Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Keeping Perspective

The recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks regarding Islam has unfolded as follows:
  • The Pope criticized Islam in an academic setting for having used violence to spread the religion.
  • Followers of Islam killed a nurse, threatened to kill the Pope, and vandalized churches.
  • The New York Times urged the Pope to apologize for "fomenting discord."

To the suggestion that the actions of Muslims only confirmed the Pope's critique, some will doubtless respond that this fails to account for the complexity of the situation: the Pope used an unfortunate source, Muslims continue to speak of the Crusades as though they took place in the middle of the last decade, and so forth. While all of that may be true, this situation reveals the difficulty that some observers have with regard to standard responses to Middle Eastern complaints about the west's alleged atrocities. Middle Eastern terrorists use civilians as human shields, those civilians end up being killed by missiles, and the west is blamed for targeting them. Muslims use violence to support their beliefs, western observers point it out, and the westerners are bullied into apologizing for alleged incivility. Some thuggish behavior invites one to ignore criticisms of the sort that might concern Emily Post, but some people seemingly afflicted with western guilt insist on focusing on the table manners.

None of this is to deny that the Pope should have taken greater care with his words, but if I have to take sides, it will not be with those who kill nurses and vandalize churches.

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