Well, the Pope made some remarks recently, quoting one of the last of the Byzantine Emperors, about how Islam is a violent religion. And some Muslims promptly took offense at this, and rioted in various places and possibly gunned down a nun. Not that they possibly gunned down the nun - we know they did, in fact, gun her down - but it was only possibly because they were irked that the Pope labeled them violent. But it seems likely that the reaction to the Pope's mention of Islam as violent was, well, violence.
Yes, it's heavily ironic.
Now, I don't like the Pope. It's not simply personal, although he does look an awful lot like Darth Sidious. I mean, an awful lot like him. But he can't help that, I guess. No, I just dislike anyone who claims moral and/or intellectual superiority without any ability to prove as much. If the Pope wants to claim that he's a better theologian than other people, fine. That's easy enough to validate. But this pope - in contrast to the last one, whose politics I disliked but who seemed like a decent person - this pope is just full of self-righteousness. He knows the One True Way, and all other options are inferior and wrong. He has publically mused that perhaps the Catholic church should be a bit smaller, so as to weed out those who aren't good enough.
So I don't like ol' baggy-face much. However, I do have to admit, anyone who gives speeches containing quotes from Byzantine emperors does rub me the right way. I have a soft spot for the Byzantines. It's irrational, I know, but there's just something about them - the culture, the political entity, the people - that I enjoy. When I play Civilization, for instance, I generally dub my empire the Byzantine Empire. It's not one of the included choices - although one might argue that the Romans are the same political entity - but it's easy enough to rename things. And I rule from my capital city of Constantinople and take great delight in smashing the Ottomans.
So I like the Byzantines and any time Pope Droopy draws upon them for his pontifications, I confess to feeling a touch warmer towards him.
Anyhow, the quote was a quote - and thus not necessarily the Pope's true opinion - and it was from a guy whose once-glorious Empire was now a vestigial rump and, within a generation, was to be given its coup de grace by members of the religion he was bad-mouthing. So there's certainly some cover there, were one to desire to downplay things.
But here's the thing. The offensive kernel of the statement, at least as it was siezed upon, was that Islam is a violent religion. And this was promptly decried and protested with acts of violence.
Way to cede the point, boneheads.
Now, Catholicism and Christianity in general don't have much of a leg to stand on when criticizing other cultures for being violent. I don't even have to go back to the Crusades or the Inquisition or the treatment of the American Indians. Anyone living in London in the 1980s can tell you that Christianity and Catholicism have their share of murderous zealots.
On the other hand, violence is not viewed as in any way as an acceptable response to religious affront by the vast majority of Christians. And although the vast majority of Muslims are as peaceful as anyone else, and a great number of prominent Muslim imams and political leaders renounce and reject violence as a response, there is nonetheless a sense in the general Muslim world that violence is an acceptible response to a religious affront. It's not held by most Muslims but it is held by many, and is even a majority belief in some areas.
Cartoons of the Prophet? Violence. Pope says something that you don't like? Violence. Thursday? Violence.
I, personally, don't think that this is a religious issue, by which I mean I don't believe there is something inherent in Islam that leads its adherents to be more accepting of violence. To believe that is to be utterly ignorant of history. But there is something in the Muslim culture of the moment, the current interpretation and societal consensus, that does believe in violence. And that's a problem, both for the West and for Muslims who don't believe that violence is acceptable.
Stay tuned for ruminations on the solutions to this dilemma.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra