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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Protest the real evil, not 14th-century quotations”

    Jon Richescolumnist
    Jon Riches

    Sister Leonella, a 65-year-old Italian nun who devoted her life to helping Africa’s poor and sick, was gunned down at a hospital in Mogadishu on Sunday. Her two attackers shot her in the back four times as she left the hospital in an assault that has been linked to worldwide Muslim anger over a speech Pope Benedict XVI gave in Germany last week.

    Meanwhile, a top official in Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party claimed that the pope is “”going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.”” This was said ahead of the pope’s visit to Turkey – his first to a Muslim country – scheduled for November.

    Also over the weekend, firebombs tore through Christian churches in Gaza and the West Bank, while effigies of Benedict XVI were recently burned in the streets. These included attacks on Greek Orthodox and Anglican churches, two denominations that haven’t been ruled by the Roman Catholic Pope since the 11th and 16th centuries, respectively.

    It is astonishing that a quotation from a 14th century Byzantine emporer – or cartoons of Prophet Muhammad – can spark protests across the Muslim world, but the murdering of innocent men, women and children does not.

    This outrage was sparked – somewhat belatedly – after the pope gave a long and complex address on “”Faith and Reason”” at the University of Regensburg in Germany. In that speech, the pope recounted a conversation between a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel Paleologos II, and a Persian scholar on the subject of Christianity and Islam.

    On the issue of “”jihad”” and the relationship between violence and religion, the pontiff quoted the emperor as follows: “”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.””

    Taken out of context and read alone, these are powerful words, especially the “”evil and inhuman”” bit. However, the emperor’s quotation should not be attributed to the pope. The pontiff never endorsed the emperor’s comment, and twice emphasized that the words were not his own.

    These words were originally said more than 600 years ago by an emperor who reigned over a kingdom that has long since vanished. Amazingly, such a view can still be considered mild compared to the vitriol and hate that spews from the mouths of clerics who are currently preaching about Christianity, Judaism and the world’s other religions in mosques across Europe and the Middle East.

    As to the part about spreading the Islamic faith by the sword, it is indisputably true that Islam was spread by military conquest. While early Muslim leaders, like the Christian Crusaders, can be forgiven their ugly histories, those who currently advocate – and carry into practice by terrorist attacks – this seventh-century mentality should not be forgiven.

    Take, for instance, the following, written by the former Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini: “”Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors!””

    One of the points the pope was making is that spreading faith through violence is wrong and counter to human reason. If present Muslim leaders, like Khomeini before them, have a problem with that idea, then perhaps they should state what their problem is, so that the world can see the true content of their characters.

    But the point now is not what the pope said, or what he meant by what he said. The focus now, as it should be, is on the reaction from some Muslim leaders and from some ordinary Muslims.

    In a letter published in USA Today after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes asked an important question: “”Where’s the outrage?”” Where’s the outrage by “”everyday citizens of every faith and country”” in our collective response to international terrorism?

    That question deserves to be asked again in this context:

    Where’s the outrage in Muslim communities when innocent commuters are blown up on a bus in London? Where’s the outrage when trains are bombed in Madrid and tourists are murdered in Bali? Where’s the outrage when fellow Muslims are massacred at a wedding in Jordan? And where’s the outrage when two journalists are kidnapped in Gaza and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint?

    It is astonishing that a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor – or cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad – can spark protests across the Muslim world, but the murdering of innocent men, women and children does not.

    It is astonishing that people find this behavior justifiable.

    And it is astonishing that Muslim leaders continue to try to dictate how free societies choose to discuss the world’s religions.

    If those same leaders were to go back and actually read the pope’s full speech in Germany, they would find in it an open invitation to reasonable interfaith dialogue on the condition that those present reject irrationality and religiously motivated violence.

    The reaction to the pope’s words, unfortunately, provides a clear response to that invitation: No, thank you.

    Jon Riches is a third-year law student. He can be reached at

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