Friday, September 15, 2006
  Another offense?
The Pope has succeeded in offending large numbers of Muslims by quoting a rather nasty description of the Prophet and Islam written by a Byzantine emperor centuries ago.

I have to admit, I haven't read the whole speech -- it's quite long, very academic, and 99% of it has nothing to do with the offensive quote, being a discussion of force within a religious context -- but in the section that I read (which included all the material before the quote and a good deal after it), it was pretty clear that the Pope was not necessarily agreeing with the Emperor; in fact, he says the Emperor's characterization of the Prophet was "somewhat brusque" and quickly moved to the meat of what he was talking about -- why violence in the name of God and trying to force people to follow your own religion are nonsensical and unacceptable.

Ironically, the vast majority of Muslims would agree the Pope's poing of view -- you cannot force people to become Muslim (or Catholic, or whatever), and the notion that Islam should be spread by the sword is unacceptable (as well as, for the most part, historically inaccurate).

At the same time, one can't help but think that the Pope could have made his point, without referring to a quote that depicts the Prophet's contributions to religion as "evil and inhuman." Indeed, the quote seems completely gratuitous; it adds nothing substantive to the speech, and some might find it actually distracts the listener/reader from the argument that follows, as they ponder why the Pope bothered to include it and whether the Prophet actually brought anything positive to religion or whether his contribution truly was only negative.

As usual, there have been polite "apologies" in which Vatican spokespeople express that the Pope is sorry if people were offended (note: not "that people were offended" but "if people were offended," denying even the validity of the notion that people were indeed offended). He also affirms that the Catholic church esteems Muslims, who cherish the one God. If so, quoting insulting comments about their Prophet without clearly repudiating them is a very odd way to esteem a group of people.

The Vatican also have said that he did not intend to offend anyone. I ask, how can you make a speech with a line saying the Prophet of another person's religion brought only evil and expect that not to offend, unless you follow the quote by a strong condemnation of it? You might not have been actively trying to go out of your way to offend (although in this case one certainly wonders), but any sane person should be able to ajudge that the comment would be offensive to anyone who followed said Prophet. It's just common sense, and presumably one doesn't get to be Pope without at least a modicum of common sense and people skills. One certainly expects better judgement from the Pope.

Of course, we now have to brace ourselves for a horrific reaction from certain groups of Muslims around the world. Burning of effigies of the Pope, idiotic signs comparing the Pope to Hitler and predicting the letting of Catholic blood, etc, etc, etc. The images of these protests will circle the globe, tarring the Muslim community far more effectively and thoroughly than the Pope's speech (which was delivered in German to a relatively small group of academics at a university he taught at decades ago. Expert witnesses will bless the airwaves with their speculations about militant Islam and the Qur'anic roots of violence, irrational behavior, etc.

The voices of conservative, moderate, liberal, and progressive Muslims, all of whom condemn this sort of hysterical reaction to slight provocations, will be drowned out. We will be left pulling our hair out, trying to figure out how we can possibly make a difference in media portrayal, and even more important, in Muslims societies and cultures we've never even set foot in, among people who don't speak the same language we do.

This hysterical reaction is also something the Pope must have known to expect. That or he wasn't paying attention to what happened after a few obscure cartoonists drew some not so nice cartoons. Of course, the blame for whatever Muslims do does not lay with the Pope, it lays with the individuals who carry out those acts, with societies who tolerate them, and with governments who have made conditions in many Muslim countries so unbearable that young people take any opportunity to express their pent up frustrations. None the less one could hope that the Pope wouldn't poke a sleeping rattler. Why make things worse? That's not what the leader of a world religion is supposed to do!

Sometimes, dejavu is not a good thing at all.
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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

What I'm reading now

Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

To see an archive of all the books I've read (well the ones I've read and review since I started the blog) with comments, please click here

Causes Worth Supporting

This is just a short list -- a few of my favorites.

English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
Pay a Teacher's Salary in Afghanistan. The Hunger site actually has a lot of worthwhile programs. You can find them all here .
Muslims for Progressive Values. My organization. We can always use donations, of time or money!
Human Rights Campaign for the glbt community
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The ACLU I'm a card carrying member. Hope you'll become one too. The organization that has done the most, as far as I can tell, to pull the countries progressive side together.
Network of Spiritual Progressives. Working to reclaim religion and morality for the religious left.

Blogs Worth Reading

Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
Sister Scorpion aka Leila Montour - Leila is a fount of energy, quirky humor, and bad attitude. She's also a talented poet.
Muhajabah Very interesting commentary here. I don't always agree with her, but her pieces are always thought-provoking.
Georgie Dowdell Georgie is a great writer and a good friend.
Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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