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Many people have written about the controversy over Pope Benedict's recent remarks at the University of Regensburg, where he quoted a medieval emperor about the barbarity of forced religious conversions. In a replay of the Prophet Cartoon madness, Muslims only escalated their rhetoric after the Vatican apologized for any offense the quotation may have given followers of Islam. Despite apologizing Wednesday for quoting Manuel II's words from 1391 (but not for its argument against violence in religion), Muslims burnt effigies of the Roman Catholic leader and staged demonstrations around the world:
Protesters took to the streets in a series of countries with large Muslim populations, including India and Iraq. The ruling party in Turkey likened Pope Benedict XVI to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades. In Kashmir, an effigy of the pontiff was burnt.
At Friday prayers in the Iranian capital, Teheran, a leading ayatollah described the Pope as "rude and weak-minded". Pakistan's parliament passed a motion condemning the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, criticised him hours after a grenade attack on a church in the Gaza Strip. ...
The head of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, said the remarks "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world".
Similar comments were made in other Muslim capitals, raising fears of a repetition of the anger that followed the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper earlier this year.
All this has shown is that Muslims missed the point of the speech, and in fact have endeavored to fulfill Benedict's warnings rather than prove him wrong. If one reads the speech at Regensburg, the entire speech, one understands that the entire point was to reject violence in pursuing religion in any form, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Bahai. The focal point of the speech was not the recounting of the debate between Manuel II and the unnamed Persian, but rather the rejection of reason and of God that violence brings
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.
This is really the crux of the argument, which is that argument, debate, and rhetoric are absolutely essential in forming any kind of philosophy, including religious doctrine. The words of sacred text do not cover all situations in the world, and therefore development of a solid philosophical body of thought is critical to growth and wisdom. That requires the ability to challenge and to criticize without fear of retribution, a difficulty that most faiths struggle to overcome.
Islam, on the other hand, doesn't bother to try. Benedict never says this explicitly, but Islam's demands that all criticism be silenced turns doctrine into dictatorship, which rejects God on a very basic level. A central tenet of most religions is that humans lack the divine perfection to claim knowledge of the totality of the Divine wisdom. Islam practices a form of supremacy that insists on unquestioned obedience or at least silence of all criticism, especially from outsiders, and creates a violent reaction against it when it occurs.
Islam bullies people into silence, and then obedience. We saw this with the Prophet Cartoons, a series of editorial criticisms that pale into insignificance when seen against similar cartoons from the Muslim media regarding Christians and especially Jews. It is precisely this impulse about which Benedict warns can occur in any religion, but modern Muslims show that they are by far the widest purveyors of this impulse.
Unfortunately, the Muslims are not the only people who missed the point. The New York Times editorial board joins Muslims in demanding an apology and an end to criticism of Islam:
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman.” ...
Muslim leaders the world over have demanded apologies and threatened to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican, warning that the pope’s words dangerously reinforce a false and biased view of Islam. For many Muslims, holy war — jihad — is a spiritual struggle, and not a call to violence. And they denounce its perversion by extremists, who use jihad to justify murder and terrorism.
The Vatican issued a statement saying that Benedict meant no offense and in fact desired dialogue.
The Times missed the point, too. They aren't satisfied with the explanation offered by the Vatican. They want a "deep and persuasive apology" for Benedict's temerity in criticizing the use of violence and rejection of reason in religion, and specifically using a six-hundred-year-old quote that insulted people who regularly insult everyone else, including other Muslims. The Times counsels surrender to the threats and the violence.
Benedict opposes both. That's the real threat behind the Pope's speech, and don't think the radical Muslims don't understand it.