As angry Muslim rioters sent Christians to a martyr's death during last month's riots over cartoons depicting Muhammad, leftist-led Christian groups in the West chose to console the murderers.
With sad predictability, many left-leaning church groups such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches responded with indignation about the Danish newspaper's publication of the cartoons -- with nary a word about their persecuted co-religionists.
The National Council of Churches (NCC) of the U.S.A. reacted by standing in "solidarity" with U.S. Islamic groups, who "exercised disciplined restraint," i.e., by not rioting or killing Americans over the cartoons.
NCC interfaith relations chief Shana Premawardhana said he affirmed press freedom but was "deeply disturbed by the inability of the press to understand and respect the sensitivities of religious people." By "religious people," the NCC official must have been referring to Muslims, because the NCC is not known for its indignation over insensitivity towards Christian symbols.
"In the context of a widespread and growing Islamophobia in both Europe and the United States, the offense is not only an affront to deeply held religious convictions, but an irresponsible case of cultural stereotyping," Premawardhana solemnly intoned. "We applaud the Norwegian press for its courage to offer an apology to the world-wide Muslim community and lift up their example for others to follow."
The NCC official "strongly affirmed the right of Muslim people to protest" while "strenuously" condemning the violence and "grieving" the loss of lives. He said the NCC was "grateful" that large Muslim demonstrations in London were nonviolent. Professing to represent the "mainstream" (read: declining and leftist-led) Christian community in the U.S., the NCC official urged a "dialogue" to replace a "clash of civilizations."
With similar equanimity, a statement from the Swiss-based World Council of Churches' assembly in Brazil last month shared the pain of Muslims distressed over the cartoons, but did not mention the Christians assaulted in the Muslim riots.
"As people of faith we understand the pain caused by the disregard of something considered precious to faith," the WCC declared. "We deplore the publications of the cartoons. We also join with the voices of many Muslim leaders in deploring the violent reactions to the publications."
The WCC grabbed the opportunity to wax philosophic over the cartoon issue. "The real tension in our world is not between religions and beliefs but between aggressive, intolerant and manipulative secular and religious ideologies," the church council lamented. "Such ideologies are used to legitimize the use of violence, the exclusion of minorities and political domination." We can be fairly sure that the "ideologies" most distressing to the WCC are not extreme Islam but conservative Christianity, Zionism, and U.S. foreign policy.
WCC chief Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia said Christians and Muslims should work together to "put out the fire" caused by the cartoons. "Violent reactions, as well as justifying these cartoons as an expression of freedom of speech, continue to put fuel on the fire," he fretted. Acknowledging that freedom of speech was a human right, Kobia warned: "When it is used to humiliate people's values and dignity, it devalues the foundation it is based on."
Moral equivalence between the publication of the cartoons and the murderous riots that responded to them was the order of the day for many leftist-led Western church groups.
The head of the Swiss-based Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, noted the cartoons had been "deeply offensive to Muslim sentiments and religious values." Although freedom of the press is a right with "universal application," it was "not exercised wisely and responsibly in this case, but recklessly and dangerously," by the Danish newspaper, he alleged.
The Lutheran spokesman surmised that Muslims were "understandably outraged by this provocation and insult to their religion" and "perfectly entitled to protest loudly and vigorously." Rev. Noko said it was "very regrettable" that the Danish authorities did not "respond in a timely and appropriate manner to the complaints" by Danish Muslims. It is not clear what Noko would have expected a democratic government to do about the editorial decisions of an independent newspaper.
Noko generously admitted that "wholesale violence" cannot be condoned. But employing the inevitable comparison, he said just "as the actions of an insensitive or provocative few in Denmark do not implicate either the entire Danish nation or the West as a whole, neither does the violence of some of the protestors implicate all Muslims."
In typical fashion, Nobel Prize recipient and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa apologized to Muslims around the world for the Danish cartoons. He said Christians would be upset if Jesus were portrayed disrespectfully and Jews would be angry if the Holocaust were treated dismissively. Christians and Jews are used to both forms of desecration on an almost daily basis; neither ever launched violent worldwide riots and killed innocent Muslims in response. They organize ineffectual consumer boycotts, write op-eds for The New York Times, and accept the scorn of secular leftists as the price of living in modern society.
The ever cerebral Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams commented about the Danish cartoon furor: "The Western World likes to think that it is inviting other cultures into a peaceful and enlightened atmosphere of civility. But the 'strangers' invited in may well be dismayed to discover that this peacefulness and enlightenment seems to include license to express some very unpeaceful and unenlightened attitudes to minorities of various kinds. Just what kind of 'civility is this' the newcomer could ask."
While Western prelates took turns expressing their careful condolences to Muslims everywhere for the publication of cartoons, some Christians in Muslim countries were fighting for their lives. And for many of them, this is not a unique situation.
In "secular" Turkey, thousands of Muslims participated in the riots. The Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople recently expressed his sympathy to Roman Catholics and to the Pope over the assassination of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon. A Turkish teenager shouted "Allah Akbar" after committing the murder, telling Turkish police he was upset over the Danish cartoons. The priest had been serving the small Santa Maria Church, which had been built in the 19th century by the Sultan to serve Christian visitors.
Protestant Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, chair of the Alliance of Protestant Churches, said that Trabzon's local Protestants had also been threatened, and several had been assaulted.
Democratic Turkey, of course, is relatively moderate and secular by Islamic standards. Pakistan is an even more difficult place for Christian minorities. There, in reaction to the Danish cartoons, thousands of demonstrators rampaged and targeted Christians.
In the city of Kasur, according to Compass Direct, a violent mob of several thousand Muslims attacked a United Presbyterian girls school, breaking windows with bricks and sticks, as its 500 students and teachers fled the premises. The mob also tried to attack the city's Catholic church but was broken up by police, according to Father Yaqoob Barkat, who said Christians "were the only target here; they didn't harm anybody else."
According to Barkat, "Whenever there is something [to make Muslims angry], then they attack all the Christians and all of the churches." In the nearby city of Lahore, tens of thousands of anti-cartoon demonstrators narrowly missed destroying the Catholic cathedral.
In Peshawar, demonstrators vandalized a missionary school. During a march, 60,000 demonstrators attacked a convent school, a womens college, and a mission hospital, all run by the Church of Pakistan. Anti-cartoon protestors reportedly smashed windows and beat children before police intervened.
Similar incidents during anti-cartoon demonstrations were aimed at Christian targets in other Muslim countries. The Middle East Council of Churches sent messages of concern to Christians in Beirut, where Muslims targeted the Saint Maroun Maronite Church and the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. A similar statement was sent to the Christian communities of Iraq, where churches in Baghdad and Kirkuk were under attack.
It is hard to find any record of Western leftist-led churches sending similar messages of concern to assaulted Christians victimized by the anti-cartoon riots.
Christian leaders in Muslim countries in many cases understandably did ask Western Christians to condemn the cartoons, to protect them from the mob. But Western church officials who denounced the cartoons seemed far more concerned about burnishing their multiculturalist credentials than protecting besieged Christians living under Islam. There is little to no record of specific concern about these vulnerable Christians on the part of such groups as the U.S. National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches.
For left-leaning Western prelates living in New York or Geneva, writing press releases expressing irritation over offensive cartoons is far more appealing than identifying with endangered Christians living under Islam.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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