Imagine. The Pope notes the historical truth that Mohammed expanded his influence through the sword and Muslims are upset. Pakistanis marched in protest, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood demanded an apology, and Morocco withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican. Even Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, thought of as a moderate, complained that Pope Benedict's comments were "ugly and unfortunate" and should be withdrawn.
Naturally, several Christian churches were attacked in the West Bank in protest. It brings to mind the endless caterwauling in Islamic countries over the publication in Europe of cartoons that placed the prophet Mohammed in, shall we say, an unfavorable light. (One drawing depicted him wearing a bomb, for instance.) Apologies were demanded from governments that -- in contrast to the dictatorships that rule most Islamic peoples -- do not control what their people print and say.
Let's stipulate for the sake of argument that the Pope's comments were unfair and that the cartoons were offensive. But no more unfair and offensive than the treatment of Christian images in Western nations in the 21st century. And, even more important, no more unfair and offensive than the treatment of Christians and Christian images in Muslim nations.
Indeed, most of the nations hosting vociferous mobs and demagogic politicians supposedly aggrieved by the West's blasphemous attacks on the prophet and his religion do more than just suppress any public display of Christianity; these countries actively persecute or acquiesce in the persecution of Christian believers.
In some nations the oppression is overt: try to worship publicly in Saudi Arabia, for instance. Try to share your faith in Iran. Try to hold a Christmas service in Iraq. In many other nations persecution is private but systemic, allowed if not encouraged by the authorities.
As I travel the globe, I keep looking for evidence that Islam is the religion of peace and Judaism and Christianity are using violence to advance their faiths. Strangely, I have yet to discover Christian converts filling a truck with dynamite and destroying a mosque. Or congregants at a Jewish temple torching a Muslim madrassah. I'm looking for cases of Mormons hijacking a plane to crash into downtown Islamabad, Hare Krishnas kidnapping and beheading Muslim aid workers, and Bahais taking over a cruise ship and tossing overboard a handicapped, elderly Muslim.
I'm still waiting.
In fact, the worst religious persecution comes in Islamic nations. In Indonesia I saw churches and a Bible school that had been destroyed by Muslim mobs. In March I met a Christian pastor whose wife lost a leg in a bombing at their church; their home was burned down the following year. A few years ago I walked through Christian neighborhoods in the town of Ambon burned down by Muslim mobs.
In Bangladesh I met a young Christian woman who fled her village after being kidnapped and forced into a marriage by a Muslim family. An aid organization, funded by the U.S. government, which helps abused women refused to aid her. I talked with Christians threatened with violence after their conversions.
In Pakistan I stayed with a Christian family in hiding after the father, a convert to Christianity, fled to America to escape death threats. His wife's relatives hoped to kidnap their children. Churches there have been bombed and congregants assaulted; Christians risk being prosecuted for blasphemy if they deny the essential tenets of Islam.
In all of these nations economic, legal, political, and social discrimination is rampant. Government services and benefits are denied to Christians. Even when public officials don't incite violence, they rarely attempt to prevent it. And virtually never are Muslim killers or rioters arrested, let alone punished.
The Pope didn't say any of this, but he could have. The problem of Islam and violence is not confined to the past. It is very much part of the present.
Islamic protests against the slightest Western criticism of or doubt about the religion of Mohammed ring hollow. It is sad that many Muslims appear unable to defend their faith through anything but intimidation. Moreover, so long as their religion is noted for its willingness to persecute and employ violence around the globe, they have little credibility to complain of offenses by others.
Does what we say in the West bother Muslims in the Mideast and elsewhere? I have trouble feeling guilty so long as Islamic states fail to recognize that people created by God in his image should be left free to decide whether and how to follow him. A coerced conversion yields no glory to God, even if his name is Allah.
How about a deal? We in the West won't talk about the unpleasant beginnings of Islam or publish nasty cartoons about Mohammed. In return, Muslim nations will stop killing and persecuting Christians. Further, they will give Christians the same freedoms that Muslims enjoy in the West.
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