Thursday, November 23, 2006

Some of our Muslim brothers are eager to resolve their differences with us, and it’s not easy. If they’re too friendly, they have to be wary of the beheading knife, too. For our part, we must be careful not to pander.

Our holy men of good will, ranging from earnest Pentecostal preachers to beribboned high-church Episcopal prelates, seek out their Muslim counterparts for “interfaith dialogue.” Some even travel to the Middle East to “dialogue” on the dark and bloody ground whence comes most of the terror in the world.

Sometimes they abase themselves, as if ashamed of Christ and their professed faith. They seem eager to reassure the Muslims that they don’t really believe all that stuff they say they believe. When an interviewer from the New York Times asked the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the newly elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, what she thought of the observation of Pope Benedict VXI that Islam has tolerated a culture of violence, she replied with heat: “So do Christians! [Exclamation mark hers.] They [italics mine] have a terrible history. Look at the Dark Ages.”

Her reference to Christians as “they” says a lot, but so, too, her drawing moral equivalence between modern Islam and ancient Christianity, as if the Reformation never happened. (Did the bishop never take a history class?) The pope, on the other hand, seeks interfaith dialogue of a kind likely to do actual good. Benedict travels to Turkey next week, where tension between East and West, the Cross and the scimitar, is an ancient affliction. “He will arrive carrying a different reputation,” notes Time magazine, “that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation … when he speaks, the whole world listens.”

With its practiced tolerance for all religions, the West makes itself a soft target for religions that merely profess to be religions of peace. Actual faith has been dramatically diluted in the West, where the church is often merely a place for the ruling class to marry its daughters and bury its dead, just as “faith” has hardened into a harsh, intolerant and deadly ideology in the Islamic world. In the West, respect for Islam has been replaced by fear and terror.

Our own holy men could respect their Muslim brothers, as well as their own countries, by showing tough love instead of platitudes of one part goo and one part mush. They could explain to their Muslim brothers why they can’t always practice their rituals as Islam is practiced in Islamic countries. The incident aboard a jetliner of US Airways the other day in Minneapolis is instructive. The details are in some dispute, but what is not is that six imams — Muslim holy men — were denied boarding after they created an incident and were briefly detained. Other passengers said the imams made a row with a show of praying, punctuated with shouted slogans about how Allah and Saddam Hussein are great and the United States is not. When an airline clerk denied him boarding one imam shouted: “This prejudice. This is obvious discrimination. No one can argue with this.”

But arguing with “this” is exactly what we must do if we bring the Muslims under the fraternal umbrella — of what, in better times than these, was called “the melting pot.” The imams should be told, forcefully, that making an intimidating row of rituals is not the American way and won’t be permitted. If a half-dozen Catholic priests insist on conducting a Mass aboard an airliner, they will be told to stop it. Six Baptist preachers won’t be allowed to conduct a revival meeting amidst either the cheap or expensive seats. Jewish mohels can’t perform circumcisions aboard (even for volunteers). We don’t do things like that in America, and no apology is forthcoming.

Pandering, whether by bishops or government officials, invites contempt, not respect. Nevertheless, after a Saudi national was convicted in Colorado of keeping an Indonesian nanny as a family slave and sentenced to life in prison, the State Department dispatched the Colorado attorney general to Riyadh last week to apologize to King Abdullah for American justice and the 14th Amendment.

We’re an immigrant nation, a source of national strength and pride. But some among us want to turn e pluribus unum — “out of many, one” — inside out. We can’t tolerate that, and it’s time to say so, loud and clear.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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