The Pope has got us all into trouble. He has quoted one of his predecessors to the effect that Islam is a violent religion. Angry mobs throughout the Muslim world have protested, claiming that Islam is a religion of peace and that anyone who implies that it isn’t must be put to death where ever they are found.
The Muslims are understandably offended. Given that this Pope that Pope Gregory is quoting was under siege by Muslim armies and would in fact, just two years later be killed and see his city sacked by the followers of the world’s number one religion of peace, he was hardly an unbiased observer. Of all the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church he could have quoted, he chooses one that was killed by Muslims. And then he wonders why they are offended.
The timing couldn’t be more tragic. The wounds were just beginning to heal in the Muslim world inflicted by nervous stares so many Muslim men were unjustly subjected to in airports of the Christian world after the last hijacking.
Still, this misconceived connection in the mind of people outside the Sublime faith is so widespread that the origins of the misconception are worth looking into. One source of the misconception are certain historical facts such as the liberal application of the death penalty to the unbelievers.
This is first of all just plain incorrect. The leaders of the Muslim world in its heyday far from forcing people to convert by the sword actively discouraged it. They even set up financial incentives to prevent themselves from backsliding on religious tolerance by taxing dihimmis (the word for nonbelievers in living under Muslim protection) at a higher rate. That way if any of them, in a moment of weakness, ever did start to mix religion and the sword they would be penalizing themselves financially. The system worked so well that the Sultans actively discouraged conversion to the final revelation. The only time they would punish people was when they left it to convert back to their original religion, which would signal that the person had been evading their taxes all the time they were pretending to be a Muslim. So even this small intrusion of force into matters of religion could be looked at as much as a matter of taxation as religion.
The Muslims of the past not only compare favorably with their Christian contemporaries, they were progressive enough to be able to teach our so-called advanced societies something today. Many Western societies are intolerant of different modes of dress. In France, for instance, girls are barred from wearing the hijab to school and in the Netherlands they are forced to bare their faces to grown men outside their families to have drivers license photos taken.
The Caliphate was so tolerant faith based sartorial diversity that they actually enforced it. Jews got to wear a special armband, Christians got to wear a special hat. And they were all encouraged to express their unique and rich heritages by riding on donkeys, instead of horses, which was the preferred vehicle of Muslim self-expression in transport.
Now there is no compunction in religion. Some people are unfairly generalizing from some isolated incidents of friction between the Muslim world and the infidels. Naturally, a naïve observer might get the wrong idea from the ‘forced’ confessions of the two Fox News Reporters after they had been kidnapped in the West Bank. This one had the Imams working overtime denouncing misguided attempts to generalize about the nature of the Muslim faith from this incident that these kidnappers did not represent Islam. One can understand their frustration. They have had a busy year of massacres committed in the name of their religion to explain had nothing to do with their religion. The high-school girls beheaded in Thailand, the report that majority of rapes committed in the Netherlands were committed by the 5% ‘non-Dutch’ population.
Their difficulties were compounded by what one can most charitably term misguided suggestions on the part of some non-Muslims that the Imams would be more convincing if they had spent less time denouncing those who wondered aloud about the connection between Islam and the violence committed in its name and more time denouncing those who committed violence in its name.
Though one suspects that such suggestions are disingenuous, it is probably worth reviewing why the Imams would not do so in the interests of not playing into the hands of the intolerant.
Obviously, if the Imams were to denounce, say, the kidnappers of the two Fox reporters, they would be playing into the hands of those that wish to draw a connection between Islam and terrorism. It is bad enough that those who wish to smear Islam have the handful of fanatics committing intolerant acts creating a connection in the public mind between Islam and terrorism. How much worse would it be if every time the viewer saw a prominent Imam denouncing some one who happens to be Muslim for committing an act of terror, or worse, compulsion in religion? The people that know this is false know it a priori, that all religions are equally true, that all religions have their fanatics (don’t make us go through medieval history books to dig up our own) and that any temporary correlations that may appear to obtain between any of the world’s faith communities can only be the residual effects of that community’s oppression by another. The people that don’t know this have managed to persist in such retrograde beliefs in spite of at least 12 years of state mandated sensitivity training. How can we expect foreign teachers to succeed where our own efforts have failed?