The letters page in the Times is good today.
“Sir”, begins David Mathieson, of Epsom, Surrey – a salutation which I think ought to catch on in blog comments; show a bit of respect, I say – “The Pope did not give offence: his enemies took it. Taking offence is a blackmail strategy and any excuse, real or imagined, will do: it is seen in the belligerent drunk, growling “What are you lookin’ at?” or the gang member who draws a knife because he has been “dissed”. It works because polite, educated respondents try to treat this as a real question, to apologise and negotiate. You cannot negotiate with a drunk or a knife, and you cannot negotiate with those who manufacture offence as a weapon”.
Phillip McGough of Nottingham continues the theme. “Sir”, begins Phillip (HP commenters take note). “The real issue here transcends the Pope’s remarks, just as it transcended the Danish cartoon furore a few months earlier. It seems we are in a world wherein one side of the debate has tacit permission to be as inflammatory and venomous as it pleases, while the other must continually genuflect and wring its hands in an apologetic orgy of self-loathing and self-abasement.
There are those among us who are weary of Western servility in the face of communities at home and abroad which seek to extinguish all criticism of their religion and their culture, while simultaneously – and with no sense of contradiction – spitting hatred and a doctrine of destruction in our direction. It goes without saying that the Pope’s remarks were at best ill-timed and unhelpful. Whatever its origins, Islam remains a noble religion with a noble message. But those who claim to speak for Islam do their faith no favours by seeking to silence all criticism absolutely, as opposed to meeting it with reasoned, measured debate”.
The contradiction theme is taken up by Robert Rhodes QC, a resident of Outer Temple Chambers, London WC2: “Sir, It might strike some of your readers as ironic that complaints about the Pope’s recent speech allegedly linking Islam with violence were associated with the burning of his effigy”.
Rod Liddle also remarked on this apparent paradox yesterday, describing Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam’s quote that “Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”, as a “little piece of doublethink beauty”. And I’ve fallen into the same trap myself before, too. On this post about the last episode of anger and outrage and effigy-burning and embassy-torching, I suggested that “if you’re going to protest against a set of cartoons suggesting that Islam was a violent and aggressive religion then you’re really not doing yourself any favours by demanding the beheading of people who insult it”.
I now think that Robert and Rod and I were missing the point a bit. If you look at the chaps in the photo below – wisely using Impact as a font; Comic Sans, for example, would dilute somewhat the element of religious hatred and murderous conquest – I don’t think they’re that interested in demonstrating, using facts and logic, that the Pope was incorrect to say that he said. I don’t think they’re that bothered that people might think “hang on, surely a placard that says ‘Islam will conquer Rome’ suggests the Pope was right“. No, I think they’re more interested in annihilating people that disagree with them.
The good thing, though, is that there’s only three of them. In the blog post I quoted I also suggested “how about we make tomorrow an International Day of Not Getting Too Worked Up About Things? We could have breakfast, read the papers, maybe make a risotto, who knows? But no placards and no shouting. It might just catch on”. Let’s hope so. It turns out that His Holiness has also made remarks about Jews that have been described as “unwise in the current climate”. Let’s see if they can manage not to burn anything in response.
Gene adds: Thanks to commenter “uptight” for providing a kinder, gentler alternative to the middle sign in the photo above.