The Washington Post online has a religion section called On Faith, which features liberal commentary on various issues relating to religion and public life. Today's column, "Sudan and Saudi Arabia: Who Speaks for Islam?," is by John Esposito and John Voll, both of Georgetown. It begins with one of those sentences where the second clause takes away what the first clause asserted:
In a world in which Islamophobes blur the distinction between the barbaric acts of Muslim extremists and terrorists and the religion of Islam, two recent legal decisions in Sudan and Saudi Arabia will reinforce accusations that Islam is an intolerant religion.
So...does that mean that the "Islamophobes" were right after all? Evidently not. But the facts are grim:
After years of civil war and bloodshed and having failed to effectively respond to what some describe as genocide in Darfur, Sudan's government and judiciary have captured global attention with an outrageous verdict of guilt for a British school teacher for allegedly insulting Islam.
In a case in which it is clear that Gillian Gibbons did not intend to malign the Prophet Muhammad and that the children in her class had chosen the name Muhammad for their class teddy-bear, some might still question why she was not more culturally sensitive to a potential backlash. That said, school officials or the courts could have asked her to apologize for an inadvertent "mistake" in judgment. But instead, Gibbons who had made the decision and sacrifice to teach in Sudan, was found guilty of ‘insulting religion,' a victim to a court's distorted notion of Islamic law and justice.
The Sudanese case came on the heels of a recent decision by a Saudi Arabian court that sentenced a 19-year-old rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison. Instead of being appalled at the rape, the gang rape of a woman, a Justice Ministry statement is reported to have declared that the woman invited the sexual attack by seven men because she was in a parked car with a man who was not a relative.
While they are properly outraged by these miscarriages of justice, the authors predictably conclude with claims of moral equivalence, first between Muslim extremists and the "Far Right:"
At a time when Islam is under siege from Muslim extremists and extremists from the Far Right in Europe and America, the judiciaries of Sudan and Saudi Arabia have managed to reinforce the vilification of Islam and used Islamic law as a weapon rather than a yardstick for justice.
I understand how Islam is "under siege" by Muslim extremists; they blow people up. But who are the "Far Right extremists" who also are besieging Islam, and how, exactly, is this "siege" taking place? In the absence of any explanation, one wonders whether in the authors' view, criticism of radical Islam is somehow on a par with mass murder.
They conclude with the familiar assertion of the moral equivalence of religions; in particular, of the varieties of religious "injustice and intolerance":
All our futures depend upon an ability to agree upon a global ethic, based upon mutual understanding and respect, that transcends our religious and cultural differences. Whatever our differences, there can never be an acceptable excuse for injustice and intolerance in the name of our religions.
As though Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews were imprisoning people over teddy bears' names, or flogging women for the "crime" of being raped!
The fact is that most of the Islamic world is backward economically, politically and culturally. To ignore this backwardness, and the extent to which a kind of madness, by no means limited to a handful of mass murderers, has taken root within many Islamic societies, is a willful blindness that serves no one's interest.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn weighs in here. He has also done some checking on the Georgetown professors who authored the Post piece, and notes here that Professor Esposito is one of the academics who recently signed an "open letter" that was reported in an Arabic newspaper under the headline "Christian leaders ask for Muslim forgiveness":
[W]e want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the "war on terror") many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbours. Before we "shake your hand" in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.
Esposito is no "Christian leader" and has no standing to apologize to anyone on behalf of Christianity. (It's not material to the present point, but when can we look forward to receiving an apology by Muslim "leaders" for their various invasions of Europe?) One could dismiss these people as complete goofballs, except that they are employed by a respected university and publish their drivel in the Washington Post.
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