A New Brother in Christ

Religion "In his sermon, Benedict wove a connection between the resurrection of Christ and the sacrament of baptism, the initiation rite of Christianity.

"…from the abyss of death he was able to rise to life. Now he raises us from death to true life. This is exactly what happens in baptism," the pope said.

"The pope traditionally baptizes newborns on January 1 and adult converts to Catholicism on Easter eve.

One of the seven adults he baptized on Saturday night was Magdi Allam, 55, an Egyptian-born journalist who, as deputy director of the leading newspaper Corriere della Sera, is one of Italy’s best-known intellectuals.

Allam, a fierce critic of Islamic extremism and a strong supporter of Israel, is protected by a police escort because of threats he has received.


His conversion to Christianity was a well-kept secret, disclosed by the Vatican in a statement less than an hour before the Easter eve service started.

"For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it," it said.

Allam defended the pope in 2006 when the pontiff made a speech in Regensburg, Germany, that many Muslims perceived as depicting Islam as a violent faith.

The Vatican statement announcing Allam was joining Catholicism said all newcomers were "equally important before God’s love and welcome in the community of the Church."

Allam, who has been living in Italy for 35 years, has said he was never a very devout Muslim. Still, his conversion to Christianity came as a surprise.

"What amazes me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion," Yaha Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told Reuters."  Yahoo News


Never hear of him before.  It’s a normal thing for people to be welcomed into the Church on Holy Saturday.  That happens every year.

One would hope that this man’s exercise of conscience would be respected, but,

I suppose that he will be declared "murtad" (an apostate) and that "fatwas" will be issued by some fool or collection of fools that call for his death.  If that is true, then it is simply another indication that Islamdom needs to think about its relevance to modern life or indeed to any life.

Benedict would like to talk to the Muslims about issues between us.  This does not mean that he intends to do so from a position in which he is a supplicant.

If this is taken as evidence that the pope is leading a "crusade" against Islam, then that will be a sad thing.  pl


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44 Responses to A New Brother in Christ

  1. Arun says:

    The Vatican making this high profile is not doing Allam any favors. It is making what is between man’s conscience and his deity become a political event.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    At the level at which this “game” is being played, politics and religion are inseparable. Ask the Muslims if that is not so. pl

  3. John Hammer says:

    “Islam is politics or it is nothing” -Ayatollah Khomenei

  4. Andy says:

    This reminds me of the recent reporting on Churches in Saudi Arabia:
    “It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognise the prophet Mohammed.”

  5. Babak Makkinejad says:

    My guess is that the vast majority of Muslim people have more immediate concerns than the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity.

  6. mike42 says:

    Allum’s life has been threatened since 2003 when he condemned suicide bombers. I do not see his conversion as making him any less safe.
    Col Lang:
    Was his conversion an exercise of conscience or simply a surrender of will to his Catholic wife??

  7. Montag says:

    The Catholic Church isn’t entirely blameless itself. At one point they were so gung ho about excommunicating Catholics who didn’t toe the line that they turned the punishment into a joke and had to dial it back a couple of notches.
    It should be remembered that 10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians with legal status as such. The Egyptian legal system has to deal with the emotional minefield of conversion more often than they’d like. Judging when a conversion is “sincere” would try the wisdom of Solomon–there’s no way to divide the baby on that question.

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You are not aware of how difficult life is for Copts in Egypt? As for the Roman church, it has been some time since it issued “hunting licenses” for use against lapsed Catholics.
    Are you really asking me to judge the man’s motives for conversion? Montag has this one right. Is it not necessary in conscience to take the man at his word concerning his faith? It is certainly true that a desire to establish family solidarity polays a role in many conversions from one faith to another. This motivation is not limited to just these two. I find it hard to fault that motivation when it is included in a “basket” of other reasons.
    We are not talking about “the vast majority of Muslim people.” We are talking about the people who will declare on the subject and countenance people with guns. pl

  9. mike42 says:

    Col Lang:
    My apologies – and I hope you will not judge my motives harshly in putting forth the question. I was asking it somewhat facetiously and did not mean to cast aspersions on the Catholic church. I agree with another commenter who said it best: “The Catholic Church has funded more hospitals, founded more universities, fed more hungry, and housed more poor than any other institution in the world.”
    You are absolutely right that family solidarity plays a role in many conversions regardless of which religion being converted to or from. Let us hope that Mr Allam survives the crazies regardless of his reasons.

  10. Arun says:

    Col. Lang, true; but it vitiates our secular traditions, which I assume is what we want to defend?
    Anyway, I came across this today, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008/03/16/story_16-3-2008_pg7_41
    “RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s most revered cleric said in a rare fatwa (decree) this week that two writers should be tried for apostasy for their “heretical articles” and put to death if they do not repent.
    Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak was responding to recent articles in the al-Riyadh newspaper that questioned the Sunni Muslim-prevalent view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths should be considered unbelievers. “Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam,” said the fatwa, or religious opinion, dated March 14 and published on Barrak’s Website.”
    and threw my hands up and said, maybe the Vatican is right.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    A good point.
    At the same time,one must consider the difficulty inherent in dealing with a culture and religion which until now has not accepted the idea of mutual toleration of belief among equals in the world society. pl

  12. kim says:

    “At the level at which this “game” is being played, politics and religion are inseparable. Ask the Muslims if that is not so.”
    could be, sir, it’s time to change the game. say, to one of ours, instead of going deeper into one of theirs.

  13. W. Patrick Lang says:

    A charming idea. You should now see if you can sell it to the takiri jihadis. pl

  14. Re: “our secular traditions” – what does a Vatican conversion in Italy have to do with “our” (presumably U.S.) secular traditions?
    Col. Lang – so do we accept the fatwa of a Saudi cleric as representing all 1.3 billion Muslims, Sunni and Shi’a? I don’t know *that* much about it but I know that many, many Muslims, progressive and mainstream, dislike the Saudi extremist POV intensely.
    No I’m not going to argue that “Islam is tolerant” but I think it’s important to distinguish between the fatwas of the Saudis, the Egyptian clerics, more progressive clerics here and there, and so forth. Islam is not like the Roman Catholic church, which has a defined hierarchy. Any random Muslim may issue fatwas from what I understand, since there’s not really one official ordination process to make a sheikh or imam. The Angry Arab (born Muslim but an atheist) makes fun of Ben Laden for issuing fatwas that are badly written and poorly thought out. Doesn’t seem that there’s any system of checks, balances or accountability. Seems that Muslims pick which fatwas and clerics they’re going to follow. Of course the Saudi cleric has influence but OTOH a lot of Muslims I know would just roll their eyes at him.
    Belief in mutual toleration among equals in the world society – well the eye of my own country, the USA, has a giant log in it. We have some work to do on real respect and toleration in this country. Pointing out the specks in other people’s eyes just pisses them off, when we are suffering from such massive logs in our own.
    (those of you who don’t know the gospels – Jesus said you should not point out the speck in your neighbor’s eye until you pluck the log out of your own)
    Lead by example – we have tried to do this in the past, but I feel that in my generation America has lost the moral high ground in this area. Not every American of course. The Americans I know and live among care about respect and mutual toleration. But respect and tolerance are not in favor among Republicans, cable TV or talk radio, much.

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Now, this is interesting.
    You know how much I respect your opinion.
    As you say, this possible “contest” between the Vatican and the Sharia-‘Ulema has nothing to do with “our secular traditions.”
    Nevertheless, nobody has said anything here about the 1.3 billion Muslims. We are talking about the infinitely smaller group who will form their own ‘ijma group around some god-crazed preacher and who will believe that this Egyptian-Italian should be killed for his infidelity to “the truth.”
    Never mind the endless history that the Islamicate world has experienced of Shariah-‘Ulema hadith people annihilation or mutilation of the beliefs of so many generations of folk like the mu’taziliin, shia or sufis.
    The United States? Mr. Jefferson said that there should be a revolution in every generation. We need to catch up. pl

  16. Leila says:

    And Col. Lang, you know how much I respect *your* opinion and wisdom. I am just responding to this statement:
    “the difficulty inherent in dealing with a culture and religion which until now has not accepted the idea of mutual toleration of belief among equals in the world society.”
    A culture and religion – well it just seems like a very sweeping generalization about Islam and Muslims, sparked it seems by the fatwa issued by some Saudi.
    BTW as I reread my comment about the speck and the log, it seems to imply that I think my own country does worse on respect and toleration than say, the Saudis. (our log, their speck). Not so. I think we do better. I think our founding fathers wrote up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to promote respect and toleration, and succeeding generations have broadened those principles to include more people and religions.
    However I think it’s too bad if we ignore the traditions of co-existence in Islam because we’re focusing on a small group of loudmouths. We have our own loudmouths who don’t respect our cultural tradition of respect and tolerance.
    Again, I am not going to try to argue that “Islam is a tolerant religion” – that’s too sweeping a generalization.
    However. Islam does have a tradition of acceptance and toleration toward religious minorities, especially “people of the book.”
    One example. In college I took a class called Cities and Civilizations, team-taught by two full professors, a classicist and a prof. of History whose area of expertise was the Mediterranean. The prof. of history lectured one day on the layout of Islamic cities. She said that if you want to find the old Jewish quarter in any Muslim city, go to the main mosque. The Jewish quarter will be right next to it. The Caliph was supposed to protect minorities, Jews and Christians, so traditionally in Islamic cities, the quarters of Jews and Christians would be located next to the Great Mosque of the town. If there were trouble – ethnic/religious trouble – the religious minorities could go right to the main mosque for sanctuary, to which they were entitled.
    Now I know there’s a great deal of back and forth about how tolerant the dominant Muslim cultures were towards minorities – what about the Armenians in Turkey? what about present-day Saudi with its ban on churches? Etc. This is why I’m not going to state in black and white: Islam = great tolerance, just misunderstood.
    HOWEVER, as you yourself know, Col. Lang, acceptance of ‘people of the book’ is part of Islam, and acceptance of the right of religious minorities to live and practice their religion has traditionally existed in Islam.
    A story – I was having this discussion in a Jewish deli in St. Louis a very long time ago. A customer, an Israeli immigrant, piped up – “No Muslim country killed Jews the way the Europeans did,” he said. He was an Arab Jew himself. “They weren’t always terrific but they never did to us what the Germans did.”
    I just don’t like promoting the idea of “clash of civilizations”. To say that “we’re tolerant, they aren’t” is simplistic and not correct. There are a lot of “them” and a lot of “us” and the waves of tolerance and intolerance crest on all shores depending on larger economic and political winds.
    Of course, we’re all looking forward to the day when those reactionary Saudis change their tune…
    If I mischaracterize what you are saying by my comments above, I apologize in advance.

  17. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I should have said Sunni ‘Ulema. I think the Shia ‘ulema have less to answer for.
    Yes, it is true that “Ahl al-kitab” were able to live together in the various ages of the Islamicate civilization, but it was only so long as the dhimmi peoples accepted their subservience and inferior status. they sometimes had important court jobs, as in the case of John of Damascus, but this was a status equivalent to that long accorded to Jews in Europe. (court Jews, etc.)
    The Nazis abandoned the restraints that the Age of Reason had imposed on behavior and reverted to a barbarous condition. Their crimes are a matter for God Almighty to deal with.
    Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude.
    It remains the case that Islamdom has not yet evolved to a condition in which the majority accept the ideas of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.” The majority still live in an essentially medieval world. we should pray that God will give them the grace to see a better way. pl

  18. Arun says:

    1. “Our secular traditions” as in our post-Enlightenment values.
    2. I’d go along with your latter post if the Saudis did not have increasing influence everywhere. True, it is mainly due to their billions of dollars. And due to shelter under the American security umbrella. But whether in Bangladesh or in Kerala, the state of India where i grew up, which is 56% Hindu, 24% Muslim, 19% Christian, Saudi-funded extremism is spreading its tentacles.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    You wrote: “Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude.”
    You are only partially correct.
    In my opinion, about half the so-called Western people are convinced of their own rectitude and the rectitude of their institutions.

  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In regards to the Wahabi Doctors of Religion changing their tune…
    Persian syaing: “Wolfe’s Repentence is Death.”

  21. arthurdecco says:

    “…I suppose that he will be declared “murtad” (an apostate) and that “fatwas” will be issued by some fool or collection of fools that call for his death. If that is true, then it is simply another indication that Islamdom needs to think about its relevance to modern life or indeed to any life.”
    If, in fact, “”fatwas” will be issued by some fool or collection of fools that call for his death”, how can you justify that the blame for their actions be placed at the feet of Islam?
    How can the outrageous actions of zealots be blamed on their religion? That’s an absurd proposition, and certainly an overly simplistic one.
    You’ve seen evidence that there’s enough religious zealotry to go around the world a thousand times over – and much of it not the fault of Islam. If you doubt me, read the comments section of the Jerusalem Post or one of our very own North American fundamentalist Christian sites for a couple of days. That will peel the scales from your eyes in no time.
    There are violent nutbars hiding under the cloaks of every religion everywhere. Look at the self-described, “Christian” occupying the White House. Hasn’t he been responsible for the deaths of at least a million people? Do you have anything disparaging to say about his connection to religion?
    I believe you owe it to yourself and those of us who respect your opinions to reexamine your unnecessarily provocative statement regarding “Islamdom”, Col. Lang.

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Sounds like an attack of multi-cultural political correctness.
    Rubbish. The complete lack of hierarchy in Islam and the fact (look it up somewhere) that such decisions to issue “decrees” are made solely by consensus (ijma’) among some group of believers renders the entire “system” vulnerable to my accusation that it is inherently subject to such foolishness.
    George Bush’s stupidities have nothing to do with this argument. He is either a cretin or a puppet, but he IS NOT a puppet of some religious group. pl

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You are quite correct to observe that other religious traditions have been and are prone to the sort of rigidity of mind and soul that we are discussing here.
    From a religious point of view only God knows the truth or falsehood of some one’s adherence to this or that religion. Human beings cannot arrogate to themselves that power.
    Human beings can only enforce the Law, if they can.
    One has to come face to face with the stupid bigotry of various fearful people who profess a deep faith in Islam before one can appreciate the point that Col. Lang is raising here.
    The ideas and realities of Islam do not jive.

  24. Babak Makkinejad says:

    meant to say “the ideals and realities”

  25. FDChief says:

    “It remains the case that Islamdom has not yet evolved to a condition in which the majority accept the ideas of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.” The majority still live in an essentially medieval world. we should pray that God will give them the grace to see a better way.”
    I’d call this a curious way to phrase your supplication. I’d opine that Arun cuts right to the chase with his comment that it is the post-Enlightenment West that has given us this tolerance – and the essence of the Enlightenment was to banish religion, not from the public square per se, but from the policeman’s box in the center. We no longer allow religious sects to fight over power, and we do this, in the main, by explicitly preventing clerics from exercising any but the most ephemeral and spiritual power.
    The respect that the West has shown for personal beliefs is an artifact of our LACK of faith – at least, our lack of the kind of faith that kills for things like heresy and apostacy – rather than our faith itself. We manage diversity better than Islam not because we believe that God gives anyone the grace to see a better way, but because we have banished God’s grace to the private sector and rely on Man;s laws, not God’s, to oversee our manners and morals.
    I hold no brief with theocracy, which means I trust the Catholic Church no more than I trust the mullahs of Qom. We have muzzled our clerics, the Muslim umma hasn’t. That’s the difference I see. A crucial difference, but not one that reflects much better on Western religion…

  26. arthurdecco says:

    Col. Lang said: “Sounds like an attack of multi-cultural political correctness.”
    My post was nothing of the sort. It was a plea for you to redirect you ire – towards the social complexities involved – away from the religious.
    I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clearer.

  27. arthurdecco says:

    “The ideals and realities of Islam do not jive.” Posted by Babak Makkinejad
    I could say the same thing about Judaism. Or Christianity.
    What is your point, exactly?

  28. Mo says:

    The man himself has such hostility to Islam that it could be argued that he never was a Muslim and therefore is no apostate.
    Since you have not mentioned it, it is only fair to mention that at no point does the Koran mention a punishment for apostacy and clerics use or interpret some hadeeths for the punishment.
    Those that will call for his death or that he be punished are the same brainwashed extremists who practice some of the most abhorrent versions of Islam; Versions, may I add that are found repulsive by most Muslims and spread by the money and clerics of the US’s top Arab ally.
    “We are talking about the people who will declare on the subject and countenance people with guns”
    And the Western world has none of those? Islams’ wahabis are no different to the Wests’ Klan, neo-nazi groups or for that matter the extremist right wing Christians who see Muslims as anti-Christs and sub-human. The only difference is that they do not suffer from legal restrictions in the areas that they operate.
    “Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude.”
    If you meant Western religion them maybe, but Western civilization not dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude? I have lost count of how many times a President of the United States has lectured on the self-righteousness
    and the superiority of the “American way of life”. In fact, if there is one thing all the above share, from the extremist Muslim to the American President, its the ability to espouse their own position as that of the morally superior while conducting, condoning or ordering the most vile and immoral actions.
    Any declaration or fatwa calling for this mans death is no more or less despicable than Condoleeza Rice calling the murder of innocent men, women and children as “birth pangs”.
    Sir, extremism, intolerance and inability to live in a plurality is not limited to Muslims alone.

  29. Babak Makkinejad says:

    My point is this: Muslim polities claim an adherence to Sharia, i.e. the Islamic Law to be of paramount importance. Yet no Muslim polity exists today in which the Rule of Law is respected and a Muslim will feel secure in his person, in his property, and in his namus.

  30. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “I’d call this a curious way to phrase your supplication.” 1-Why? 2-“supplication?” pl

  31. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “at no point does the Koran mention a punishment for apostacy and clerics use or interpret some hadeeths for the punishment.”
    That doesn’t mean much. You are describinh the process by which all sharia fiqh is formed.
    I thought you understood that I have little regard for our top “Arab ally.” In fact, they are no ally at all. pl

  32. Mo says:

    As a non-Muslim, it will not mean much to you perhaps. And, perhaps not to those that want to interpret any hadeeth for their own ends; And to them it really matters very little what the religion actually says on the subject as they see themselves as more qualified than the Koran itself to rule on what God intended. But for me personally, and many like me it actually means everything.
    Furthermore, I felt it fair, as the Koran is the centre of Islam, that such a debate have that piece of data included for the sake of accuracy.
    The complete lack of hierarchy in Islam that you say renders the entire “system” vulnerable to your accusation that it is inherently subject to such foolishness is also the reason why I do not have to follow the foolish fatwas espoused by the psychotic and hateful.
    Is the Catholic system of a strict hierarchy any better? It may not allow for lots of foolish declarations but puts all the power of decree in the hands of one man. A man who just prayed for the Jewish nation to find salvation and convert?
    Does the majority of the Muslim world still live in an essentially medieval world? Yes, but I would argue that this has little to do with Islam and a lot to do with a succession of corrupt leaders that have done little to advance the education and enlightenment of their people.
    However, that is not to say that we will ever agree on the definition of a “moderate Muslim”.
    I know of your little regard of the Saudis; I mentioned it not as a point of argument, but a point of irony that while the Western world attacks Islam for its extremism, it continues to support those that fund that extremism against those that may fight it.

  33. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think that religious people should be able to proselytize. Christians, Muslims, whatever. As pope, Benedict has a duty to evangelize. It is in his job description. The late pope saw his relationship to the Jews differently. He is dead now. His value as a marja’ is much diminished.
    Of course the Holy Qur’an should be the principal source of Sharia. How could it be otherwise. at the same time the other Roots of the Law can not be ignored.
    1- Qur’an
    2- Hadith
    3- Qiyas
    4 -Ijma’
    5- Ijtihad (for the Shia in the modern world)
    All of these are the ingredients that result in fiqh. none of them can be ignored as factors in the formulation of Shariah.
    The Hanbalis (notably the Saudis) rely on 1 and 2. In this can probably be found the extremity of many of their positions because, as you say, hadith can be twisted into whatever one desires. The moderating effect of a thousand years of case law is a good thing. pl

  34. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “the social complexities involved – away from the religious.” Ahhh. This sounds like poly-sci-speak.
    What “social complexities” are you refering to? pl

  35. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Quoting myself above.
    “Western civilization has many defects, including a loss of faith, but it does not seem to be dominated by an assurance of its own rectitude.”
    What I was trying to say, (and I failed in the attempt)is that most people in Western civilization now accept the idea of the equality of rights among people of differing views.
    Yes, I understand that this is not universally true, but I do not think that it is possible to be taken seriously in the West as a thinker if one does not accept that principle.
    Islamic thinking is not the same as yet. pl

  36. Mo says:

    No, none can be ignored but 1 trumps 2-5. And 1 says there cannot be compulsion in religion.
    It is probably unfair on the Hanbali madhab (and I say this with limited knoweldge) to equate them with the particular form of Islam practiced by the Saudis – often termed Wahabi. Wahabism has been, in my opinion, so polluted and intertwined by local, repressive and outdated customs that it really deserves its own school and is as much Islamic as the Druze religion (not that I am equating practices of the two)
    Since we agree that the Hadeeth, and even the Koran (or for that matter any holy book) can be twisted to satisfy the ends of those who wish to abuse it, and since we agree that this done by a few, albeit a wealthy few, who represent very few Muslims and little of Islam, then I would suggest that we must also agree that it is not Islamdom that needs to think about its relevance to modern life or indeed to any life but that the situation is far more complicated. It is a situation that requires the promotion of education, both religious and secular. It requires that Muslims who wish to fight or join the jihad be taught that murder of the innocent does not equate to jihad. It is a situation also that the West can stop inflaming by opposing “Islamist” groups that truly represent their populace and supporting repressive and tyranical regimes.
    Isolating the clerics and their ideology is difficult considering the wealth they have at their disposal. Their ability to use the anger of the youth who have little outlet to vent that anger other than joining the ranks of the militant (and in the process becoming indoctrinated by these people hateful version of Islam) can only be curtailed when there is not so much for the Muslim youth to be angry about.
    Those such as yourself and your equivalent on the Muslim side, who have the knowledge and understanding of the other side to allow for debate, are the ones that will be pivotal to the future of the relationship.
    Much as many in the West ask that Muslims know that the zealots on their side, be they religious or political, do not speak or act in their name, so should the West know that our own zealots do not speak or act on behalf of the majority of Muslims.
    I have said it before on your site and will say it again. Al Qaida is nothing without its foot soldiers. These foot soldiers are not born, they are made. Once the Western world adopts a different strategy, a strategy that looks on those that truly represent their populations as people that must be dealt with rather than destroyed because they stand in the way of “the agenda”, then the likes of al qaida and their ilk will wither away and their opinion on apostates or anything else will be a problem only for the Saudis. And, most importantly, the West will have their most powerful ally in the “war against terror”, the Arabs and the Muslims themselves.

  37. Andy says:

    Perhaps I am a simpleton, but it seems to me the difference between Christian radicals and Islamic radicals is pretty clear. One doesn’t tend to see Christians traveling to war zones or other far-off places to martyr themselves by killing Muslims and Christians alike. Nor does one see scores of Christians demanding cartoonists be killed for an unflattering cartoon of Jesus. In fact, one can literally put Jesus on the cross in a bucket of piss and call it art, as happened a few years ago, and the worst that happens are attempts to reduce funding for the arts! I wonder what might happen to me were I to put a picture of the prophet Mohammed in such a bucket? In fact, I wonder what might happen for the temerity to even suggest it.
    I won’t pretend to understand in any deep way why such differences in action exist or how they came about, but what I can understand is the difference in the reactions to insult, offense or even heresy themselves, which, to me at least, are plain to see.

  38. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Fascinating discussion. I’d like to shoehorn into the thread one comment re: Catholicism. I sometimes wonder if Obama now wishes he had been hanging with former Chicagoan Archbishop Gregory instead of Rev. Wright during his days in the land of Lincoln. The race experience, while powerful, is not the same as the religious experience, at least in my view. The religious experience, I would further guess, transcends and heals. But there are good people from all walks. Here’s a highlight of the good archbishop from the land of…

  39. Babak Makkinejad says:

    US & EU are in their post-Christian phase; there can be no apt comparison between the Christian and Muslim response.
    US has had its share of violent idealists: the anarchists of the early 20-th Century come to mind. And so does Mr. McVeigh.
    Ideas are produced by human beings but take over human beings and affect the course of their actions.
    Why are Americans fighting in Iraq?
    Why were Americans bombing Serbia?
    Why were Americans fighting in Vietnam?

  40. Mo says:

    Babak is right, you are comparing apples and oranges. If you compare the reactions, you must do so to events that generate the same level of emotion.
    Therefore comparing the depiction of Jesus in art and Mohamed in cartoons and the reaction they get is non-starter, when in Islam, portraying the image of the Prophet is outlawed but at the Vatican you can buy snowglobes with Jesus in them.
    And finally you may not see Christians traveling to war zones or other far-off places to martyr themselves; But the more fundementalist ones will happily send their nations’ troops to do it. Or they will defend the murder of Muslims as Gods plan.
    The difference between fundementalists on both sides is simply the respective wealth and delivery of “punishment”.

  41. Andy says:

    McVeigh was one man – there appear to be hundreds if not thousands of similarly-minded men fighting for Islam and that’s assuming McVeigh was motivated by religious ideology, which he wasn’t. A better comparison might be made to the abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, but again, that’s just one man. One would think that if Christian fundamentalists were equivalent to Islamic ones, then we’d be seeing more such violence. What explains the disparity? I think Col. Lang’s arguments in this thread provide most of the answer.
    Perhaps an economic and demographic argument might be also made. The effects of “youth bubbles” tend to correlate rather strongly with increased radicalism in general and much of the Islamic world is in the middle of a quite substantial youth bubble. Combined with limited economic opportunities and corrupt and oppressive government and it’s volatile mixture. A notable and interesting difference in how such radicalism manifests itself can be found by looking at Iran, whose youth appear much less inclined toward violence against perceived religious insult though I’m not informed enough to completely understand why.
    In any event, Mo suggests I’m comparing apples to oranges, but it seems to me comparing what diverse nations do in their national interest to what radicalized individuals or small groups do based on religious ideology is an apples-to-kiwi comparison.
    And Babak, I’m not sure what you’re getting at by pointing to Vietnam, Serbia and Iraq – what is the connection to the discussion here?
    Similarly, Mo appears to suggests that the primary reason Christian radicals aren’t actively killing apostates or religious enemies is because the government does it for them. Were this the 12th century and not the 21st, I would agree with you.
    Mo, perhaps you do have a point, however, in suggesting that pointing to the difference in response of depictions of Jesus and Mohammed is not a good one, but it’s also partially buttresses my point – there was a time in Christianity when many forms of religious imagery were similarly outlawed and violations punishable by death. This is what I think Col. Lang means when he talks about the majority of Islam existing in a medieval world.
    In short I don’t find the reasons you both postulate to explain the differences of action between Islamic and Christian radicals very compelling.

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    I do not think that McVeigh was one man; he certainly had accomplices that were indicted and convicted. And their modus operandi was, in my opinion, comparable to those who attacked the United States on 9/11/2001.
    I think that the hundreds of thousands of individuals that you are referring too came later; after invasion of Afghanistan, depredations of Israel in the Occupied Territories, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
    Christian Fundamentalists are not the equivalent of Muslim Fundamentalists since the Western Civilization is not solely based on the Ministry of Jesus, the Son of Mary. It also includes the Legacy of Rome and the Tradition of Personal Liberty (of the Germanic Tribes). In the world of Islam, “Civilization” and “Islam” are one and the same. Being against Islam is equivalent to being against the Law, the Proper and Just Order of the Universe, Civilization etc.
    In the United States, in fact, the dominant religion is not Christianity but rather “America”. Mr. McVeigh and his accomplices, it seems to me, were inspired by the sacred texts of that religion; The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. In that manner, they sought, in their way, to restore the lost balance and proper order of things which, in their views, had been lacking as manifested by the events in Wacco. This is a common idea among all spiritual traditions, namely the need to use Violence to restore the Law.
    India also has a youth bubble and so does Africa and so did China. However, in these cases the young males filled with testosterone were not out there to attack US (although in case of China the Red Guards were stark raving mad against “Imperialism”). I think that references to economic and demographic considerations will not explain anything – the youth that are fighting US in Iraq and come from the Persian Gulf states are not poor; on the contrary, they are from what goes as Middle Class families there. In fact, the 9/11 attackers against the United States, bin Laden, and Dr. Zuwaihari (sic. ?) have not been low-class. In my opinion, Islamic thinking, sentiment, and feeling are ascendant at the present among the Muslim people (who have very thin skins). The most productive approach to them is to avoid entanglements with them and or avoid provoking them. As I see it, US, Canada, and EU states are are not doing much in that regard.
    In regards to Iran: the situation there is unique in several aspects. It is a Shia state; a minority in Islam that fought for centuries with Sunni states. That has left the Iranians an aloof and insular people who will go only so far for the sake of Islamic solidarity. Secondly, Iran is the only Muslim state for which the boundaries of Islam and the boundaries of Civilization do not coincide; the Iranians trace themselves back to the Ancient Persia and thus have more wiggle room mentally. Thirdly, after desiring and endorsing a religious government in plebiscite 28 years ago, they have first-hand experience of the limits of that form of government. And lastly Iranians emotionally go through annual katarsis during the period of mourning for Imam Hussein – they do not need to rush to the street to yell and scream. All of this does not mean that they do not care about the insults against Islam and the Prophet; they grin and bear it and add to their store of contempt for the West.
    I also think the notion of “religious ideology” is not analytically useful. The reason is because these religious notions are not considered as an “ideology” by those who hold them – it is their religion that causes to act that way; they are trying to be righteous in the religious sense. Their notions cannot be dismissed as a set of artificial ideas. It requires a long term engagement in debate and in the battle of ideas within their religious milieu if you want to have any hope of convincing those who are sitting on the fence. The response of most Muslim governments has been repression though.
    I brought up the recent wars of the United States to make the point that their justification could be lacking for anyone looking from the outside. But that, at the time, they seemed like good ideas – examples of how ideas take over the minds of men. Once these wars are over, they will be studied by future generations with amazement and wonder asking themselves “why?”. That the actions men, fundamentally, are not rational.
    Muslim people are not the only people who live in the so-called Medieval World; you can go to India, Thailand, Myanmar, or Korea and experience that first hand. There is a (Godless) Modernity emanating from the West. This Modernity has already crushed the Japanese (you can see it in the utter destruction of their native musical forms) and has forced the Chinese to discard their Great Tradition and become what they are today.
    This Modernity is in a continuous struggle with the world of Islam and Hinduism. However, the intellectual battle between Modernity and Islam also has a political dimension that does not obtain in the analogous struggle with Hinduism.
    This is the crux of the matter in my opinion; Western states want to play a dominant political role in the World of Islam – specially in the Near East. The excuses (reasons) have changed over time: Great War on Terror, Oil, War against Communism, War against (Shia) Fundamentalism, Disposition of the Ottoman Empire, Countering the Ottomans, etc. etc. etc.
    But behind all of that is the struggle between Christianity and Islam, in my opinion. And we should expect the same inconclusive results as has been the case over the last few centuries.

  43. Andy says:

    There’s a lot for me to consider in your well-argued comment. Although I don’t agree with it all, there is much I will spend time mulling over. Thanks for provoking additional though on my part and challenging my assumptions.

  44. Mo says:

    Just to add, you say comparing what diverse nations do in their national interest to what radicalized individuals or small groups do based on religious ideology is an apples-to-kiwi comparison.
    I think what you are missing here is that to many Muslims, the Ummah, or Muslim nation comes before any national boundaries and therefore, for example when a Saudi responds to an act against an Afghan, he is, in his mind, acting in a ‘national’ interest.
    Of course, the socio-economic factors are important and the “youth bubble” is a factor. I would suggest that the more important aspect is the fact that the Muslim world currently is in a militant state, within a major state of flux and therefore an environment the lends itself to radicalism and acts of extremisim.
    Finally, I have to disagree with you that Christian radicals are not as eager for violence upon the other as Muslims.
    Bush and Blair may not use the Bible as justification for their wars but they both made it clear how much their religion dictates their actions.
    The Christian Right quite clearly and often supports and defends the murder of Arab civilians by Israeli troops simply because of their beliefs in the book of Revelations.

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