Politics & Policy


The fretting has already begun.

We’re about to enter the chapter of this story where Very Serious People fret about how bad it would be to continue our campaign of bombing Afghanistan forward into the Stone Age during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (which refers to the time when Allah revealed the Koran to Mohammed, not to a David Mamet movie about a salesman who lives out of a Ramada hotel). “Authentic” Muslim spokespeople say it would be bad to bomb during Ramadan, and as sure as you can say “sensitivity training,” guilty white folks will take them at their word.

Indeed, the fretting has already begun. Ibrahim Hooper, of the faux-moderate Council on American-Islamic Relations, says: “It’s a period of heightened spirituality, and of course people’s sensibilities are more acute at those times, so it could have consequences if it is still going on at that time.” University of Richmond law professor Azizah al-Hibri explained to USA Today that “We need to keep in mind the sensitivities of the Muslim world. If [Bush] fights during Ramadan that will give Bin Laden one more tool to argue to the Muslim world that the United States is disrespectful of their religion.”

First of all, let’s just get the inconvenient facts out of the way. Muslims have been killing each other, and other people, during Ramadan for centuries. Mohammed himself opened a clay urn of whup-ass on tribes outside Mecca during Ramadan, in 624 AD. Iraqis and Iranians killed each other over Ramadan with great aplomb during their war. Anwar Sadat of Egypt launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan, with little respect to his own religion and even less for Israel’s. Besides, as Tod Linberg of Policy Review points out, if we did stop bombing because of Ramadan, that would send the signal that we are waging war against Muslims – instead of against terrorists, as we keep insisting.

Tolerate This

Now, of course, I know firsthand that religion can make everyone prickly. For example, just last week I made an innocuous statement about how it’s a bit “irrational” for Catholics to avoid meat on Fridays or for Orthodox Jews to stick to every tenet of kosherism. I’m still getting e-mail from indignant Thomists and Talmudists telling me how ignorant or bigoted I am. I’ll save the argument for a corrections column (though please remember, there’s nothing pejorative to the word irrational), but suffice it to say some people are very quick to get very defensive about their religious practices and beliefs.

Which is why I think it would be really insensitive to murder the Pope.

Now, I’m not saying I’d like to kill the Holy Father. I can honestly say I love this Pope and I really, really like the Catholic Church. But if you’re offended simply by glibness about murdering John Paul II alone, imagine how angry you’d be about someone who really wanted to do it.

Well, one such person is Abdul Hakim Murad, a colleague of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi “Play With” Yousef. In 1995, Murad washed his hands in the kitchen sink of his Manila apartment, apparently forgetting this is a major “Don’t” on the bomb-maker’s “Dos and Don’ts” list. The bomb-making chemicals still in the sink mixed with water and started a big fire. When the Philippines’s equivalent of the FBI investigated, they uncovered a plot to blow up 11 U.S. Airliners and destroy CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

And, they discovered that al Qaeda operatives intended to murder the Pope when he visited Manila. They found street maps delineating the path of the Pope’s entourage, and clothing matching that of papal aides. Murad revealed all of the details when the Filipino authorities teased him, calling him mean names like poopy-face and fart-breath. Okay, actually they tortured the stuffing out of the guy (but he really only gave it up when they threatened to extradite him to Israel, heh, heh).

Putting aside the unfriendliness required to blow up the airplanes and the CIA, killing the Pope is a really bad thing to do. As Eddie Murphy pointed out years ago, killing the Pope lets you skip the long lines and go straight to Hell.

More to the point, and I think I’m on safe ground when I say this: It is really, really insensitive to the religious sensibilities of Catholics. In fact — this is a stab in the dark, mind you – but I think it’s just about the most offensive thing you can do to Catholics.

Now, I know that bin Laden and al Qaeda aren’t truly representative of the more than 1 billion Muslims in the world. But that’s not really the point. The point is that the people we are at war with – and there may be untold millions of them – couldn’t pass a multicultural sensitivity-training course even if some fatwa said they’d get 72 virgins in this life for doing it. If they believed the West and Islam were in a holy war before September 11; if they thought the Pope was a legitimate military target; if they believed America was a crusader nation – it seems pretty unlikely we can change their minds now, when we’re dropping bombs on Afghanistan.

Indeed, it seems like the very people who were supposed to help us win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world are against us. For example, yesterday’s New York Times contained a fascinating piece on Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha. Gemeaha was the Imam of the 96th Street Mosque in New York City, and a poster-child for the sort of “moderate Muslims” the Times insists are more representative of Islam. Just days after September 11, the Egyptian-born holy man gave an interview to an Arab newspaper claiming that the U.S. government was persecuting Muslims, that Jewish doctors in New York were poisoning Muslim children, and that everyone knows Jews were responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center (you can find most of the interview at the indispensable Middle East Research Institute website). Gemeaha then headed back to Egypt. The Times seems baffled that a fellow Brie-eater could have been such a bigot.

Whether such bigotry is a natural outgrowth of Islam or an outgrowth of the various stagnant cultures of the Middle East is a debate for another day (though nobody seems to agree with my emphasis on culture). But either way, it’s worth noting that the Middle East, and the Muslim world generally, are home to the greatest feelings of religious intolerance in the world. Anti-Semitism is the official position of numerous Arab governments and, as Princeton historian Bernard Lewis has noted, the Arab world is the only place where virulent Nazi views are still in popular currency. (It’s always been that way. When the Israelis caught Adolf Eichmann, the leading Saudi Arabian newspaper read: “Arrest of Eichmann, who had the honor of killing six million Jews.”) Today, it is the official position of the Syrian government that Jews blew up the World Trade Center, and nobody in the Middle East will even bother to disagree. And yet we’re supposed to believe that these people are the victims of religious intolerance.

Organized Muslim groups in this country and the elites of various Muslim dictatorships abroad take advantage of America’s myopia about such things. These groups claim it’s bigoted to suggest that Arab or Muslim societies are even remotely bigoted. It reminds me of Al Gore’s debate strategy, where he would call his opponents vicious, mean-spirited, horrible people who resorted to “negative attacks.” Then, once his opponent responded by saying, “That’s not true,” Gore would respond with: “See, another negative attack! He’s calling me a liar! That proves it!”

I can sing the praises of American pluralism all day. But the one time it falls apart is when it becomes a one-way street. It only makes sense to respect other religions when the adherents of that religion respect you back. Otherwise, taking the high road only gets you run over. Any group of people willing to celebrate Nazism or to murder the Pope, doesn’t have enough sensitivity to deserve any in return.


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