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PR case studies

Two quick case studies in public relations for the morally stunted and intellectually challenged.

1. If you feel your religious tradition has been slandered, falsely accused of promoting violence and the "command to spread by the sword the faith," then it's probably best not to respond to such remarks violently. Bombing churches tends not to be an effective way of convincing others that your religion has not become corrupted by the adoption of violent coercion as a means of spreading/defending the faith. It may, in fact, be counterproductive — reinforcing and providing evidence for the negative criticisms of your faith.

Also: If you're upset with something said by the Roman Catholic pontiff, then it makes no sense to take out this anger with violence against a 1,425-year-old Greek Orthodox church. That makes about as much sense as invading Iraq in retaliation for Sept. 11.

2. If you're a head of state advocating the use of torture, you're facing a difficult PR battle. Yours is a position that, frankly, I thought might be indefensible. After all, only an idiot with the slimmest comprehension of reality would think that torture was a useful, practical tool. And only a monster would consider it an acceptable option. It's a reprehensible and useless tactic, proven over the millennia to be merely an impotent game played by bored sadists who have run out of ideas. So initially I was at a loss as to how to promote your position.

But then I read this advertisement for torture by Associated Press reporter Nedra Pickler. Pickler's insight is the need to disassociate torture from its obvious connection to small-penised, impotent perverts. Pro-torture advocates, she realized, will therefore need to portray the tactic as "manly" and "macho." Pickler artfully displays this approach in her latest AP dispatch:

it is unclear whether Congress can quickly pass legislation authorizing aggressive methods against terrorist detainees, as President Bush wants. …

Bush says CIA personnel should be able to resume tough interrogation techniques to extract information from detainees.

These are the key words — "aggressive," "tough." Continue to employ them as Pickler does and the public may be distracted from the fact that you're a frightened, clueless pervert.

  • J

    The U.S. armed forces are always being accused of “fighting the last war” (i.e. strenuously preparing themselves to fight enemies who went out of existence 10-20 years ago). And the dear pontiff seems to be drinking the same stuff as them.
    ‘Cause the odd thing is that–recent, possibly mis-interpreted remarks aside–Pope Benedict is hugely more respectful of Muslims than of secular people in the West. He’s said this almost in as many words: the threat to the West is not terrorism by Muslims but homegrown non-belief in God (which he equates totally with “intellectuals”, as though it were an entirely elite movement with no lay following).
    The Pope can and has beaten Bush at the this-is-just-like-WWII rhetorical game hands down. To him, ANY wavering from hard orthodoxy means leaving the door unlocked to fascism and communism (but especially communism). One gets the sense that either news of the fall of communism never reached the Vatican, or else that the leadership like to pretend it never happened so as to sustain their own fear-based rhetoric.
    Anyway, at this moment in history–in which firey, faith-based apocalypticisms are tearing the world apart–is it not colossally beside the point to the screaming that secularism will be the doom of all? Sorry, but no, that’s the dunceheaded beliefs of foolish clownhood. Secular folk neither control vast armies, nor do we hunker in basements, tinkering with explosive vests.
    Here’s something I’d love to hear but never will: A conservative religious leader (political, clerical, or media) admit that we’re far more likely to suffer and die from auto wrecks, global warming, or infectious disease than from the machinations of dirty liberals.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    As far as I can tell, that nasty quote in the Pope’s speech does nothing to advance his argument. Imho, he gave in to the impulse to be insulting.
    I also notice the care he took with Christian history and his casualness with Moslem history.
    As for what sort of people torture, penis size probably has nothing to do with it. Sexual weirdness or insecurity might not, either–I’ve never heard of any research on the subject. Imho, cruelty is a motivation in itself which might or might not include a sexual element.
    Back when Abu Graib was news, I saw a British piece from the 1800s which gave cowardice as a first argument against torture. The past really is a different country….I can’t imagine a modern person saying that.
    It isn’t just that torturers are frightened–they’re bullies. They specialize in attacking people who can’t defend themselves in any way.

  • Johann

    I have no sympathy for Muslim anger and fail to understand how anyone on the left can. First of all Muslim anger at the Pope is about as silly as a Christian getting mad at Al-Sistani for criticizing Christian doctrine. The Pope is not a Muslim and has no special duty to respect the Muslim faith on theological grounds. He should respect people’s willingness to practice the Muslim, or Protestant or Bahai’i faiths, but as the leader of the Catholic Church it truly is his duty to argue why Catholic doctrine is the best doctrine. Remember, his real job is to proselytize, i.e. market his faith. Furthermore, read what the Pope actually said – “(Manuel) addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: ‘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 point of the quote was clearly not to insult Muhammed but to show just how open and frank the dialogue in the 14th century was. Unlike the Pope, Michael directly insulted his Persian interlocutor to his face, and the Persian did not react with righteous anger – he continued the dialogue. If anything the Pope was highlighting how much the Muslim intolerance has increased since the 14th century, and the response to this speech has proven him correct.

  • Beth

    “In many nations where Islam is the majority religion, it is the only option tolerated by the government.”
    Please name them. Because I can only think of one….
    But of course there’s a lot of space between not permitting other religions at all and allowing the free practice of religion. How many Muslim nations, for example, forbid non-Muslim proselytization or Muslims from converting to non-Muslim religions?
    Also, do the terms “people of the book” ring any bell?
    Only in regard to Judaism, but that can’t be the example you’re looking for. I think you’d find that Israeli Muslims enjoy more religious freedom and civil rights in general than non-Muslims citizens in the majority of Muslim countries, probably even more than Muslims in the average Muslim country.
    This brings up another irony. If you look at the places most outraged by the Pope’s perceived demonization of Islam, I think you’ll find that demonization of Judaism is widespread and often officially supported.
    Speaking as a frequently clueless but unabashedly unfrightened pervert, I resent being two-thirds associated with the cowardly weaklings of the Bush administration.
    Well, I’m still tempted to call them perverted, but I agree that the difference between such deep, pathological perversions and normal, healthy ones is as great as the difference between regular, consensual sex and rape rooms.

  • none

    I wrote: In many nations where Islam is the majority religion, it is the only option tolerated by the government.
    Bulbul: Please name them. Because I can only think of one and this particular one is ruled by a radical sect which is even suspicious and intolerant of other muslims.
    Here’s a link to the U.S. State Department’s 2006 Report on International Religious Freedom: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/c18711.htm
    Just skimming the articles, I count Algeria, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia
    as having laws that prohibit or significantly restrict the religious freedom of Christians. If I counted laws that prohibited proselytizing or converstion to Christianity, there would be at least a dozen more. And there were several other countries where they documented government harassment of Christians or restricting religious practice.
    Can you name a country in which a Christian would face significant resistance from the government if he wished to convert to Islam?

  • bulbul

    But of course there’s a lot of space between not permitting other religions at all and allowing the free practice of religion.
    Of course there is. But even you cannot practice your own religion freely, that doesn’t mean that in those countries, Islam is “the only option tolerated by the government”.
    Just skimming the articles, I count Algeria, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia
    as having laws that prohibit or significantly restrict the religious freedom of Christians.
    Hm. I’ll grant you Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a special case, since the religious police there even keeps an eye on all foreign muslims.
    Egypt is a maybe, since I occasionally hear reports about Christian persecution, but the Copts I know (none of them is a Mubarak fan) vehemently deny this. Also, have you actually read the paragraph about all the churches built?
    As for Iran, that get’s kind of difficult. Religious minorities are legally prohibited from seeking elected office or hold a government position. But I personally know two Christians who hold high positions in two ministries. Besides, the Sunnis are considered a religious minority too. So I’d say this is one of those situations when people mistake a practice which is typical of all dictatorships for one particularly associated with Islam.
    Can you name a country in which a Christian would face significant resistance from the government if he wished to convert to Islam?
    Depends how you define “significant resistance from the government”. I know of several cases when a woman who married a Muslim and converted was denied the custody of their
    children after his death. Would that qualify?
    If you look at the places most outraged by the Pope’s perceived demonization of Islam, I think you’ll find that demonization of Judaism is widespread and often officially supported.
    Indeed. And your point is?

  • lou

    About Muslim intolerance to other religions, I would note that that intolerance has only flourished in the last 50-100 years. Egyptian Coptists did just fine for hundreds of years under Muslim rule. Palestine and Lebanon had sizeable Christian minorities and so did Iraq. So what happened?
    Could it be Western interference in the Middle East, especially after the discovery of oil, has linked Christianity with tyranny in the minds of the Muslim inhabitants of the Middle East?
    just a thought.
    PS I’ve always thought these violent outbreaks were ways of oppressive governments to turn attention away from themselves onto the Western world.

  • forestwalker

    –”Turns out the Pope’s lecture is full or rather questionable comments. One strikes me as particularly weird: the Pope claims that ‘the biblical belief stood in sharp contrast to the hellenistic rulers who wanted to force the adaptation to the Greek lifestyle and their polytheistic belief’. Hm. Any Classicists in the house? Because I’m no expert and I’d say this is bullshit.”
    Bulbul,
    Interesting that you ask this on the blog of Left Behind deconstruction. The book of Revelation is an expression of this contrast and defiance. Watch here for a decent explication.

  • Jeff

    Wasn’t there just a case of an Afghani who was going to be killed because he had converted to Christianity? He was given asylum elsewhere, but tht doesn’t sound all that accepting of other religions. (I think that Afghanistan has no laws forbidding current Christians from worshipping as they please, but this law is hardly religion-neutral.)

  • bulbul

    lou:
    Could it be Western interference in the Middle East, especially after the discovery of oil, has linked Christianity with tyranny in the minds of the Muslim inhabitants of the Middle East?
    Perhaps not Christianity itself, as much as the Western powers which colonized large parts of the Arab world (especially Egypt). Some of my colleagues have even suggested that the bad rap the Crusades get in the modern Muslim world does not accurately reflect the way Muslims viewed the actual Crusades (as evidenced by, say, this learned gentleman), but is actually a result of retconning, i.e. the colonial period transferred to the Middle Ages.
    Jeff:
    Wasn’t there just a case of an Afghani who was going to be killed because he had converted to Christianity? He was given asylum elsewhere, but tht doesn’t sound all that accepting of other religions.
    There is a different between people belonging to other religions and apostates. The guy in Afghanistan was the latter, a Muslim who converted to Christianity. According to most legal authorities, male apostates should be put to death. The problem is how you define an apostate. Some scholars say that this only applies to those who turn away from Islam AND actively fight it. Others, such as those in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, claim it applies to any convert.
    forestwalker: sorry, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. My question was whether there have indeed been Hellenistic rulers which, as the Pope said, tried to force their polytheistic beliefs on everyone. This sounds quite unlikely to me, considering the relationship of the Roman Empire towards various belief systems.

  • forestwalker

    –”forestwalker: sorry, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. My question was whether there have indeed been Hellenistic rulers which, as the Pope said, tried to force their polytheistic beliefs on everyone. This sounds quite unlikely to me, considering the relationship of the Roman Empire towards various belief systems.”
    Bulbul,
    If by ‘hellenistic rulers who wanted to force the adaptation to the Greek lifestyle and their polytheistic belief’ the Pope was referring to a forced conversion to worship of the Roman pantheon then you’re right, the charge is quite ahistorical. And since it is not only ahistorical, but quite obviously and demonstrably ahistorical, that’s likely not what he meant.
    A better reading I think–especially given that it’s one of the Pope’s major concerns and agendas–is that he has in mind a parallel between Roman cultural dominance (Greek lifestyle) and religious tolerance (polytheistic belief) and contemporary Modern/post-Modern religious/cultural pluralism. The Roman and Modern systems are both very tolerant of individual belief but at the same time they’re ultimately totalizing systems. Subjects are free to hold virtually any religious belief so long as it remains only in the private sphere and acknowledges its subordination to the State. The Roman version reached its most aggressive and totalizing point in the Church’s first century in emperor worship and the Imperial Cult which, as the Pope said, biblical belief stood in sharp contrast to. The early Christians resisted. The book of Revelation is a raised middle finger to the Emperor, a gift of great hope and encouragement to the Church, and a (colorful) reminder of who the true sovereign is.

  • Jonathan Versen(“Hugo Zoom”)

    I’ll listen to the pope’s criticism of other religions when he lets priests and nuns marry and addresses the widespread abuse of children by supposedly celibate priests. In the meantime, let him worry about his own house.

  • J

    The Roman and Modern systems are both very tolerant of individual belief but at the same time they’re ultimately totalizing systems. Subjects are free to hold virtually any religious belief so long as it remains only in the private sphere and acknowledges its subordination to the State.
    Given the open aspirations of Christian/Catholic politicians and clerics to control/become the state, I’m not too miffed about being called an adherent of a “totalizing” system.
    Admit it: Everyone has visions of world domination. Everyone wants to totalize–me, you, Fred, bulbul, and you’d better believe the Pope does.
    On Planet Catholicism, people would probably still be allowed to be Muslims and atheists . . . so long as they acknowledged their subordination to the Kingpope/Popresident.
    Its enough to make one pretty damn sympathetic to separatist movements.

  • J

    Ugh, man forestwalker, this statement of yours bugs me so much I want to pick it apart even more:
    The Roman and Modern systems are both very tolerant of individual belief but at the same time they’re ultimately totalizing systems. Subjects are free to hold virtually any religious belief so long as it remains only in the private sphere and acknowledges its subordination to the State.
    Yeah, because demands that you guys NOT enforce your morality on the rest of us are a real injustice aren’t they? That “subordination to the state” is it? What a total confirmation of my suspicion that Christian conservatives are fundamentally people uncomfortable with freedom. And don’t bullshit me with anything about “Christian freedom” or a figmentious distinction between freedom and choice. Freedom means nothing if it doesn’t mean choice. Freedom means nothing if it doesn’t mean the right to do something that deeply offends someone else: like criticize violent tendencies in Islam or be gay.
    To pick only one issue out of many, we in the U.S. fought an incredibly brutal, five-year war to settle the question of whether or not every woman and man born could be said to own their own bodies. That’d seem to put paid to the notion that it is somehow a government-playing-god injustice to demand that you Christians respect that, wouldn’t it?

  • bulbul

    forestwalker:
    If by ‘hellenistic rulers who wanted to force the adaptation to the Greek lifestyle and their polytheistic belief’ the Pope was referring to a forced conversion to worship of the Roman pantheon then you’re right, the charge is quite ahistorical. And since it is not only ahistorical, but quite obviously and demonstrably ahistorical, that’s likely not what he meant.
    So what you’re saying is “what pope said was such obvious bullshit there ain’t no way in hell he meant it.” Five years ago, I would have believed you. Today you don’t stand a chance. Besides, I don’t have that much fate in Pope’s intellectual abilities and/or honesty.
    As for your reading, the text does not support it. This particular passage specifically mentions the contrast between the biblical belief and polytheism, even speaks of “myths” being conquered and transcended.
    One thing that strikes me as particularly odd in that speech was the phrase “greek lifestyle” (“Griechische Lebensweise”). I assume he did not mean pederasty, which was an integral part of that “lifestyle”, so my first choice would be secularism and philosophy (in the Greek sense of the word). But that also clashes with other portions of the text and the overall message which seems to be “God is reason” and constantly emphasizes the positive aspects of contact between cultures. I admit I’m puzzled.
    The Roman and Modern systems are both very tolerant of individual belief but at the same time they’re ultimately totalizing systems.
    So they’re so tolerant that they’re totalizing, right?
    While I do share your – and C.S. Lewis’ – concerns about religion being confined to the private life, I doubt very much that was the case in the Roman/Hellenistic world. First of all, “individual belief” and “separation of church and state” are modern concepts. Romans tolerated not individual belief, but religious groups. They didn’t say “Yo, dudes, believe in Ishtar if you want to, but don’t bring it up.” They built a temple for the said goddess right there among their own gods. There were even several synagogues in Rome until the time of the revolts. Secondly, the connection between state and religion was still very strong – temples were built using public funds and I won’t even mention the God Emperor (mainly because you did, though in other context). And again, that only turned aggressive in the 3rd century when – once again – religion was used as a political tool.
    The early Christians resisted.
    And were pretty much left alone until the third century when Decius started requiring an oath of allegiance to the Emperor in an attempt to hold his empire together. So?
    The book of Revelation is a raised middle finger to the Emperor, a gift of great hope and encouragement to the Church, and a (colorful) reminder of who the true sovereign is.
    No. The book of Revelation is a prophecy.
    Whoa.
    I’d never thought I’d see the day – I have to remind someone of this HERE.
    Anyway, Revelation is many things, but it’s not a political statement. And it reminds EVERYONE, not just the Emperor, of who the boss is and what happens when He comes to reclaim his Kingdom.

  • bulbul

    Admit it: Everyone has visions of world domination. Everyone wants to totalize–me, you, Fred, bulbul,
    Good luck I’m too lazy to actually attempt to rule the world, ain’t it?

  • forestwalker

    –”Admit it: Everyone has visions of world domination. Everyone wants to totalize–me, you, Fred, bulbul, and you’d better believe the Pope does.”
    J,
    Careful. Keep talking like that and folks will start calling you a postmodern. ;)
    The rest of your response assumes way too much about the extent to which I agree with what I hypothesize the Pope was conveying. I don’t believe (at all) that Christian theocracy or cultural domination is a better alternative to Modern Liberal society. Just that framing this human failing as a failing of religion (Christian or Muslim) is a hindrance. As you say, all systems tend toward “totalization”; and I’d add hypocrisy and delusion (none are good but the Father, if you will). Recognizing our common failings only in the Other is not the road to peace.

  • Beth

    But that also clashes with other portions of the text and the overall message which seems to be “God is reason” and constantly emphasizes the positive aspects of contact between cultures.
    My understanding is that he was positing two extremes: Godless reason (Hellenism) and a reasonless god (Islam). Only Godly reason (Catholicism) can lead us out of the mess they have created.

  • forestwalker

    –’The Roman and Modern systems are both very tolerant of individual belief but at the same time they’re ultimately totalizing systems.’
    “So they’re so tolerant that they’re totalizing, right?”
    They’re tolerant so long as said beliefs (political or religious) do not interfere with allegiance to and purposes of the empire. By the way, if it makes what I’m saying more clear, I’m speaking from a political orientation toward subsidiarity, not from conservative American Christian political positions.
    “While I do share your – and C.S. Lewis’ – concerns about religion being confined to the private life, I doubt very much that was the case in the Roman/Hellenistic world. First of all, ‘individual belief’ and ‘separation of church and state’ are modern concepts. Romans tolerated not individual belief, but religious groups. They didn’t say ‘Yo, dudes, believe in Ishtar if you want to, but don’t bring it up.’ … Secondly, the connection between state and religion was still very strong – temples were built using public funds…”
    I don’t disagree with that. I do think, though, that the Modern idea of individuality is an illusion. What we call individuality is really just the freedom to choose our group rather than being bound to the one we’re born to (we label those who truly have an ‘individual belief’ insane). When it comes down to it the dynamic is really the same. Tolerance then and now is of religious/political groups, not of ‘individual belief’. With that in mind, and to your second point, civil religion and religion subordinated to the state/empire are the creatures I had in mind in talking about the totalizing effects of the Roman and Modern systems. ‘Separation of Church and State’, I think, was/is an attempt to weaken that totalizing effect, not to strengthen it.
    –’The early Christians resisted.’
    “And were pretty much left alone until the third century when Decius started requiring an oath of allegiance to the Emperor in an attempt to hold his empire together. So?”
    Domitian? You’re probably right in regard to official imperial policy but perhaps not as to actual practice.
    –’The book of Revelation is a raised middle finger to the Emperor, a gift of great hope and encouragement to the Church, and a (colorful) reminder of who the true sovereign is.’
    “No. The book of Revelation is a prophecy. Whoa. I’d never thought I’d see the day – I have to remind someone of this HERE. Anyway, Revelation is many things, but it’s not a political statement. And it reminds EVERYONE, not just the Emperor, of who the boss is and what happens when He comes to reclaim his Kingdom.”
    I implied it’s not prophecy? Revelation is many things, including a political statement, even if only secondarily. “Jesus Christ is LORD” means that Caesar is not. “Every nation shall bow” means that every nation shall bow, including Rome.

  • http://zdrake.blogspot.com/2006/09/pope-vs-islam.html Internal Monologue

    The Pope vs. Islam

    Despite my track record of Vatican bashing (do a search if you want examples), I’m leaning towards the Pope in this little spat. I must add my voice to the chorus of folk (including Journal of Applied Misanthropology and Andrew Sullivan) who say thos…

  • cjmr’s husband

    Admit it: Everyone has visions of world domination. Everyone wants to totalize–me, you, Fred, bulbul,
    “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
    “The same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!”

  • Beth

    “If you look at the places most outraged by the Pope’s perceived demonization of Islam, I think you’ll find that demonization of Judaism is widespread and often officially supported.”
    Indeed. And your point is?
    Just what I said it was. Fred pointed out one irony — that of responding to accusations of violence with violence — and I pointed out another — that those most outraged by insults to their religion have no compunction about demonizing someone else’s.

  • Donald Johnson

    On the subject of Christian violence, I’m surprised no one has mentioned Latin America during the 70′s and 80′s. You had leftists, both secular types and religious sympathizers of liberation theology being exterminated by the rightwing Christians, and it was done in the name of defending Christian civilization. Pope JPII was quite critical of the liberation theologians and their supporters, but I don’t recall him making a big fuss over the way their theological opponents on the right had this habit of actually killing priests and nuns who sympathized a bit too much with the poor.
    And in my own religious tradition, “Christianity Today” just admitted that it published several puff pieces about Rios Montt, the ruler of Guatemala in 1982, because he was a “born-again” Christian, while saying nothing about the genocidal campaign against the Mayan Indians that was conducted in the name of anti-communism. Reagan embraced the man, and American evangelicals, for the most part, embraced Reagan and his crusades.
    It’s kinda funny to hear conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant) blathering on about Muslims and their holy wars. It’s not like you have to go back several centuries to find Christians behaving the same way.

  • Duane

    It’s kinda funny to hear conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant) blathering on about Muslims and their holy wars. It’s not like you have to go back several centuries to find Christians behaving the same way.
    But you know the drill: any example of recent Christianity behavior is the exception to the rule. Any example of Muslim behavior proves the rule.
    It’s how we maintain our own superiority.

  • bulbul

    Beth,
    My understanding is that he was positing two extremes: Godless reason (Hellenism) and a reasonless god (Islam)
    Beautifully put :o)
    Fred pointed out one irony — that of responding to accusations of violence with violence — and I pointed out another — that those most outraged by insults to their religion have no compunction about demonizing someone else’s.?
    Oh, OK. I thought this was pretty obvious.

  • Skyknight

    J: Everyone has visions of world domination. Everyone wants to totalize–me, you, Fred, bulbul, and you’d better believe the Pope does.
    {sigh} Great. Someone else repeating Scott’s errors (except I think Scott thinks he’s isn’t afflicted with the above-mentioned megalomania). What does it take to annihiliate this sort of wretched cynicism?!

  • ninjanun

    Well first, we’d probably need to make sure that Tears for Fears song never gets played ever again.
    I’m just not willing to let that happen.
    Are you? ;)

  • bulbul

    Skyknight,
    Someone else repeating Scott’s errors
    No. Scott is saying something completely different.
    (except I think Scott thinks he’s isn’t afflicted with the above-mentioned megalomania)
    a) True.
    b) It’s not megalomania. It’s lust for power.

  • Andrew R.

    Bulbul,
    You do know that “people of the Book” were legally second-class citizens, don’t you?
    It is one thing to say, “If you are going to make members of your predecessor religion second class citizens, it’s better to do so in the way that the various Caliphates treated their Christians and Jews was than how Christendom deal with the Jews.” It is something else entirely to say, “Gosh, Islam is so wonderful and tolerant because their second-class citizens have built in legal protections!”
    You are also entirely to glib in explaining away that in large swaths of the Islamic world changing religion is a capital crime. I somehow doubt that you would be equally ready to leap to the defense of medieval Christian laws against apostasy.

  • Andrew Reeves

    Oh, and the vocative of “meretrix” would be the same as the nominative. So you’d just say, “O meretrix stulta.”

  • bulbul

    You do know that “people of the Book” were legally second-class citizens, don’t you?
    Why of course I do. But even as such, they were entitled to rights and protections non-Christians in Europe at that time could only dream of. And in practical terms, dhimmis in most periods in most Islamic countries were living in much better conditions than, say, Jews in Europe. Hell, even Bernard Lewis says so.
    You are also entirely to glib in explaining away that in large swaths of the Islamic world changing religion is a capital crime. I somehow doubt that you would be equally ready to leap to the defense of medieval Christian laws against apostasy.
    I assume you mean “too glib”. Indeed I do. I tend to be too brief, glib or even sketchy in my remarks and/or comments. Laziness and all.
    And no, I wouldn’t be jumping to the defense of medieval Christian laws against apostasy, just like I am not jumping to the defense of the Islamic laws against apostasy. You seem to fall into the same trap the above mentioned local pundit* and other similar fucks can’t dig themselves out of: if you don’t criticize X or even try to provide further information or to put X in proper contex, you are condoning and/or defending it. I ain’t.
    One general remark concerning these debates: to quote Duane, But you know the drill: any example of recent Christianity behavior is the exception to the rule. Any example of Muslim behavior proves the rule. I’m trying to fight this whenever I can.
    Oh, and the vocative of “meretrix” would be the same as the nominative
    I stand corrected.
    * May he shit on his hands while the water in his apartment building is turned off and the super is on a holiday.

  • Andrew R.

    Bulbul,
    Like I said earlier, if you are going to have a system in which members of a predecessor religion are treated as second-class citizens, it’s better to have something as systematized and protected as the dhimmi system. But taken in context with your above quote that it was Islam that got the idea of spreading faith by the sword from Christendom, I tend to think that you’re doing the mirror image of what Duane described and thus, the Almohads, Baibars, or Hakim the Mad all become aberrations from the true Islam (okay, Hakim the Mad *was* an aberration, but those were the first three that came to mind).
    The impulse to respond to, “There are aspects of the current Islamic religious revival that are both disturbing and dangerous” with, “Yeah? Well, Muslims were living in opulent splendor when Christians were filth-spattered savages. So there!” should be resisted. It’s about as unthinking as, “Ever since Muhammed swept out of the desert we have been locked in an Eternal Struggle with the Islamic Hordes. We should therefore bomb Iran.”
    The religious history of the Islamic and Christian worlds in the Medieval and Early Modern period is absolutely fascinating. It is next to useless, though, to furnish ammunition for present-day religious/political debates.

  • bulbul

    Andrew,
    thus, the Almohads, Baibars, or Hakim the Mad all become aberrations from the true Islam
    Aren’t they? In many ways, Almohads resemble the Taliban and other fundamentalist sects of Islam – puritanism, perceiving the rest of Islam as pagans and the nationalist aspect (Berbers vs. Arabs for the former, Pashtun vs. Tajik/Turkmen for the latter). They are as much aberrations from true Islam as medieval inquisition and crusaders or present-day gay-bashers are aberrations from the true teachings of Jesus.
    And as for al-Hakim, well, to judge Islam or even ismailiya by him would be like judging ancient Rome by Nero or Russia by Stalin.
    The impulse to respond to, “There are aspects of the current Islamic religious revival that are both disturbing and dangerous” with, “Yeah? Well, Muslims were living in opulent splendor when Christians were filth-spattered savages. So there!” should be resisted. It’s about as unthinking as, “Ever since Muhammed swept out of the desert we have been locked in an Eternal Struggle with the Islamic Hordes. We should therefore bomb Iran.”
    ABSOLUTELY. And? I am doing no such thing. This whole thread started in reaction to Pope’s remarks concerning the relationship between certain monotheistic religions and violence. Proper context, that’s all.

  • Andrew R.

    Hakim is definitely a weird aberration. But folks like the Almohads strike me as a constitutent part of the pendulum of laxity and reform that’s part of the fabric of the faith. It’s a pattern that also exists in Christianity, the world’s other big text-based religion.
    As a scholar of Christianity, I would certainly like to focus on the good and inspiring bits like Evangelicals fighting the slave trade and ignore, say, the sack of Constantinople and Beziers. I’d be being dishonest, though, if I were to look at Cromwell killing Irish babies because they grow up to be Catholics and say, “That’s not really a part of Christianity, that’s just an aberration.”
    I am doing no such thing.
    Okay, fair enough. I tend to get prickly when the whole issue of comparative attrocities comes up and allow my own pet peeves to distort what I’m reading at times.

  • bulbul

    I’d be being dishonest, though, if I were to look at Cromwell killing Irish babies because they grow up to be Catholics and say, “That’s not really a part of Christianity, that’s just an aberration.”
    Hm, than we must have a different definition of aberration.
    OK, here’s how I see it: the aforementioned atrocities comitted by Cromwell and the Almohads are both parts of Christianity and Islam respectively. But neither Cromwell nor Almohads are all there is to Christianity and Islam. I know a lot of people who would claim otherwise, yet the number of “militant atheists” is pretty small, the number of those who are willing to overlook anything positive or even neutral about Islam is pretty lovin’ large. And so if I appear to defend Islam it’s because there are many more opportunities to do so than to defend Christianity’s soiled record.
    Again, all I’m trying to do is to provide more information and proper context (well, not so much here as in the local public arena). You hear anyone claim that Islam is a violent religion and Christianity is a peaceful one, while both are and never have been exclusively either, look for me – I’ll be the guy in the back yelling “bullshit!”.
    I tend to get prickly when the whole issue of comparative attrocities comes up
    Tell me about it :o)

  • Skyknight

    Bulbul: …? I thought megalomania’s definition WAS “lust for power” (still dealing with a thing of evil either way…).

  • PepperjackCandy

    The book of Revelation is a raised middle finger to the Emperor, a gift of great hope and encouragement to the Church, and a (colorful) reminder of who the true sovereign is.
    No. The book of Revelation is a prophecy.
    Whoa.
    I’d never thought I’d see the day – I have to remind someone of this HERE.
    Anyway, Revelation is many things, but it’s not a political statement. And it reminds EVERYONE, not just the Emperor, of who the boss is and what happens when He comes to reclaim his Kingdom.
    I was taught, in a congregation of the United Methodist Church, that Revelations was a political statement disguised as prophecy.
    Basically, the message was that Christianity would outlast (and have a hand in) the fall of the Roman Empire.

  • bulbul

    Skyknight,
    …? I thought megalomania’s definition WAS “lust for power”
    Well, let’s hear from the OED:The insanity of self-exaltation; the passion for ‘big things’.
    from Merriam-Webster:1 : a mania for great or grandiose performance
    2 : a delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur
    from Wikipedia:Megalomania ( from the Greek word ???????????) is a psychopathological condition characterised by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence. It includes an obsession with grandiose or extravagant things or actions.
    and from a renowned linguist (i.e. me):
    a megalomaniac is a person who sets grandiose and impossible or unrealistic goals for himself/herself and who believes he/she possesses the power to achieve them (e.g. certain leaders of a certain global superpower which shall remain unnamed). A megalomaniac can also be a person who “thinks big” while disregarding small crucial things (e.g. a manager of a plant who plans to expand while he/she cannot afford to pay wages and keep the lights on).
    Pepperjack,
    I was taught, in a congregation of the United Methodist Church, that Revelations was a political statement disguised as prophecy.
    Sorry, it doesn’t ring a bell to this Catholic. To us, the way it was tought to me, Revelation is “merely” a prophecy and is “only” concerned with eschatology. Its contemporaries found comfort in it (especially seeing as they believed Jesus would return during their lifetimes), but to call it a political work is like referring to the parable of talents or the parable of the vineyard as economic studies.
    Basically, the message was that Christianity would outlast (and have a hand in) the fall of the Roman Empire.
    And what about the prophecy part?

  • cjmr

    bulbul,
    Totally off-topic, but, how did you get that Greek to display here? I’ve been trying to figure out how to stick Greek into things for months!


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