"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Muslims to Pope: Maybe you offended us and until we're sure we're going to burn things

Compared to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, the West's latest degredation of Islam is barely a blip on the radar screen, yet it is useful for illustrating a fundamental difference between Islamic and non-Islamic reasoning. I refer to the furor over Pope Benedict XVI's quotation of a medieval text in a speech about the incompatibility of irrationality and religion. Anyone who actually cared to read the speech itself will notice that he makes the quotation early on, that his only references to Islam are contained within the quote, and that he quickly moves on to a much more general and academic analysis of rationality in the Christian concept of logos (don't ask me to explain, the Pope's decades of theological study greatly outweigh my few semesters of undergraduate work). The speech is a highly intellectual piece, using sources that span two millennia of theological and philosophical thought. And do Muslim critics rebut his words with an equally rational and academic response? (a question which, in recent years, has become increasingly rhetorical)

Nope. To say that his detractors willfully misunderstood his point would at least credit them with the ability to comprehend his train of thought. Rather, the outcry only demonstrates a pervasive, multilayered ignorance that begins with the apparent inability to distinguish between the quotation and the quoter. I feel incredibly silly pointing out something that I find so obvious, but it seems necessary to enlighten critics from the streets of Pakistan to the newsroom of CNN that simply because the Pope quoted someone, does not mean that he agrees with them (the CNN article does not throw its whole weight behind the accusation, but manages to demonstrate its logical feeblemindedness with a weak "appeared to endorse"). Good God, people, I might quote Hitler, but repeating his words is a far cry from espousing Nazism.

Yet this is precisely what happened. And the response has been predictable. Muslims groups around the world are demanding an apology, burning him in effigy, and firebombing churches (all while one protestor made the laughable comment that "It is impossible that jihad can be linked with violence, we Muslims have no violent character"). As seems to be the rule when an individual offers a critique of anything Islamic (or anything that can be interpreted as a critique), the response is emotional and violent rather than reasoned and peaceful. Muslim leaders do not offer theological counterarguments or cite their own ancient scholarship; they instead demand apologies and censorship. Can you imagine a university student responding to a critique of his thesis with "How dare you, you've offended me by the simple act of questioning my argument, apologize and never say that again"? It's an absurd, childish, knee-jerk response. But it's all we get these days.

This is not the first time the Muslim world has responded to criticism with anger and ignorance (wonder how Salman Rushdie's doing these days), nor will it be the last. But for their ardent desire not to be stereotyped, Muslims, by these actions, do a good job of reinforcing the 'simplistic' notion that reason has no place in their worldview.

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