… forming a new terrorist group, burning down churches in the Gaza strip, and targeting Christians for attacks.
Besides the obvious and irrefutable logic of the Pope’s remarks, besides the historical truth, there is the deliciously modern irony of the situation. Because he calls the Jihadists butchers, they want to slaughter him. Because he asks for reason, he is the subject of insane threats and hatred. Because he asks them to forsake violence, his imagine is burned and his people are attacked. Because he argues for religion to walk hand in hand with free will, they wish to enslave him. Jihadists are Hell’s own joke for our age, but only the village idiots are laughing. Only the jester’s relatives are pretending to get all the subtle, sophisticated nuances of the prank.
So why are so few laughing and so many urging calm and respect for a religion whose spokesmen consistently and utterly unself-consciously adopt ludicrous positions?
Muslim Bullies, Western Dhimmis: The Islamization of the West
The problem here, as with MSM coverage of the Middle East conflict, emerges from the problem that, no matter how well intentioned, if the Western players are working from a mistaken paradigm and choosing their words according to a therapeutic model — how can I have the “right” effect on these folks? — then this may backfire. Indeed, whether the model is PCP1 — they are just like us and if we’re nice to them they’ll respond in kind — or the model is PCP2 — they are the justifiably aggrieved colonized, we are the guilty colonialists — speaking soft words of confession, concession, and conciliation make sense. Don’t aggravate them. Soothe them. We’ll be generous, lead the way with our self-criticism and openness, and they will join us. So no matter how ludicrously they behave, whatever you do, don’t insult them by pointing it out.
[Note from me to them: Why Bother? We’ll back off anyway.]
But if the proper paradigm is one in which the dominant forces in the Muslim world today — the ones we hope to soothe with our eagerness not to offend — are spreading Islam globally through a combination of “peaceful” means (Itjihad) and violent ones (Jihad) can produce the very violence it aims at disarming. For those dedicated to Islamic expansion, our concessions register not as signs of generosity, but as forms of weakness and susceptibility to intimidation. In Muslim terms, when we go out of our way to avoid upsetting Muslims, when we give up on our hard-earned modern freedoms to criticize, the inquire, to probe, to express our opinions, when we choose not to publish or not to carry books that might offend them, we are acting, voluntarily, as Dhimmi. We are, in their eyes, subject people, protected from death by our submission to their will.
For this kind of Islam
“The only dialogue we will accept is when all other religions agree to convert to Islam.”
Dan Pipes has laid out the case for the increasing Dhimmi behavior that lies behind the latest Papal incidence. He lays out six instances, starting with the utterly unexpected attack on Salmon Rushdie in 1989 until this current papal controversy. He sees several patterns:
These six rounds show a near-doubling in frequency: 8 years between the first and second rounds, then 5, then 3, 1, and ½. The first instance – Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict against Mr. Rushdie – came as a complete shock, for no one had hitherto imagined that a Muslim dictator could tell a British citizen living in London what he could not write about. Seventeen years later, calls for the execution of the pope (including one at the Westminster Cathedral in London) had acquired a too-familiar quality. The outrageous had become routine, almost predictable. As Muslim sensibilities grew more excited, Western ones became more phlegmatic.
This routinization of both Muslim violence and Western “backing down” have immense implications. We have increasingly lost our ability to express ourselves, and to some extent we don’t even know it; they have gained great confidence in their ability to intimidate us. Now we do it to ourselves, pre-emptively.
BERLIN, Sept. 26 — A leading German opera house has canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting a storm of protest here about what many see as the surrender of artistic freedom.
In the scene that offended Muslims and led to security fears, a king places the severed heads of religious leaders on chairs. The Deutsche Opera Berlin said Tuesday that it had pulled “Idomeneo” from its fall schedule after the police warned of an “incalculable risk” to the performers and the audience.
The company’s director, Kirsten Harms, said she regretted the decision but felt she had no choice. She said she was told in August that the police had received an anonymous threat, but she acted only after extensive deliberations.
After all, no one would ask an artist to risk his life for mere artistic expression! And since the Islamists have shown a startling willingness, indeed enthusiasm, for destructive suicide, we would do best to pre-empt their wrath.
Nor are these concerns either misplaced, nor exaggerated. A French philosopher who made some derogatory — but not necessarily inaccurate — remarks about Muhammad in an article in the Figaro (also here) on September 19, now lives in police protection, having left his home with his family, because Islamist websites urging that he be killed have posted his home and work address and maps on how to get to his house and photos.
Je suis maintenant dans une situation personnelle catastrophique. De nombreuses menaces de mort très précises m’ont été adressées, et j’ai été condamné à mort par des organisations de la mouvance al-qaïda. L’UCLAT et la DST s’en occupent, mais… je n’ai plus le droit de loger chez moi (sur les sites me condamnant à mort il y a un plan indiquant comment venir à ma maison pour me tuer, il y a ma photo, celle des lieux où je travaille, des numéros de téléphone, et l’acte de condamnation). Mais en même temps on ne me fournit pas d’endroit, je suis obligé de quêmander, deux soirs ici, deux soirs là…Je suis sous protection policière permanente. Je dois annuler toutes les conférences prévues. Et les autorités m’obligent à déménager. Je suis un SDF. Il en suit une situation financière démente, tous les frais sont à ma charge, y compris ceux eventuels d’un loyer d’un mois ou deux éloigné d’ici, de deux déménagements, de frais de notaire, etc… C’est bien triste. J’ai exercé un droit connstitutionnel, et j’en suis puni, sur le territoire même de la République. Cette affaire est aussi une attaque contre la souveraineté nationale: des lois étrangères, décidées par des fanatiques criminophiles, me punissent d’avoir exercé un droit constitutionnel français, et j’en subis, en France même, grand dommage. (Letter to André Glucksmann.)
Similarly, in the USA, we have a publishing firm withdrawing its commitment to publish a book on Suicide Terrorism — no insignificant topic — because of fear of Muslim retaliation, specifically in terms of the response to the Pope’s problems. Phyllis Chesler wrote me the following:
My colleague, the psycho-analyst Dr. Nancy Kobrin, with whom I have written four major articles, wrote an important book about the psycho-analytic roots of Islamic suicide terrorism for which I wrote the Introduction. It was due out in November of this year. Less than 48 hours ago, her publisher, Loose leaf Law, a major publisher of law enforcement and counter-terrorism titles, cancelled her contract. They became quite frightened in the wake of the Muslim mistreatment of the Pope and said that they feared they could not protect their staff people were trouble to arise. Her book is very important, unique, and fills in the missing part of the story about Islamic terrorism. She is the latest casualty of the West’s appeasement of Muslim violence. (Email correspondence from Phyllis Chesler — more on this soon.)
Pipes concludes his survey of waxing Muslim violence and intimidation provisionally:
No conspiracy lies behind these six rounds of inflammation and aggression, but examined in retrospect, they coalesce and form a single, prolonged campaign of intimidation, with surely more to come. The basic message – “You Westerners no longer have the privilege to say what you will about Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, Islamic law rules you too” – will return again and again until Westerners either do submit or Muslims realize their effort has failed.
In other words, the Jihadis are thinking:
“Your behavior — your generous, self-critical, accommodating, appeasing concessions to us — encourage us in our efforts. We will destroy your civilization because you love life and we love death. And you are not willing to sacrifice your lives for your freedoms, and we are willing to sacrifice our lives for your deaths.”
Our problem is that while our ancestors fought to the death for our freedoms of speech and artistic expression, we are not willing to risk our lives to maintain them. We have become so accustomed to the pleasures of a “rational,” positive-sum society, that we cannot imagine why anyone would want to take so zero-sum an attitude as to make a performance of opera a matter of life and death.
Of course in so doing, we both betray those “pleasures” by cheapening them, and we lose touch with our own heroic origins. Opera performances played a powerful role in the revolutionary culture of 19th century Europe, especially in 1848. They were connected to “real life” and civil liberties. Today, we can just pick another tune to perform.
Concession as Provocation
But if we so respond, we should not imagine that those watching our deeds, the very folks who bully us with their contempt for life, are nodding with approval because we’re nice and eager to respond it kind. It’s because we’re submissive. That’s why no matter how many times the pope mumbles clear apologies, the Muslim leaders are not satisfied. These “apologies” are servile ceremonies, public transcripts that clearly delineate hierarchies of dominance and submission. Of course they can’t get enough of them. Every one soothes their wounded pride and tells them that they are winning. So every one encourages the next one. And we underestimate their significance at our own peril.
And were this a mere matter of face — which so many in the West want to believe — then our generosity would be appropriate. But if it is millennial, we are in serious trouble. What if, behind the aggressions and the bullying, the proleptic demands of Dhimmi behavior, the wild fugues of demopathic hysteria and murderous violence, we find gargantuan appetites for religious dominion, messianic dreams of a globalization? And when we become familiar with the appalling contempt for all who do not share the vision — Muslim and infidel — we begin to realize that if there is a suffocatingly hegemonic globalization to fear, it is global Sharia, then we begin to understand that our concessions constitute extremely dangerous provocations.
Hence, terrorism can spread at an astonishing rate in these last years, not only (or even) because of Western armies in Iraq, but because by failing to identify it we unwittingly pour oil on its flames. Thus, shortly after the Economist tells Europeans not to worry overmuch about Eurabia, The London Times lets David Selbourne inform its readers about a struggle we have already lost. On one level, it’s akin to a waking dream — utterly unreal — and, as Margeurite Yourcenar said about the Munster millennial madness, “suddenly, impercebtibly, turning into a living nightmare.”
Dealing with Honor-Shame Cultures in conflict
What to do? We have incredible fire-power and all the bureacratic capacity to rid ourselves of this pest. But despite what our fashionable post-colonial historians tell us, we achieved that fire-power in crucial part by developing a civil society that renounced the kinds of brutal defenses against millennial threats that mark more primitive societies. Unlike the Romans, who executed any popular visionary, whether he was violent or not, or the Qing, who killed tens of millions ridding themselves of the Taiping, or even the Western allies who killed many a civilian German in ridding the world of the Nazis, we don’t want to attack Muslims. We want to get at the really dangerous ones.
Which is why the “apologetics” of demopathic Muslims for the Jihadis — “it’s your fault if our fanatics are upset” — so confuse the situation. If we don’t learn to tell the demopaths from the real moderates in the coming years, the bloodbath will be horrific no matter who wins.
How does a culture, whose ethical imperatives have taken it so far from the open calculus of honor-shame that it gets slapped in the face and thinks that by turning the other cheek it has shown its moral commitment, deal with a demopathic foe that thrives on the logic of honor, shame, and revenge? Moral autism, as good as it may feel, is cowardly — it flees the relationship into a cosmic coffin of self-righteousness. It’s at once condescending to the point of racism — we expect no moral effort from you — and suicidal.
So what do we do? How do we fight a war with an enemy whose very primitivity escapes our notice no matter how insanely violent they get, whose games of territorial expansion and face-offs do not register on our screens even as they accelerate alarmingly? How do we defeat an enemy who would — had they our fire-power — kill us without hesitation (they do the best they can with what they have, like suicide terrorism), without killing them?
The only way out that I can see is not a self-deceiving “magnanimity,” but real verbal courage, not by “sparing” their touchy, thin-skinned egos, but by confronting them and learning to deal with the consequences. For example, the French petition to defend Robert Redeker calls on all the Muslims and Muslim organizations of Europe to denounce this act publicly. That’s a good start, a good way to separate the demopaths — we use “human rights” to advance our agenda and are only interested when it defends our “rights” — from the democrats.
We are all on the front line in this war, and at this point the danger of terrorism is still numerically way below the danger of traffic accidents and even avian flu. But our careers, our reputations, our friendships, and ultimately, our lives are at stake for speaking out. And yet that is precisely what we must risk. The stakes are worth more than any of our personal calculus.
So the next time the Muslims ambassadors, with the full weight of both Jihadi intimidation and politically correct public opinion behind them, come demanding an apology from the pope, let the pope rebuke their outrageous audacity. Instead of expressing his “total and profound respect for all Muslims,” let him say:
How on earth can I have respect for you when you have none for yourselves, when you try and bully people into showing respect and you show none yourself? When you demean others with the basest kind of hate-mongering and demonizing, and yet grow violent at the slightest criticism? When you fail to denounce the mad violence from your own religious leaders and zealots, but denounce any expression of hostility from others? Who do you think you are, demanding apologies and offering none?
But in order to say that to our Muslim neighbors who ply us with stories of their religion of peace and bristle at our fair questions about their bloody borders and bloody innards, we would need both self-respect and courage. And in so doing, we might even find that there are decent Muslims who agree with us.
In these darkening days, may we begin to discover that self-respect and courage, and the voice that can save us all from the spreading madness. Who knows, maybe when they perform Opera at risk to their lives, both the artists and the audience will find a dimension to art beyond narcissism and pleasure, begin to get in touch with the heroic dimension of our own past, become heros of civil society.