Sunday, October 01, 2006

History Answers the Pope!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

My last column, “Is the Papal Apology Acceptable?” has generated some enlightening and angry responses. If the pope were wrong about Islam and violence, some wonder, why would Muslims react to his accusations with violence?

I agree with them that we shouldn’t and apologize unconditionally for the acts of some misguided Muslims. However, this is what happens usually in angry protests. This is not an excuse, but an attempt to explain the few incidents where churches, synagogues and mosques were attacked. Religious and sectarian conflicts from Ireland and Spain, to Iraq and India are the worst examples of how irresponsible actions or words can cause great damage. Responsible leaders, therefore, refrain from incendiary speeches in such environment of mistrust, misunderstanding and animosity as the world is living since 9/11.

But religions and prophets should not be held responsible for the wrong actions and statements of misguided followers, even if they happen to be presidents, prime ministers and religious leaders.

Here are representative samples of readers’ reactions:

“I don’t get it. The pope refers to the violent history of Islam’s conquest; Muslims, worldwide, respond with, “Don’t call us violent or we’ll kill more of you.” — Joel

“Islam needs a reformation that supports human reason as a cure for the literal understanding of the Qur’an.” — John

“The person the pope quoted called Islam ‘evil and inhuman’ for spreading its religion by the sword. But this is like the pot calling the kettle black: the church also spread its religion by conquest. If anything else, the pope is a hypocrite.” — Mark

“The Catholic Church has many problems! Why wouldn’t its leader deflect criticism by disparaging Islam? It seems to have worked. He has not spoken out against the war being waged against Islam!” — Otis

“The pope needs not apologize for the truth. Christians do not excuse the awful pain inflicted on people around the world in the name of Christianity. It’s history. In the West we are free to write and read about history-good and bad. Sadly, Muslims are stuck in the Middle Ages and are too insecure to accept their own shortcomings and some of their own miserable history.” — JHM

“Westerners have difficulty in understanding jihad. Where are the moderate Muslims, we ask without looking at our policies of invasion and unconditional support of Israel.” — KGB

I was about to write this article in response to these and similar comments when I received an essay that mirrors my thoughts by Uri Avnery, an Israeli Peace Activist. I decided instead to quote him. Here are my favorite quotes:

“Jesus said: ‘You will recognize them by their fruits.’ The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to ‘spread the faith by the sword’? Well, they just did not. For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration.

The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

“In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Christian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith-and they were the forefathers of most of today’s Palestinians.

“There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the ‘spreading of the faith by the sword’?

“What happened afterward is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: To become Christians or to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries.”

Thanks Uri Avnery. And to the Holy See I respectfully say: I accept your apology, appreciate your reach-out, hope for the best ... and rest my case.

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