Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Pope vs Islam

Who do you root for in a battle like this? I hate to agree with the Pope, but in this case he was right to pronounce that much of the Quran is “evil and inhuman” and that Islam was a religion spread by the sword. Of course, the same can be said about the Bible and Catholicism (and it is especially ironic for a Pope to object to religion being spread through violence), but at least Christianity absorbed enough of secular philosophy from the Enlightenment to humanize it so that it is no longer enforced with violence except in the rarest of circumstances.

But the irony of the whole situation is that the response from much of the Islamic world has only confirmed the validity of what he said. A demonsration in London included a Muslim extremist calling for the Pope to be killed for insulting Islam. As Bill Hicks says, that’s what fundamentalism breeds – no sense of irony. “Islam is a peaceful religion and we will murder anyone who says otherwise” is hardly the best way to make your case. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda got into the act as well:

Al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as “the worshipper of the cross,” saying “you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. … We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose the ‘jizya’ tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (being killed by) the sword.”…

“You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad (holy war) and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God’s rule is established governing all people and nations,” said the statement by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups in Iraq.

“Islam is not spread by the sword. Now convert to Islam or we will kill you with a sword.” Meanwhile, several churches have been firebombed and a nun was shot in the back in Somalia. Good going guys, we’re almost convinced that your religion is peaceful.

Comments

  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    September 19, 2006

    I just wonder how anyone can maintain that Islam is peaceful given events like this and the furor over the cartoons. It really is a religion stuck in the fourteenth century.

  2. #2 The Schwa
    September 19, 2006

    the 14 th century?? You are being quite generous!

  3. #3 Scott
    September 19, 2006

    Stuart, Islam isn’t peaceful. There aren’t many religions that are. The people who are Muslim, however, mostly they are normal people. You shouldn’t identify a religion by it’s fundies. It only leads to, well, hate.

  4. #4 Chuck
    September 19, 2006

    In the wake of Mohammed’s victory at Medina, a poet named Asma attacked the Prophet in her writings. A blind Muslim named Omeir made his way into her room and plunged his sword with the zeal that only a religious convert can muster through the sleeping woman’s breast into the couch underneath her body. The next morning, in the mosque, Mohammed (peace be upon him – I’m supposed to say this even though I’m not a Muslim, right?) asked Omeir, “Hast though slain Asma?” “Yes,” answered Omeir, “is there cause for apprehension?” “None,” said the Prophet; “a couple of goats will hardly knock their heads together for it.” A Jew, Afak, who satirized the Prophet, was slain as he slept in his courtyard (it would seem “there shall be no compulsion in religion … and no honor in jihad”). Another poet, Kab ibn al-Ashraf, encouraged the Quraish to avenge their defeat and enraged Muslims by addressing love sonnets to their wives. “Who will ease me of this man?” asked the Prophet of this religion of peace. That very evening the poet’s decapitated head was laid at the Prophet’s feet.

    The anecdotes above represent a few selective examples from the Koran. One could find worse in the Bible. There is much of nobility, morality, and even love and reason in Islam. But it is not a religion of peace (no religions are).

    Also, I find it funny that the Pope is trying to claim that real Christianity depends on faith and reason. I would say that much of the history of Western civilization has consisted of the tension between the faith of its Judean heritage and the reason of its Greek heritage – but that reason has, thankfully, triumphed for the most part since the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, the same has not taken place in the Muslim world. Reason and faith can only be at peace when when all dogma, miracles, angels, demons, magic, myth, supersitition, essentialism, creationism, vitalism, dualism, Manicheism, revelation, and personal theism have been banned, and only the ultimate mysteries of metaphysics remain.

  5. #5 The Schwa
    September 19, 2006

    There is no need to debate which religion (Islam vs. Christianity) is better. It has been conclusively determined here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KBqcOxIzTY

  6. #6 Jeff Rients
    September 19, 2006

    “he was right to pronounce that much of the Quran is “evil and inhuman” and that Islam was a religion spread by the sword.”

    Ed, the Pope may have been factually correct but that doesn’t make it a wise thing for him to say.

  7. #7 Matthew Young
    September 19, 2006

    Firstly, it was bloody stupid thing for him to say. Second of all, Islam as a whole needs to just grow up. This sort of infantile nonsense simply proves the silly old coffin-dodger’s point.

    But on a different point, when the Muslims go and burn non-Catholic churches in the Middle East, is anyone else reminded at all of Americans beating up Sikhs in the aftermath of 9/11?

    When the hugely ignorant become develop self-righteous anger against they know not what, they are a dangerous bunch indeed. Any sort of target will do.

  8. #8 kehrsam
    September 19, 2006

    It amazes me that people can argue about something like this while there are still homosexuals.

  9. #9 RickD
    September 19, 2006

    Bias is really a wonderful thing. Let’s think long and hard about which country invaded which in 2003, and which countries have been invading the Middle East fairly continuously since the Middle Ages. Only somebody from a Western background could say with anything resembling a straight face “Islam is a violent religion” without noting that the history of Christianity is at least as violent and, in practical effect, has historically been much more aggressive. Shall we enter into a discussion as to how Europeans treated the native inhabitants of North America who wouldn’t convert to their religion?

    “at least Christianity absorbed enough of secular philosophy from the Enlightenment to humanize it so that it is no longer enforced with violence except in the rarest of circumstances.”

    :chortle:

    Wait – did the 20th century just happen or what? Wasn’t it the most violent century in the history of the human species? Wasn’t at least half of that violence perpetrated by Christians? Wasn’t it just within the past two years that the American military commander justified US actions in Iraq with a comment to the effect of “My God is bigger than his”?

    I think you’re horribly understating the extent to which Christianity remains a violent, aggressive cult for the majority of its adherents.

    It’s true that 3000+ people died when the World Trade Center was hit in 2001. Americans have used more than 10000 cluster bombs in Iraq. What exactly is the death count for the Iraqi side since March of 2003? Nobody really knows, but I guarantee it’s at least 30 times the WTC number.

    But Muslims are the violent ones. Yeah, right.

  10. #10 Matthew Young
    September 19, 2006

    But Muslims are the violent ones. Yeah, right.

    Muslims cannot possibly hope to match the genocide perpetuated on predominantly Muslim countries by predominantly Christian ones in the last fifteen years or so, for sure.

    You can’t possibly defend Chrisitanity, I don’t think – Christianity invented the Crusades, for Pete’s sake! But the current, prevailing militant form of Islam is certainly based on violence.

    Neither religion ‘is’ violent any more than it is a ‘religion of peace’. Both texts contain loads of messages of peace and tolerance, just as they do wrath and vengeance, so it depends rather on the one doing the interpreting, surely. Which currently, for both religions, tends to be the deranged, homicidal faction rather than the love thy neighbour faction.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    September 19, 2006

    RickD wrote:

    Wait – did the 20th century just happen or what? Wasn’t it the most violent century in the history of the human species? Wasn’t at least half of that violence perpetrated by Christians? Wasn’t it just within the past two years that the American military commander justified US actions in Iraq with a comment to the effect of “My God is bigger than his”?

    You’re conflating two entirely different claims. Wars fough “by Christians” (nominally so, in most cases) for some purpose unrelated to religion is an entirely different phenomenon from violence perpetrated in the name of religion and solely because of religion. Do you really think Christianity is to blame for WWI, WWII, Korea or Vietnam? Those wars had nothing to do with religion, they weren’t fought over religious disputes and they weren’t sanctioned by religious leaders or religious text. The violence we’re seeing today, on the other hand, where anyone who dares to speak out about the violent tendencies of Islam is marked for death, is obviously quite different.

    I think you’re horribly understating the extent to which Christianity remains a violent, aggressive cult for the majority of its adherents.

    If you really believe that, I suggest a test of your hypothesis. Go to Rome, even right in front of the Vatican, and pronounce that Christianity is a violent, aggressive cult. Then go to Riyadh or Mecca or Tehran and say the very same thing about Islam. But you’ll need to do it in that order, because if you go to those cities first and condemn Islam, you’ll likely be too dead to move on to Vatican City. We live in a country where people “insult” – i.e. criticize – Christianity every day and all that results is a lot of whining from Christians about how persecuted they are and an occasional boycott threat. Go ask Salman Rushdie, who has written as much criticism of Christianity as he has of Islam in his life, which religion is more of a threat. Or ask Theo Van Gogh…oops, you can’t. He was killed for daring to point out that Islam mistreats women.

    Historically, Christianity has every bit as bloody a record as Islam, no doubt. Christianity was also spread by the sword and enforced at the point of a gun for many centuries. But today’s Christianity has, for all but the most barbaric fringes, been neutered and humanized, thank Voltaire, as a result of the Enlightenment (and no, it didn’t happen all at once, it took some time). And if you really think there’s no difference today, take up my challenge above and see how long you last.

  12. #12 Miguelito
    September 19, 2006

    A Star Wars fan says: “But the Borg are more evil.”
    A Star Trek fan says: “But Darth Vader is more evil.”

    When I look at it this way, I see how absurd both sides are in the Islam/Christianity argument.

  13. #13 kehrsam
    September 19, 2006

    Wait – did the 20th century just happen or what? Wasn’t it the most violent century in the history of the human species? Wasn’t at least half of that violence perpetrated by Christians?

    I believe you must have missed Dr. Kennedy’s presentation. That was all Darwin’s fault.

  14. #14 David Heddle
    September 19, 2006

    Matthew Young:

    Christianity invented the Crusades, for Pete’s sake!

    Christianity did not invent the Crusades, misguided Christians did. There is nothing in the bible that calls for the repatriation (or occupation) of Jerusalem. The distinction is important, both for Christianity and Islam. In Old Testament times, genocide was restricted to limited instances of ethnic cleansing where God himself commanded it for the deliverance of the Promised Land. There is nothing like that at all in the New Testament, so barring God making a personal appearance and directing Christians to attack a people, we can safely say that no killing of anyone is justifiable, in Christianity, on the grounds of doing it “for God.” None. I have read the Koran, but don’t pretend to be an expert. Like the bible, is the call for killing infidels/apostates clearly terminated? My cursory reading was that it is ambiguous–or should I say inconsistent on this question.

  15. #15 Will
    September 19, 2006

    Christianity did not invent the Crusades, misguided Christians did.

    Yeah, True Christians™ had nothing to do with it.

  16. #16 AndyS
    September 19, 2006

    Ed,

    Go to Rome, even right in front of the Vatican, and pronounce that Christianity is a violent, aggressive cult. Then go to Riyadh or Mecca or Tehran and say the very same thing about Islam.

    Sorry, that’s not a fair comparison. Go to San Jose, California, and say the same thing on the steps on a mosque about Islam. The problem is not the religion. How many American muslims have been involved in violent acts?

  17. #17 Leni
    September 19, 2006

    RickD wrote:

    But Muslims are the violent ones. Yeah, right.

    Just because the pope is a hypocrite doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It just means he’s said something about someone else’s religion that could easily be said of his own.

    I also don’t think it was a stupid thing to say. I’m perfectly fine with anyone criticizing Muslims and/or Islam, hypocrite or not.

  18. #18 David Heddle
    September 19, 2006

    Will,

    Yeah, True Christians™ had nothing to do with it.

    Your True Scotsman rebuttal, which has to be recognized as one of most trite comebacks of our day, does not even apply to what I wrote. If I had written: “they were not real Christians” then perhaps the argument would have the appearance of a modicum of applicability–all though even then it wouldn’t be truly applicable. (For example, I can say that no real (or true) Christian denies the miracles of Christ even though some, who claim to be Christians, deny the miracles–the point being there is nothing intrinsically wrong with setting boundaries of orthodoxy–others are free to set their own.) But, as I said, I didn’t claim the crusaders weren’t “real” Christians, I said they were misguided, as to varying degrees, are we all. The difference between “real” or “true” and “misguided” is not very subtle.

  19. #19 Jesus Christ
    September 19, 2006

    Heddle says: “In Old Testament times, genocide was restricted to limited instances of ethnic cleansing where God himself commanded it for the deliverance of the Promised Land.” Gee what a nice god he is!

    then Heddle says: “There is nothing like that at all in the New Testament, so barring God making a personal appearance and directing Christians to attack a people, we can safely say that no killing of anyone is justifiable, in Christianity, on the grounds of doing it “for God.”"

    So Heddle – Sometimes your god is bad and the other times he/she is good? I like your making nice-nice for god, with the “limited edition” ethnic cleansing… I am sure that the men, women and kids so cleansed feel better, knowing it was for a god, I mean good cause!

    Personally, I think you should be burned at the stake for your heresy. I mean, God told me in a vision that Heddle should be burned at the stake, for the sake of the deliverance of the Promised Land.

    Have a nice day.

    Jesus Christ

  20. #20 David Heddle
    September 19, 2006

    Jesus Christ,

    No, God is always good. I didn’t write that the genocide in the Old Testament was bad. My only point was that it ceased. It could not be used as, for example, justification for the Crusades.

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    September 19, 2006

    AndyS wrote:

    Sorry, that’s not a fair comparison. Go to San Jose, California, and say the same thing on the steps on a mosque about Islam. The problem is not the religion. How many American muslims have been involved in violent acts?

    The comparison is entirely fair. Go practically anywhere in the world and insult or criticize Christianity, and the worst you will get greeted with are howls of outrage and claims of persecution. Go practically anywhere in the world and insult or criticize Islam and you will most likely find yourself facing death threats. And not only you, but anyone connected to you, not to mention random firebombings of anything “western” that they can associate with you. I think we hardly need run down the enormous list of such incidents around the world over the last few years, do we? No one who criticizes Christianity has been treated this way in quite a long time, and that is a very good thing indeed. It’s because Christianity has been sufficently neutered and humanized by contact with humanist thought; Islam has not yet gotten there. We can only hope that it will. But to pretend the two are equivalently dangerous today is beyond absurd.

  22. #22 kehrsam
    September 19, 2006

    How many American muslims have been involved in violent acts?

    Let’s see: The Beltway sniper (and accomplice), the shooter in Seattle recently, the one at the LA airport….

    And yes, we have Christian terrorists in the US as well. Most of them don’t seem to much bother with church, as it happens, or else they invent their own “Christian Identity” or some such. But they do claim to be representing God and all.

  23. #23 Raging Bee
    September 19, 2006

    Actually, neither “true” nor “false” Christians “invented” the Crusades. The Crusades were a direct response — though a disproportionate and incompetent one, to be sure — to the conquest of Christian lands by Muslim armies, which was going on long before the first Crusade. “Our side” may have FUBAR’ed the whole thing, but they didn’t start it.

  24. #24 Ginger Yellow
    September 19, 2006

    I think there’s an interesting tension at the heart of this. All of the Abrahamic religions, naturally, were very keen to stress their monotheism in the early days, presumably in the case of Judaism because it was a unique selling point (Take two Gods into the shower? Not me!). But the polytheistic tendency keeps creeping back in. With Christianity you got the absurdity of the Trinity, whereby on the one hand we’re suposed to be impressed that God sent his “fully divine, fully human” son to earth to die for us, but on the other he’s exactly the same person as his son, honest. Islam rightly reacted against this, seeing it for the rampant polytheism that it is. But in rapid order Mohammed was elevated to an effectively deistic position. As I understand it it’s worse to insult Mohammed in Islamic cultures than to insult Allah (presumably He’s big enough to take it on the chin, like the Jewish God usually does). In summary, it’s my suspicion that a lot of religious uptightness about blasphemy is in fact the result of unresolved cognitive dissonance between monotheistic principles and polytheistic exegesis or impulses.

    “In Old Testament times, genocide was restricted to limited instances of ethnic cleansing where God himself commanded it for the deliverance of the Promised Land.”

    That’s pretty much exactly the argument used by Urban II to justify the genocide of the first Crusade.

  25. #25 somnilista, FCD
    September 19, 2006

    Remember that the Pope’s primary target was secular rationalists. How effective do you think he was in establishing that reason needs faith? How many secular riots and firebombings were inspired by the Pope’s speech?

  26. #26 GH
    September 19, 2006

    God is always good.

    And all the babies that drown in a supposed flood where quite evil I suppose?

    The rest is simply an apologetic two step.

  27. #27 Matthew
    September 19, 2006

    Philosophy doesn’t make people less violent, having jobs makes people less violent. Having food makes people less violent. Christianity is only less violent today in wealthy countries (which happens to be most of the christian world). Keep up with the news in African countries where there are both muslim and christian populations and you will see violence from both sides. The middle east doesn’t need a philosophical renaissance, they need economic development.

  28. #28 SLC
    September 19, 2006

    The fact of the matter is that Dr. Ratzinger was absolutely correct and accurate in his comment on Islam. The reaction to it proves its’ truth. The notorious forgery, The Protocols of Zion is published all over the Muslim world with nary a complaint from the Weatern media. If the West reacted to this like the Muslims react to a far lesser comment by Dr. Ratzinger, all the Mosques therein would be burned to the ground with the worshipers inside.

  29. #29 Nebogipfel
    September 20, 2006

    IvP

    Whoever wins… We loose.

  30. #30 raj
    September 20, 2006

    Der Ratzinger was, of course, stupid for saying what he said–he could have said substantially the same thing in a more “politic” way–but let’s understand something. His remarks–which were made during a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria (southeast Germany) would probably have had little impact on anyone outside the lecture hall except for the fact that corrupt regimes of predominantly Muslim countries wanted to do a little inflaming of their masses to divert the attention of those masses from their corruption. I would even not be surprised if those corrupt regimes even did a little instigating of the “demonstrations.”

    Regarding

    SLC | September 19, 2006 06:37 PM

    The fact of the matter is that Dr. Ratzinger was absolutely correct and accurate in his comment on Islam.

    Ratzi was quoting Manuel II Palaeologus, a 14th century emperor of the Byzantine empire centered on Constantinople. Arabs and Turks–who happened to be Muslim–were in the process of dismantling his empire, somewhat in the same way that the pagan (and later Christianized) Germanic tribes dismantled the western Roman Empire. Recall, this was after the split of the Roman Empire into eastern and western zones, and even after the split of the christian church into Roman Catholic (centered on Rome) and Eastern Orthodox (centered on Constantinople). I wouldn’t really put a lot of stock into something that Manuel II would have said about people who were in the process of dismantling his domains.

    BTW, the medieval Christians weren’t exactly nice when it came to their spreading of their religion.

    The reaction to it proves its’ truth.

    No it doesn’t. See my opening paragraph.

    The notorious forgery, The Protocols of Zion is published all over the Muslim world with nary a complaint from the Weatern media.

    Aside from the hyperbole, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is probably available over the internet for anyone who is interested in reading them. This proves nothing. What does the “nary a complaint from the Western media” have to do with this?

    If the West reacted to this like the Muslims react to a far lesser comment by Dr. Ratzinger, all the Mosques therein would be burned to the ground with the worshipers inside.

    This is just silly. BTW, if you believe that there have been no fire-bombings of mosques, you might want to do a search on google.com. You might be surprised at what you find.

  31. #31 RickD
    September 20, 2006

    The fact of the matter is that Dr. Ratzinger was absolutely correct and accurate in his comment on Islam. The reaction to it proves its’ truth. The notorious forgery, The Protocols of Zion is published all over the Muslim world with nary a complaint from the Weatern media. If the West reacted to this like the Muslims react to a far lesser comment by Dr. Ratzinger, all the Mosques therein would be burned to the ground with the worshipers inside.

    Posted by: SLC | September 19, 2006 06:37 PM

    This would be a more compelling criticism if The Protocols of Zion had not been published originally in Russia, and originally disseminated primarily in Europe. It’s far more associated with anti-Semitism in Western, Christian nations than in Islamic nations.

    So you’re kinda proving the opposite point of what you’re intending here.

    I’m not arguing, nor have I ever argued, that Islam is a peaceful religion. But the Christian house appears to be made of glass that’s far too brittle for any stone throwing, it seems to me.

    As for “the reactions proves the truth”, I have to wonder about the guilty conscience that shows itself whenever you are accused of molesting young children.

  32. #32 RickD
    September 20, 2006

    Ed, my point about the relative nature of Christendom and Islamia these days is that, for all the finger-pointing in the West about how violent Islam is, the fact remains that _Christian_ nations are engaged in violence and aggression on the home turf of the Islamic nations. Is the motivation spiritual or is this simply resource-grabbing? Well, if your perspective on the whole religion this is that religion allows people to hide from their own true natures, the fact that the underlying causes of the recent wars in the Middle East are more petroleum-based than cross-based doesn’t really change the fact that the perpetrators of the war are relying heavily on the cross to motivate their troops.

    Could I go to Rome and criticize Christianity? Sure. But Rome ain’t the center of Christianity any more. Just ask the good ol’ boys of South Texas who the _real_ Christians are. The Bush administration in particular has been taking active steps to undermine any division between church and state in the US and concomittantly has been pursuing the most aggressive imperialistic foreign policy in the nation’s history. (Well, at least since the Western lands were taken from the natives, but that was also justified in the name of religion.)

    Could I go to boot camp at Parris Island and criticize Christianity? I seriously doubt it. I expect the reaction would make Full Metal Jacket look tame in comparison. Unlike Private Joker, I don’t think I’d be able to get away with dodging questions about the Virgin Mary. And the monomania of today’s military and church worship go hand in hand. (Just ask them!)

  33. #33 SLC
    September 20, 2006

    Re Raj

    1. The Protocols of Zion has been known to be a forgery for over a century. It was written by agents of the Czar in the late 19th century during one of the many pogroms perpetrated in Russia at the time. My reference to it as a notorious forgery was not in the least hyperbole.

    2. The Protocols of Zion has been published in hard cover form all over the Muslim world (just recently, there was a television broadcast in Egypt concerning the document in which it was treated as the gospel truth and the fact that it is a forgery was not mentioned).

  34. #34 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    RickD wrote:

    Could I go to Rome and criticize Christianity? Sure. But Rome ain’t the center of Christianity any more. Just ask the good ol’ boys of South Texas who the _real_ Christians are.

    You’re missing the point. People in South Texas insult and criticize Christianity on a regular basis as well. Go virtually anywhere in the world and publish articles against Christianity and you will have little to fear. Do that to Islam and you will live under death threats and may well spark international protests that include firebombing churches and calls for slaughter. When was the last time you saw mobs of Christians calling for the deaths of those who insult Christianity? It’s been a hell of a long time.

    The Bush administration in particular has been taking active steps to undermine any division between church and state in the US and concomittantly has been pursuing the most aggressive imperialistic foreign policy in the nation’s history.

    The discussion is not about the actions of the Bush administration, it’s about the relative humanization of Islam and Christianity. And by any sane criteria, this is a no-brainer.

  35. #35 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2006

    Ed Brayton: Go practically anywhere in the world and insult or criticize Islam and you will most likely find yourself facing death threats.

    Oh? Your blog, and others like it, are accessible “practically anywhere in the world” – how many threats have you, or other brave Islam-bashers, received as a result?

    Or are they cleaned out automatically by the spam filters?

  36. #36 raj
    September 20, 2006

    SLC | September 20, 2006 10:17 AM

    The Protocols of Zion has been known to be a forgery for over a century….

    I know that. It is believed to have been written by the Czar’s secret police in the mid- to late-19th century.

    BTW, where did you get the title as “The Protocols of Zion“? I know of it as “The Protocols of The Elders of Zion.”

    The Protocols of Zion has been published in hard cover form all over the Muslim world…

    That may be, but you miss my point. It is available all over the world, not just in the Muslim world, via the internet. One can find it with a quick google search.

    But you miss another point that I made, inferentially in my question “what does the “nary a complaint from the Western media” have to do with this?” Why would you expect Western media to complain about it, in what way would you suggest that Western media should complain about it, and just how extensively would you expect them to complain about it? Obviously, you know about it, and I suspect that you learned about it at least in part from Western media. Western newspapers and magazines have only so many pages, and broadcast media have only so many minutes. AND I suspect that most people, at least in the US, have probably never heard of the book, which would mean that, if they were going to publish much about it, they would have to explain what the book consists of, etc., for background.

  37. #37 Raging Bee
    September 20, 2006

    This would be a more compelling criticism if The Protocols of Zion had not been published originally in Russia, and originally disseminated primarily in Europe. It’s far more associated with anti-Semitism in Western, Christian nations than in Islamic nations.

    The criticism is compelling because the Protocols have long been widely rejected in the West, but are still widely accepted as gospel truth in the Muslim world. (Also, there are prime-time shows on Arab TV stations that depict rabbis as cannibals.)

    raj: it is your response to the criticisms that is silly, and in many cases beside the point. First, your reference to Medieval Christian barbarism doesn’t say much about our behavior today. Second, do you really believe that the lack of complaint from the Western media about Jew-bashing in the Muslim world is not worth mentioning? Third, vandalism of mosques in the West is not the result of protests orchestrated by state-controlled media, as was the Arab Toon Tantrum, nor do they represent the shamelessly-stated opinions of a majority of Christians.

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    Pierce Butler wrote:

    Your blog, and others like it, are accessible “practically anywhere in the world” – how many threats have you, or other brave Islam-bashers, received as a result?

    My blog, and most blogs, are still rather obscure, especially outside of this country. Make such statements where they are likely to be seen and you get the result I spoke of. For crying out loud, do I have to list the names of all the people living under death threats and armed guards right now? Do I really need to list all of the people killed around the world because they’ve “insulted Islam”, or show the pictures of screaming mobs calling for slaughter over such nonsense? This is hardly some big secret no one is aware of.

  39. #39 somnilista, FCD
    September 20, 2006

    Hugo Chavez calls Bush ‘the devil’

    I expect hordes of Satan worshippers will riotously fill the streets, screaming that Chavez’ words are defamatory to the devil.

  40. #40 Manny
    September 20, 2006

    Ed,

    Your attitude on this matter, as identified by others above, is dissapointingly insensitive and ignorant. Your vast generalizations and “thought experiments” are useless. Listing people killed or showing pictures of mobs is not evidence for your point. The key thing you’re missing is the fact that violence and “danger” stems from interpretation, not core religious doctrine. Because of this step of interpretation, all sorts of other factors enter the realm of discourse: geopolitics, social factors, economics etc. All of these factors can move an otherwise peaceful religious observer to the brink of violence. It’s just too complex to label a whole religion as “more dangerous”. Killing in the name of god can be the surface of a wide set of factors, and, in the middle east, many of these have to do with the political and economic practices of the west. Please be more careful and take into consideration the vast complexities of violence and “danger” before labeling a whole religion and its followers.

  41. #41 Raging Bee
    September 20, 2006

    Because of this step of interpretation, all sorts of other factors enter the realm of discourse: geopolitics, social factors, economics etc.

    Some of the replies here HAVE taken these factors into account, and Ed has not denied their relevance.

    Killing in the name of god can be the surface of a wide set of factors, and, in the middle east, many of these have to do with the political and economic practices of the west.

    Which practices of the West are at fault for the backward political culture that spawns antisemitism, terrorism, and widespread oppression of women? How is the West at fault for the anti-Jewish content of Saudi school-books? How is the West at fault for the 9/11 attacks, which were planned and based from a country that had been invaded by the USSR, not by the US?

    Please be more careful and take into consideration the vast complexities of violence and “danger” before labeling a whole religion and its followers.

    Perhaps, Manny, you should try to follow your own advice before labelling a whole region “victims” of (unspecified) Western actions.

  42. #42 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    Manny-

    Frankly, accusations of insensitivity mean little to me; I care about accuracy, not perceptions of sensitivity. And what I said remains absolutely valid. Of course it’s a matter of interpretation, but the point is that Christianity, outside of the tiniest fringe, long ago reinterpreted the “kill anyone of a different religion” barbarism of the Bible (largely as a result of mixture with the humanist philosophy of the enlightenment period. And while some Muslims have done the same with the Quran, a much larger proportion of them have not. And of course the fact that we can list innumerable examples of such barbarism going on and being defended on the basis of the Quran is evidence for my argument. What else could it possibly be?

    By the way, I maintain that the Bible and the Quran are about equally barbaric in their treatment of women and their treatment of other religions. The only difference, as you say, is one of interpretation. For centuries, the Bible, like the Quran, was interpreted by a sizable percentage of believers as justifying the same sorts of barbarism we see commonly in Islam today (forced conversions, murder or imprisonment for apostasy and heresy, hatred of Jews, destruction of other religions, etc). That is no longer the case for virtually any Christian group today except those on the most backwards fringe, and it’s no longer the case because of an enormous battle between reactionaries and modernists that took place over a very long period of time. Compared to medieval times, today’s Christianity is far less dangerous and far more humanist in orientation, which necessitated wholesale reinterpretation. Islam must now undergo that same process. But in the meantime, it is hardly “insensitive” to point out the reality that, for an enormous number of Muslims, their religion remains every bit as barbaric as Christianity was in centuries past.

  43. #43 Matthew Young
    September 20, 2006

    By and large I do agree with Ed and Bee, that currently Islam is interpreted in a far more randomly, unpredictably violent fashion than Christianity. I would say two things in Manny’s defence however.

    I definitely get the impression that a powerful undercurrent of religious justification allows Western leaders, particularly in the United States, although Blair is a bit of a zealot as well, to pretty much ignore widespread slaughter in the Middle East as trivial. They are happy to allow Israel to commit all sorts of atrocities and happy to bomb Iraq back into the dark ages for pretty much no reason whatsoever and I think a large part of what allows them to think that this is basically okay is due to a combination of racist, but predominantly religious prejudice.

    And how is anyone supposed to believe that the genocide in Iraq is not a religious war when that twit Bush goes and says something like this.

    The other thing I would ask is whether or not people sincerely believe that if the socio-economic tables were turned that Christians wouldn’t be behaving in the same deranged and childish way the Muslims are currently behaving over every tiny perceived slight? I know this is a slightly fatuous argument, but I just thought it worth asking.

    If I remember correctly, at the height of the Ottoman Empire, when there was much greater prosperity and confidence in the Muslim world then it was, in comparison to contemporary values, a pretty tolerant and accepting religion. It is largely since the total emasculation of the greater Islamic civilisations and the complete concentration of power in an entirely non-Islamic West that the rise of fundamentalism and militancy has begun again in the Islamic world.

    I know it sounds like I am insisting the two are equally bad, which I am not. The idea of the equivalent of the Cartoon Hysteria taking place across all of Western civilisation is absurd, but I am not sure it is entirely justified to blame that on the religion itself per se.

  44. #44 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    Matthew Young wrote:

    The other thing I would ask is whether or not people sincerely believe that if the socio-economic tables were turned that Christians wouldn’t be behaving in the same deranged and childish way the Muslims are currently behaving over every tiny perceived slight? I know this is a slightly fatuous argument, but I just thought it worth asking.

    I don’t think the evidence supports such an argument. Much of the Christian world is poor (look at Mexico and Central and South America) and much of the Arab world is fabulously wealthy. Bin Laden’s millions did not help him avoid an astonishing level of barbarism. Muslims are not a poor oppressed minority in most nations where they are to be found, they are the ones holding the reigns of power and, far too often, the ones instituting the most barbaric moral and legal code.

    f I remember correctly, at the height of the Ottoman Empire, when there was much greater prosperity and confidence in the Muslim world then it was, in comparison to contemporary values, a pretty tolerant and accepting religion. It is largely since the total emasculation of the greater Islamic civilisations and the complete concentration of power in an entirely non-Islamic West that the rise of fundamentalism and militancy has begun again in the Islamic world.

    Except that the height of the Ottoman empire was achieved through the bloody conquering of non-Muslim people and the stealing of their riches. And I’m not sure I understand why we would call the breakup of the Ottoman empire the “total emasculation” of Islamic civilization, but not refer to the breakup of the Roman empire as the total emasculation of Christian civilizations. Muslims control and own numerous nations around the world and Islam is a far greater influence on those cultures than Christianity is in any Western nation. What separates the West from the Islamic world is not that they are Muslim and we are Christian, it’s that they are Muslim and we are largely secular. The least secular major nation of the West is the United States, and we have the strongest secular legal tradition of them all. Muslims are certainly far less “emasculated” in terms of their control over whole nations than Christianity is. Despite our obvious battles with the religious right in this nation, Christianity is but a bit player in the political control of Western nations, with far less control over law and politics than at almost any time in the past. There is no nation, even Vatican City, that is so closely tied to religion as any number of Arab and Asian nations are to Islam. We’re debating whether to allow ten commandments monuments in America; meanwhile, they’re living under Sharia law in much of the Arab world and putting women and homosexuals to death on a regular basis. By any measure, Christianity is far more emasculated and separated from real power in the nations its adherents occupy than Islam is in those nations where Muslims are the majority.

  45. #45 Matthew Young
    September 20, 2006

    What separates the West from the Islamic world is not that they are Muslim and we are Christian, it’s that they are Muslim and we are largely secular.

    I think that this may be the most relevant point in the whole debate.

  46. #46 Matthew Young
    September 20, 2006

    Incidentally, does anyone reckon that the overtly religious tones in which Bush and Blair have couched their War on Terror – which despite protestations to the contrary must seem to Muslims like a War on Islam – is making the Islamic fundamentalists particularly worse? Or do people think they’d be just as bonkers no matter who were in charge and what language they used?

    I know that not having invaded Iraq at all would presumably have helped, but I am asking about language in particular.

  47. #47 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    I think Bush has actually been extraordinarily careful not to couch the war in terms of a war of religions. In fact, he has taken a lot of criticism from conservatives for not speaking out more against Islam itself and for saying publicly that Islam is a religion of peace and that we’re only at war with a minority of Muslims (which I think is true). He may well not believe that privately, for all we know, but the only evidence we have on that is limited to things like the uncorroborated (and denied) anecdote of a Palestinian politician.

  48. #48 Matthew Young
    September 20, 2006

    the only evidence we have on that is limited to things like the uncorroborated (and denied) anecdote of a Palestinian politician

    Ah, my mistake, I had pretty much taken that as true – it sounded so plausible at the time!

    But that said, the constant pleas to ‘pray for our troops’ and ‘god bless america’ are pretty overtly religious to the likes of me, perhaps because I am an enthusiastic atheist.

  49. #49 Jeff Singer
    September 20, 2006

    Hello Mr. Brayton,

    First let me say how much I enjoy this blog and your website “The Panda’s Thumb”. You have done much to elevate scientific and philosophical discourse on the internet. It is in this spirit I had to write with one major criticism regarding your original post and follow-up comment concerning Christianity and the Enlightenment.

    In point of fact, and related to the Pope’s speech, Christianity and philosophical reason have gone hand in hand ever since the Church’s founders seriously wrestled with the Greek philosophical tradition. Aristotle’s thinking in particular had a profound influence on Paul and later on Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. All of this came well before the Enlightenment.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Enlightenment, but in many ways it was a return to the earlier Greek philosophical tradition.

  50. #50 Ed Brayton
    September 20, 2006

    Jeff-

    Of course it’s true that the Enlightenment drew upon older Greek and Roman traditions of humanist thinking. It’s also true that much was added to that rich heritage by the great thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries in particular. And certainly Paul and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas all wrestled with those issues themselves long before the Enlightenment. But I think it’s a serious overstatement to say that because of that, Christianity and those values “went hand in hand”. The history of Christianity is largely a history of actions and doctrines that are strongly contrary to those values that animated the best of Greek thinking and the later Enlightenment. Augustine’s wrestling with those Greek traditions did not stop him from endorsing forced conversions to Christianity, which is as antithetical to the cause of reason as anything I can imagine. Nor did any of those men’s thinking do anything to prevent centuries of brutal rule by the Church, a rule that was finally put to an end by the expansion of Enlightenment thought.

  51. #51 Tyler DiPietro
    September 20, 2006

    For those here who are making the argument that Christianity and/or Islam are not inherently violent religions and that it all has to do with how one’s interpretation of their respective core-scriptures is carried out, I have the following question:

    For Christianity, is there anything in the Old and/or New Testament that specifically repudiates forced conversion and the execution of apostates?

    For Islam, is there anything in the Quaran and/or the Hadith that specifically repudiates forced conversion and the execution of apostates?

    I have never been provided with such material, and until I am I will have to conclude, using the elementary principles of logic, that both Islam and Christianity are violent religions. I will also conclude, a la Ed, that the only reason Western Christians exhibit far less violence is because the unique combination of events in Europe from the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment has patted them down.

  52. #52 kehrsam
    September 20, 2006

    Tyler said: For Christianity, is there anything in the Old and/or New Testament that specifically repudiates forced conversion and the execution of apostates?

    Where to start?
    1Cor 7:15 “But if the unbeliever [spouse] leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances. God has called us to live in peace.” This one seems pretty clear.

    Mk 6:11 “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet as you leave as a testimony against them.” ie, it is God’s problem, not mens’.

    Lev 19:33 “When an alien lives in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

    I don’t have the time right now, but there are plenty more. The fact that Christians through the centuries have allowed nativism and chauvinism to blind them for millenia does not cover up the basic humanity that God intended.

  53. #53 Skemono
    September 20, 2006

    Hm. Mr. DiPietro (and perhaps others), you may find this site to be of some interest: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. It contains the full text of the books of the Bible (old and new testament), the Qu’ran, and the Book of Mormon. Further, there are sections noting (according to the author of the site’s subjective view) “good stuff”, “cruelty and violence”, and “intolerance” in the books–among other categories.

  54. #54 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2006

    After spending about 16 years as an escort at a women’s clinic in Florida, I don’t share your optimistic view of modern Christians as being all that civilized.

    The relative differences in behavior, imo, have more to do with context: in the US, where social stability is at a premium and violent demagoguery for any cause is consistently discouraged, political forces limit rabble-rousers to “work within the system”. It’s neither that the followers could not be readily incited to violence, nor that the leaders have internalized an ethic of tolerance, but that riots are bad for business.

    The Muslim world, comprised of dozens of nations, is harder to generalize meaningfully, but it’s clear that reactions to Western stimuli vary in many ways – suggesting that Islam itself is not the crucial factor. Those societies which protest most vigorously against “blasphemous” novels, stupid Danish cartoons, stupid papal speeches, etc, seem to be those in which scapegoating of (external) “enemies” is a standard mechanism of power, in which the shopowners, car owners, and others who lose property in such disturbances have little political muscle (particularly compared to the factions which gain influence by provoking upheavals), and in which processes of channeling “anti-social” behavior into “acceptable” forms are much less developed than in the United States of Advertising/Amnesia.

    Fundamentalism is raw mind control regardless of doctrine; Islam is toxic, but to no less a degree than other creeds. The fact that, say, James Morrow is not under the gun in the way that Taslima Nasrin is, tells us more about the differences between the US and Bangladesh than about those between Christianism & Islam.

  55. #55 Pierce R. Butler
    September 20, 2006

    (ahem) That should be, “Islam is toxic, but no more than other creeds.”

  56. #56 Raging Bee
    September 21, 2006

    I definitely get the impression that a powerful undercurrent of religious justification allows Western leaders, particularly in the United States, although Blair is a bit of a zealot as well, to pretty much ignore widespread slaughter in the Middle East as trivial.

    Which “widespread slaughter?” Their guys by ours, our guys by theirs, or their guys by theirs?

    They are happy to allow Israel to commit all sorts of atrocities…

    Right — Arab nations kill their own people right and left, refuse to provide for their needs, and support all sorts of terrorist activity against innocent people all over the globe, but we gotta single out Israel for committing “all sorts” of (unspecified) “atrocities” (under unspecified circumstances). And Israel is relevant to this thread…how?

    …and happy to bomb Iraq back into the dark ages for pretty much no reason whatsoever…

    Who’s bombing Iraq the most — Americans or jihadis? As I remember, it wasn’t Americans killing Iraqi schoolchildren and police recruits.

    (And why are so many civilians getting killed? Because the insurgents are hiding among civilians, disguised as civilians, attacking civilians, and surrounded by civilians when we go after them. If you want to consider that a valid tactic, fine, but don’t start crying when the predictable (and intended) result happens.)

    What is the sound of one West-basher stuck in a rut?

  57. #57 Uber
    September 21, 2006

    Raging Bee-

    With all due respect your comments are simply wrong.

    As I remember, it wasn’t Americans killing Iraqi schoolchildren and police recruits./And why are so many civilians getting killed? Because the insurgents are hiding among civilians, disguised as civilians, attacking civilians, and surrounded by civilians when we go after them.

    We, being the US, are responsible for the deaths of those civilians. We killed them. You cannot put the blame for the deaths of 50,000+ human beings on ‘insurgents’.

    Likewise I don’t even like the term ‘insurgents’. They are individuals who live there(some of them) and we are an invading force. We attacked them. If the situation where reversed I would like to think many Americans would be proud to be ‘insurgents’.

    and this is just stupid:

    Who’s bombing Iraq the most — Americans or jihadis?

    Americans. Jihadis are doing a little but we reduced the country to rubble before they even got started.

  58. #58 Greg Byshenk
    September 24, 2006

    What separates the West from the Islamic world is not that they are Muslim and we
    are Christian, it’s that they are Muslim and we are largely secular.

    A belated followup, but two points…

    If this is true, then the issue is not one of “Muslim” vs “Christian” (or anything else),
    but of “secular” vs “religious”. And note that there are many Christians — including the
    pope himself — who strenuously object to the fact that “Christianity is far more
    emasculated and separated from real power” in the west.

    One might also note that, over the last 50 years, “the West” and the US in particular, has a
    long record of opposing “secular” movements in the Arab world, in some cases (eg:
    Afghanistan) supporting the “holy warriors” against the “secular” government.