"They take each other by the hand today, but they will take each other by the throat, tomorrow,” we said not long ago, commenting on the United Front of Christian, Muslim and Sikh zealots to repress “disrespectful” comments on their respective religions.
Now the bigots of political Islam have, so to speak, taken Pope Benedict, the head of the biggest Christian denomination, by the throat.
He has made forced half-apologies for daring to quote a 14-15th century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel 11 Palaeologus, who said that Muhammad’s injunction to spread Islam by way of the sword — that is, by warfare and conquest — was “evil and inhuman”. Manuel, an Emperor whose capital, Constantinople, would fall to the Islamic army of the Ottoman Turks, in 1453, and is now called Istanbul, had good reason to rue the doctrine he denounced!
What Benedict said in the words of the medieval Emperor was true, “fair comment” and surely to the point about political Islam today.
Benedict has been forced not only to half-apologise, but to lie. He now says that the quote he chose to use did not express his “own thoughts” or opinions!
Protesters across the Muslim world have demonstrated to show their anger at Benedict’s words. The Iranian government has denounced the Pope. No less than seven Christian churches in the West Bank, most of them not Catholic, have been attacked, some with petrol bombs. An elderly Italian nun has been shot dead in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. A Muslim preacher in London has called for the Pope’s “execution”.
Some Muslim authorities have “accepted” the Pope’s “apology”; others have rejected it for not being “enough”. An Iranian cleric has said that an apology will be accepted, only if the Pope goes on his knees before a Muslim holy-man to make it. The Pope will be forgiven in Iran only if he follows the example of the medieval German Emperor, Hendrick who, in the 11th century, crawled on his knees at Canossa to beg forgiveness from one of Pope Benedict’s all-powerful predecessors!
Muslim outrage and protest is still, it seems, growing.
Secularists will shed no tears for the plight of Pope Benedict. Whenever it could, wherever it was strong enough, the Catholic Church was one of the most oppressive forces of the 20th century.
In 1936-9, in Spain, that church helped organise a Catholic-fascist crusade, in which not only socialists and atheists were slaughtered, but, often, Protestant heretics too. The Nazi-installed Catholic-fascist, Ustashi regime in Croatia killed or forcibly converted hundreds of thousands of Greek Orthodox Serbs.
Pope Benedict reigns as spiritual absolute monarch over a billion and a quarter Catholics throughout the world. An important dogma of the Catholic faith holds that he is infallible, that God is speaking through him when he speaks on matters of “faith and morals”. Infallible Popes continue to lay it down that the use of a penile rubber sheath is a mortal sin, even as a sanitary protection in AIDS-ravaged Africa. Benedict and his predecessor thus bear a large part of the responsibility for the deaths of millions of human beings.
The sometimes “infallible” Benedict has now quoted another ancient text, this time from St Paul, blaming the Jews for the death of Christ. That is the age-old Christian doctrine — which the Catholic Church formally abandoned two decades ago — which has inspired Christian anti-semitism, and the murder by Christians of countless Jews, through two thousand years.
Pope Benedict’s thesis, in his offending speech, that Christianity, unlike Islam, has learned to blend “faith” and reason, is, of course, nonsense as an account of modern Christianity. Faith here is, and cannot fail to be, an emotion-driven denial of the evidence of reason. The all-shaping fact about religion over the century and a half since Darwin, is that reason, science, has shown the ancient faiths to be false, preposterous and nonsensical. Religious belief has been stripped of every claim to be governed by reason it ever had.
The difference between modern Islam and modern Christianity is that Christianity, more under the pressure of the modern world for longer, is more schizoid, paying nonsensical, oxymoronic, lip service to both faith and reason.
The Catholic Church is what it always was. The difference between that church now and in its quite recent past is not that it has, at root, changed, but that it is weaker.
Benedict’s speech, in which he called for Christian “dialogue” with Islam, on equal terms, may indicate a ratcheting up of Catholic militancy in majority-Islamic countries, where Christianity is often hemmed in by severe restrictions by the state, or subject to persecution by fundamentalist groups.
The effort to silence the head of the Catholic Church is a grim joke, but not one to laugh at. Secularist glee at the sight of the Pope being anathematised in this clash of two, mutually exclusive, “infallible” religions, needs to be tempered with awareness of the seriousness of the situation which is summed up in the outcry against the Pope. (As it was in the recent Muslim outcry against the Danish cartoons.)
If the spiritual absolute monarch of a billion and a quarter Catholics can be treated like that, the cause of free speech and freedom to criticise religion, is surely in a very bad way.
Of course, no one in their senses would want to stir up religious animosities or religious war. But rolling over and playing dead is not the way to avoid religious war. It is a way to ensure that one lot of bigots wins that war. Equally, no secularist, consistent liberal or honest socialist in their senses would join in the outcry that convinced Benedict that it was politic to deny and then lie about his own beliefs.
The right to secular free speech, and the right to write and publish freely (under the laws against incitement to violence, and the laws of libel) is taken for granted in the western bourgeois countries. It is written into the constitution of the USA. It had to be won in centuries of struggle against organised religion, against state-armed, state-licensed, state-entwined and state-enforced religious absolutism.
Against what exists now in many majority-Islamic countries.
The initial freedom of speech and of writing won in the West was the freedom to criticise religion, at first from within common religious assumptions, and then outside all religious assumptions — the right, for instance, to tell Pope Benedict’s predecessors that they were as foolish as they were presumptuous. All our present freedoms of speech and of writing grew, over the centuries, out of that. Today, militant, and even, comparatively speaking, some varieties of “moderate‚” Islam, oppose both the secular free speech we have in the West and even the freedom of religions such as Christianity to operate openly in the Islamic countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia.
Now, we have reached the stage where the revelation, which should surprise nobody, that the Catholic Pope doesn’t like Muhammad, or Islam, that he thinks his own religion is better, the true religion, and says so, more or less, unleashes organised, obstreperous outrage across large parts of the globe!
He is forced to deny that he said what he said, and what he clearly intended to say! Just like a heretic of old, in the torturing hands of the Catholic Inquisition! Like, say, Galileo Galilei, who, in the late 17th century, was forced, under threat of being burned alive, to deny his belief that the earth moved around the sun.
I repeat: if political Islam can do that to the Bishop of Rome, what can it not do to secularists, male and female sexual rebels, infidels, apostates from Islam, and socialists in the countries where it is dominant, and in the communities in Western Europe where it is immensely powerful? What does it do? Everywhere it is repressive, often murderously.
Political Islam, and militant Islam in general is “worse” than Catholicism only in that its zealots are a lot more vigorous, more convinced, more uninhibited, more brutal, and more reckless in asserting themselves today.
Everywhere it tries to exert coercive pressure. At the extreme end of the spectrum it uses terrorism, including the threat of suicide bombers. It has the power to mobilise demonstrations of masses of people caught up in the grip of an intense religious hysteria. It works relentlessly to impose its own standards, its sensibilities and its beliefs on those who do not voluntarily choose to adhere to them.
Its methods were seen at their most effective in the Danish cartoons affair. The threat and the reality of assassinations, bombings, threats of bombings, religious mob violence, and economic boycott, ensured that the mainstream press in Britain and in most countries, dared not publish even a sample of the cartoons which had triggered the uproar, for the information of their readers.
This pressure from political Islam on one side, and on the other, the relentless encroachments on our civil liberties by those waging the “War on Terror” on political Islam — so far a very counterproductive war — combine to threaten the traditional freedoms of the bourgeois democratic countries such as Britain.
All the more shameful then, for the The Guardian, the chief “organ” of British invertebrate liberalism, to editorialise, magisterially about Islamic-Christian relations (18/09/06). What needs to be done is to defend free speech, without weaseling equivocation! The Guardian? It argues, essentially, that the sensibilities and demands of political Islam should be pandered to. Theirs is liberalism rendered helplessly unprincipled, denuded both of historical perspective and historical memory. It is without even a spark of the will to defend the liberal values it professes to hold.
The “revolutionary” kitsch-left, of course, is even worse than the invertebrate liberals. It has made itself into the bigots-cheering advocate of the cause and the demands of Islamic clerical fascism. In Socialist Worker they have even rationalised for the clerical-fascist mass murder on the London tube. The Socialist Workers Party rushed out a “political”, “explanation” of that deed, which rationalised ‚”politically” for its perpetrators, with arguments which the homicide bombers themselves had neglected to supply!
It is to give to George W Bush and Tony Blair too much (negative) credence to conclude that because they talk of a clash of civilisations, there is no problem. Yes, there is! To blame Bush and Blair, as they should be blamed, for making things worse, though perfectly just, is beside the point. Political Islam exerts a relentless pressure, in part by way of its ability to intimidate and cow the invertebrate “liberals”.
They demand that their religion, its prophet, its doctrine and its practices, should be above the criticism, mockery and contempt of non-Muslims. It is a demand that needs to be resisted and defied.
When both the “revolutionary” kitsch-left and the backbone-free liberals do what they are doing, then secularists, consistent liberals and socialists who haven’t lost their wits or their historical perspective, should make their voices heard. In the first place that means the labour movement, which is heir to all the battles by way of which the “common people”, fighting over many centuries, won our liberties.
• Against religious bigotry, everywhere and always!
• Against the claims of any religion for privileges and special state protection!
• For full freedom of religion in majority-Islamic countries, and everywhere!
• For freedom of atheist propaganda, in Islamic countries, and everywhere!
• Against political Islam!
• For solidarity nascent and established labour movements in Islamic countries!
• For secularists, and those fighting for the elementary liberal-democratic freedoms in Islamic countries!
• For women demanding freedom there, and everywhere!
• For freedom for young people to think and say what they like, as they like!
• For the women and men demanding sexual freedom in Islamic countries, and everywhere!