Monday, September 18, 2006

Here we go again

Has life been getting dull for you lately? We can fix that.

Feel like living dangerously? What'll it be — death by spinach or a new, all-singing, all-dancing terror attack?

Or if neither of those prospects gets your juices flowing, how about a new round of Islamoriots in honor of his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI? Bad-mouthing the Pope, Martin Luther–style, has been out of fashion for quite some while, but it looks headed up the charts again.


Another outbreak of Muslim hysteria appears to be building up.The Mujahedeen Shura Council, "an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq," said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as "the worshipper of the cross," adding that "We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword." I don't think they meant that in a friendly way.

While the Pope hasn't earned that sort of reaction, I have to confess no great sympathy for his plight. If in his now-famous speech he was really only making some general points about the need for religious faith to counteract modern secularism, and that violence is incompatible with the nature of God, well and good; but in that case it was gratuitously insulting to quote Byzantine Emperor Palaeologus saying, "Show me just what Muhammed 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." It doesn't matter that he was quoting and not saying it himself: look, them's fightin' words, no matter what.

On the other hand, if he did intend to call attention to the extreme intolerance of much of the Muslim world — which he had every right to do, in my opinion, and which would have been helpful in opening a serious, unavoidable international dialogue on that subject — he should have stated his theme plainly (although not in a blatantly offensive way). And while the Vatican has a very long memory, it would have been more effective for the Pope to express himself in contemporary terms than to drag in an emperor from the Middle Ages to speak for him, if that's what he intended.

Once the fat hit the fire, the rest was drearily predictable. Benedict XVI said he was "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims." Sorry for the reactions? Considered offensive? It's not unreasonable to find that evasive. Mind you, I'm not saying that he shouldn't have offended Muslims, just that he should own up to it like a gentleman. As the saying goes, a gentleman never un-intentionally offends anyone.

It's unlikely his semi-apology will satisfy the jihadists. Look for more riots and another attempt to soothe by the Pope. The only question is how far it will go. Will Benedict XVI explain, "I just don't know what came over me"? Will he appear on Oprah, tears in his eyes, to confess that he was abused as a child and that he is checking into a private clinic in the Alban Hills? (Big hug.) That he has joined a 12-step group and acknowledged to himself, to another human being, and Allah that he is powerless except over a billion Roman Catholics?


I regret any offense I may have caused to spinach growers, terrorists, or Roman Catholics. I cannot understand what came over me. I do not even have the excuse of having been abused as a child. But back in those days, now I think on't, the adorable Rita Rothberg in my fifth grade class had no time for me. I have been warped ever since.

Rita, if you're reading these words, where are you now? Why, you must be … uh … about my age. Actually, Rita, I'm sure you'll understand this, but I'd prefer to remember you as you were then.

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