A friend disagreed with my post of 12-3-10, “Snow Globes and Islam’s Civil War.” I wrote that Islamists hate us not because of what we do—although American foreign policy has often been misguided and not infrequently brutal—but because of who we are. (I expressed extremely rare agreement with former President George W. Bush.)
The January 4 assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, gives credence to my position. Taseer was shot by one of his own guards. What had Taseer “done?” He opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law by which a Christian woman was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Muhammad. The Associated Press reported that dozens of Pakistanis are sentenced to death each year under the blasphemy law. “Most cases are thrown out by higher courts and no executions have been carried out, but human rights activists have long complained that the law is used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities.”
Threats followed Taseer’s death. According to Reuters, five hundred Pakistani clerics announced that anyone expressing grief over the assassination could suffer the same fate.
Words and deeds are hard to separate—in the West as in the East. Religious hatred, bolstered by greed, powerfully motivated Europe’s oppressive, often bloodthirsty anti-Semitism. It also led Catholics and Protestants to slaughter each other during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Holocaust, the troubles in Northern Ireland and Christian-Muslim warfare in the Balkans demonstrated that the West’s progress toward honoring religious freedom has been anything but smooth.
Neither do Americans prove exempt from bigotry. Abby Rapoport of texasobserver.org (12-3-10) reported on a movement by conservatives to oust Texas House speaker Joe Straus. A Republican from San Antonio (where I lived from 1967-74), Straus isn’t conservative enough. But is the concern Straus’s leadership or his identity? He’s Jewish and attends the same synagogue, Temple Beth-El, that my wife and I did. John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, offered his thoughts in an email to Rapoport, “We elected a house with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it.” The Texas legislature reconvenes January 11.
Yes, we can blame others for the harm they do. We should. But it’s worth repeating that human beings—Islamists included—have a propensity to hate others because they think and believe differently. Hence Islamist bombings of Catholic churches in Iraq and of Coptic churches in Egypt this past Christmas season. (Copts celebrate Christmas today, January 7.) These Christian minorities “threaten” Islamists by existing and professing different religious views.
While each New Year fills us with hope, I’m skeptical that the vitriol and violence directed against supposed blasphemers will disappear. But I am pretty certain of this: Those who kill and maim others based on differing beliefs actually do blaspheme the God of all humanity.