October 5, 2012


Riots in Muslim countries

Perhaps Salman Rushdie, who knows something about the anger of extremist Muslims, said it as well as anyone. “It’s not OK to kill someone if you declare you’re offended by something.”

Rushdie, of course, was accused of offending Islam with his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. For years, he was in hiding because of a 1989 judgment, or fatwa, by Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, that Rushdie should die because he judged his novel to be blasphemous.

Rushdie made the statement above in an interview with Steve Inskeep on National Public Radio. He also said that “something’s wrong inside the Muslim world” that permits extremists to riot and kill whenever they think that the prophet Mohammed has been defamed.

Muslim extremists have rioted throughout the Middle East because of a film produced by someone in the United States that portrayed Mohammed as a sex-crazed simpleton. The fact that the film has been condemned by President Barack Obama has had no effect as anti-American Muslims used it as a pretext for violent protests.

The most serious incident was the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, who had been a great friend of the Libyan people, and three colleagues. That riot might or might not have had anything to do with the film. The violence spread to Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Gaza, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

All this violence, which was immediately condemned by the Vatican, has Middle Eastern Christians on edge. They fear that the film’s association with the Christian West makes them possible targets of extremists.

Bishop Adel Zaki of Alexandria, Egypt’s vicar for Latin-rite Catholics, said, “What happens outside the country is very dangerous for us because it is perceived to be related to us inside.”

In Pakistan, Catholic leaders quickly condemned the film, hoping to avoid possible anti-Christian backlash. And in Niger, the Islamic Council of Niger felt it necessary to ask Muslims not to attack Christian churches to protest the film.

We have to agree with Rushdie that there is something wrong with the Muslim world that makes it seem all right for people whose religious sensibilities are offended to respond with destruction and murder. It’s difficult to know what Americans and Christians can do to put a stop to all this insane violence.

We feel sympathy for American Muslims who often feel the brunt of their religion’s extremists in other parts of the world. Let’s hope and pray that there isn’t a backlash against them, most of whom have learned to appreciate American values like freedom of speech and religion.

American Muslims have not rioted even though the film was made in the United States.They know that the United States is not anti-Muslim. Indeed, our country is far more welcoming to Shia Muslims than Saudi Arabia is.

Should the United States get out of the Middle East as those Muslim extremists want? That’s certainly tempting, considering the amount of money the United States has contributed to some of the countries.

The Economist is one periodical that doesn’t think so. “In general, America should do more in the Middle East, not less,” it said in its Sept. 15 issue. It opined that “the Arab Spring, for all its messiness, is still broadly moving in the right direction,” and “if the Arab economies fail, the cost to the world of ever more angry young men being turfed out of work could be immense.”

Pope Benedict XVI has the right idea. He has called on Muslims and Christians to work together to combat the secularism that has taken over much of the world.

One place where Muslims and Christians do work together is in Palestine, thanks largely to efforts by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land and Bethlehem University.

As easy as it might be to become anti-Muslim because of what is happening in the Middle East, we must not succumb to those feelings.

As Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, said on Sept. 12, “We need to understand what faith groups hold dear.” He said that violence in the name of faith is not in keeping with the teachings of Islam, Christianity or other religions.”

—John F. Fink

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