Drawing the line between civilized and uncivilized religious behavior, Pope Benedict used the words of Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II. "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 Pope was right on.
The Pope's spokesman (who said, "It certainly wasn't the intention of the Pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad (holy war) and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers.") was not, and neither was the Pontiff's subsequent address.
In a bid to quell violent Muslim reaction to the Pontiff's use of the quote, the spokesman attempted to reword what the Pope said. The Pope himself then issued an apology. What a crock. What a placating, ass-kissing, cleric-spun crock.
To make matters worse, the Pontiff didn't apologize for himself; he apologized for others. Ask any married person or business partner about this dynamic and it will be the same: "They're not sorry for what they did; they're sorry for what I did. They still think the way they do." Of course extremists are unforgiving — the Pope didn't ask to be forgiven.
If what the Pope inferred is incorrect, let's hear from another side of this so far one-sided conflict wherein "we" speak and "they" react. Let's hear some non-violent clarification from the same Muslims who claim peace. There are peaceful Muslims, but there are no peaceful marches, peaceful sit-ins, peaceful anything. There's nothing conspicuous and non-violent. The rest of the world is almost stunned by the ongoing silence.
The only representatives of the Muslim religion who publicly took issue with the Pope's words were violent Muslims. While extremists burning the Pope in effigy are preferred to terrorist sent in to suicide bomb the Vatican, neither sends a message of peace.
Hear ye, Muslims — fire everyone in your public relations department; and by fire, I don't mean actually use fire.
In an article entitled "We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam," Karen Armstrong accused Pope Benedict of perpetuating Islamophobia. That would work, Karen, except that it's perfectly reasonable to be afraid of and want to stop people who have said they are intent on taking over the planet and killing everyone who disagrees with them. This fear wasn't irrationally brought up from yesteryear. Al Qaeda said it yesterday.
It doesn't matter that extremists took issue with Pope Benedict's words because nothing has changed. Extremists do what they do in reaction to what others do and others do little about it. If extremists were children, we’d call them brats and their parents losers without regard for their religion, culture, or language. Osama bin Laden calls them loyalists and trains them to be terrorists.
Extremists went high and to the right on a global scale over what they considered to be blasphemous images of their deity and, on a more local scale, they destroyed one of Asia's greatest archaeological treasures, the Buddhas. Going after Pope Benedict in effigy means squat compared to completely destroying world artifacts representative of the most peaceful religion on the planet. We did nothing about either.
The United States, in reaction to an attack on its own land, invaded the land of the accused, chased the accused into a different country, stopped at that border, spun on its heel, and invaded a different country altogether. If the United States were a child, we'd give him Ritalin.
The Pope reflected what many around the world believe of religious extremists, and rightly so. In National Geographic's Inside 9/11, Osama bin Laden all but paraphrased the Byzantine Christian Emperor and yet extremists took no issue with it. He said the distinction between the nation of Islam and the West is that the nation of Islam loves death while the West loves life. His very existence contradicts his assertion.
This love of death is not restricted to the believer. The believer is taught to love not just his own death, but also the deaths of others. Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, has deliberately avoided that which he convinces others of deliberately seeking. He has chosen but a handful to follow him in life while everyone else is sent down the path to salvation (read: death). If the path to salvation is so great, why hasn't he chosen the same path?
The motivations of Osama bin Laden and those like him have nothing to do with love of death or life. Religion may be the dress the emperor wears, but religion is not the supporting garment and the wearer is decidedly not dead. If there were nothing on earth but the nation of Islam, what would extremists-turned-terrorists do with this "love of death"? Just as with any deeply entrenched personality disorder, the disorder can't function without a target. The person with the disorder must constantly seek to find and/or create a new target.
The impulse to control doesn't go away just because everything is within his control. He will engage whatever he must to meet the need of the disorder. Even if no one else is left on the planet he will seek to rearrange his environment even if that means destroying it.
Case in point, the Taliban had everything in line in Afghanistan — the women, the children, the elderly, the diet, and the daily routine. What was left to control, change, and restrict? That's when they went after the Buddhas. For almost two thousand years extremists had no interest in the statues — until there was nothing else to control, change, or restrict.
The distinction then is not that the nation of Islam loves death and the West loves life. In fact, there is no distinction. The word distinction has been coupled with the word religion by bin Laden and the rest of the world has bought into it. It is a misnomer used to justify the elimination of those who think differently and a willingness to use one's own people to further the cause.
This is precisely how one can conclude that bin Laden's actions are not religious but instead self-serving and of this world. He and those before him and like him have used others' devotion to Allah to convince them to die by way of taking out the enemy — an enemy that extremist leaders used the Koran to define and an enemy they themselves specifically identified: the United States and her Allies.
Look at any country not allied with the United States and that does not adhere to the Koran. Are they on the hit list? No, not specifically. Even though they meet the Koran's definition of enemy, extremist leadership hasn’t specifically identified them as enemies. That's not the nation of Islam's love of death or even bin Laden's love of death. That's extremist leadership's love of everyone else's death. That they have others believing they're dying for a spiritual reason is a convenience, not a dogma.
We kill the one who kills the many and we go home. They kill and kill and kill. When they run out of opposition they reframe and redefine until someone meets the criteria. Eventually, those whose beards are a centimeter shorter or longer than the leadership's will become the opposition. Extremist leadership will not be happy until everyone is dead except themselves.
The United States and her Allies must refuse to acknowledge the element of religion from this war in order to win it. We must stop referring to them or their actions with religious terms of any kind. Any cleric with ties to terrorism is not a cleric. Take the "holy" out of the war. Stop allowing the enemy to define the terms and thus dictate the rules of engagement.
Your enemy knows you were raised never to hit those who wear glasses. As they're trying to kill you they're yelling, "Don't hit us back because we're wearing glasses!" You've diplomatically asked them to remove their glasses but they refused. What do you do? Conservatives would tell you to stay in the fight and try to kill them in a way that doesn't harm their glasses. Liberals would tell you to run away, knowing they will seek out and kill others as soon as you leave.
Instead of allowing extremist distaste for Pope Benedict's words to further distract the United States and her Allies from the goal, how about we invoke a third option. Tell them their flagrant disregard for human life trumps their right to protected vision. Strip them of their glasses and blind them.