POPE'S LAST LAUGH
September 15, 2006
After Pope Benedict XVI's speech where he quoted the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos II, there's been a bit of a reaction in particular Muslim communities across the world.
"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed 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.'"
The irony, of course, is that after his speech, a bunch of Muslim activists in India burned an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI, which really only served to reinforce what the Pope was saying.
What's to be said here? Is the Pope correctly applying this 14th century quote to today's Muslim religion?
I think the situation is actually best understood in light of the types of people that protest in this manner. The burning of effigies is a practice typically done by the poor, the uneducated, and the bored, regardless of religion or culture. And when you look in America at the Los Angeles riots of 1992, you see a similar pattern in the demographics based on class. The association between class and ethnicity can't be ignored, but the focus here is that it's generally believed that "civilized people" (which generally means educated and affluent) don't behave this way, whereas "these people" are simply expected to do so.
What's often overlooked is that "civilized people" are the ones making tanks, helicopters, and stockpiling nuclear bombs.
I don't condone violent riots or threats made against anybody... even the Pope, with whom I disagree. But the issue here isn't that the Muslim reaction demonstrates a tendancy of violent behavior within the Muslim religion. It's rather that when Islam is preached as a "throw off your chains" kind of religion (which sounds like Marx in The Communist Manifesto), the people that are going to respond in the poor underprivileged communities are going to be the ones who have a desire to rise against their perceived oppressors. People in such communities often view violence as an acceptable response to anything that they feel threatens them.
But this is certainly not a particularly Muslim idiology; Islam is not always preached that way. This is simply human nature. The real "bad guys" here are the ones that take advantage of the underpriveledged by using their tendancy towards desperate acts to further a personal agenda. And as we should already understand, "bad guys" of this nature come in every flavor.