So, to recap. The Pope makes a speech in Germany and, touching upon the concept of violence within religion, repeats a quote made by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus in 1391: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Cue hysteria and outrage across much of the Muslim world. Cue shock, disgust and despair. Cue thousands of Muslims taking to the streets in India, Pakistan, Turkey and Gaza burning effigies of the Pope, clashing with the police and attacking Catholic churches, outraged that their religion has again been associated with intolerance and violence. I mean, where does this undeserved reputation come from?
philosophical debate about their belief system.
Andrew Sullivan here reproduces a quote from a spokeswoman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry which perfectly summarises this response: “Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence.” Beautiful. This is right up there with the one I quoted from someone protesting against the Danish cartoons in Afghanistan: “They want to test our feelings. They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and their newspapers.”
Bonfire of the Inanities
Islam strikes me as a particularly childish faith. Of course, all religions are childish with their superstitions, anachronisms and rituals; their reverence of ‘sacred’ texts, rocks, buildings and animals. But Islam in particular is so rigid and inflexible, so unopen to dialogue, reasoning or criticism, so unchanged since the Middle Ages, it sets itself up for strife. It is the Daily Mail of religions: stuck in another age, frozen rigid in a permanent sense of outrage, preternaturally conditioned to take offence at the slightest opportunity. Prepared to kill in defence of its beliefs. Beliefs that are not open to debate under any circumstances.
And so the Pope, quoting from an ancient text and making it very clear from the outset that these were not his own words, has been forced into making an apology for words which he is not personally responsible for in the hope of nullifying the anger that has erupted – again – through the Islamic world. (Question to Muslims everywhere: is there anything you don’t get offended about?) Of course, one might question the Pope’s motives for highlighting this particular text, and one could also point out that the Catholic Church is in no position to criticise or comment on any faith that seeks to enforce and perpetuate its belief system through violence, as it worked well enough for them for hundreds of years. A pot-kettle-black situation if ever there was one. But it’s little short of depressing that for days the biggest news story has been caused by the leader of one redundant belief system quoting some words spoken 615 years ago by somebody most people have never even heard of, criticising the philosophy of another redundant belief system.
Non-theists like myself can only howl in despair and rage. I think I might take to the streets in protest. Would anyone like to join me?