Judge Not Lest The Enemy of My Enemy Be My Brother's Keeper, Unless He's A Complete Whackjob, That Is
By now, most of us have read the PopeÂs denunciation of Islam. He quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor as saying
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread the sword by the faith he preached,"the pope quoted the emperor, in a speech to 1,500 students and faculty. He went on to say that violent conversion to Islam was contrary to reason and thus "contrary to God's nature." In a story full of ironies, this was given in the context of promoting religious and cultural dialogue!
Some criticism of this passage has dealt with the fact that the Catholic church was, at that very time, converting people by the sword in Spain, among other places. This holy war did not even end in 1492, when the last Islamic kingdom fell. Instead, people who converted through fear were suspected of not being genuine, so they were persecuted anyway by the Inquisition for not really converting at all. Charming. But all that is beside the point. It is a form of Ad Hominem, tu quoque. What does this have to do with whether or not Islam preaches violent conversion, or if the prophet adds only evil and inhuman teachings to our understanding of the divine?
The Pope's own pseudo "apology" ("I'm sorry for the reaction my comments created") blamed the reaction not on his comments, but on his audience in the Muslim world. Like Nixon and Gingrich, both of whom were mystified that they were the target of such hostility from political opponents, apparently blind to the fact that their political careers were made tearing their opponents down, and apparently blind to the fact that this might create hostility among their opponents' faithful. You cannot quote someone calling the teachings of Mohammed evil and inhumane without being offensive to any Muslim, unless you are trying to show that quote is wrong. This was not the case.
But now comes an unidentified "Muslim" group, affiliated with Al-Qaeda. This is much like the new fallacy "Argumentum ad Whackjob." CNN quotes this group with saying:
"Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as "the worshipper of the cross" saying "you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. ... We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword."
OK, now this quote is deeply confused. For centuries, non-Muslim people have lived in the Middle East. Conversion by the sword has been replaced with a "protection" fee. People of the Book (New and Old Testaments), and this took place well before the Crusades. As a token of subjection, people of the book pay a fee to the Islamic government for protection. In exchange, they recognize the authority of the government, and are allowed to practice their non-Muslim religion. This is sometimes called a "head tax". The confusion in the quote is then apparent: they will impose a head tax on worshippers of the cross, and force them to convert. Clearly this is not a group of deep thinkers, nor representative of current Islamic thought.
But by quoting these whackjobs, it makes it appear as if Islam were still in the business of converting by the sword. And this has the exact opposite effect from promoting cross cultural dialogue. We target our negative views on Islam, not recognizing that these whackjobs aren't worth our or anyelse'slses time.
In a story of ironies, the greatest irony of all is that this group of whackjobs plays directly into the PopeÂs speech. Few Muslims would agree, but these folks are defending violent conversion, just as the Pope said.