The Reactionary Utopian
                   September 19, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     According to a verse in the Koran, it is said, there 
must be no compulsion in religion. So why are Muslims so 
often violently intolerant? The question is raised anew 
by the fanatical Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict's 
recent speech in Germany by millions who neither knew nor 
cared what he was actually saying. The response included 
curses, threats, denunciations, demands for apologies, 
the burning of churches, and the murder of a nun.

     Let's acknowledge that Christians too have sometimes 
-- more often than we like to recall -- used the sword to 
spread their faith and to suppress heresy and unbelief. 
But nearly all Christians now admit that this was not 
only wrong, but contrary to the spirit of Christ, who 
told us to turn the other cheek, pray for our 
persecutors, and, when meeting unbelief, to do nothing 
more violent than shake the dust from our feet and move 

     The Christian faith conquered the Roman Empire 
through Christians who took these commandments very 
literally. These were the countless martyrs who died 
under hideous tortures to bear witness to Christ's 
resurrection. Typical was St. Lawrence, who, while being 
burned to death on a giant griddle, quipped to his 
tormentors, "You can turn me over now. I think I'm done 
on this side." Sometimes the martyrs' example converted 
their persecutors on the spot.

     Let us posit that true Islam forbids compulsion in 
religion. In that case, Muslims who use the sword are Bad 
Muslims, giving their faith a bad name among non-Muslims, 
as in the fourteenth-century passage the Pope cited in 
his German speech.

     That speech was not an attack on Islam, but an 
affirmation that faith and reason are harmonious, because 
God is the God of reason. His Son is the Logos, the Word, 
as the Gospel of John says, through whom all things were 
made. One of the things this means is that religion can 
and must be discussed rationally. Faith and reason can 
never be opposed, though human reason has its limitations 
when confronting such mysteries as the divine Trinity.

     Just as good Christians have had to swallow their 
pride and confess that the sword was the worst means of 
propagating their faith, good Muslims must face the fact 
that Bad Muslims have disgraced Islam in the world's eyes 
-- and are still doing so -- by giving it the bloody 
reputation the Pope alluded to when he quoted the 
offending words. If you conquer by fear, you may count on 
being hated. Do Muslims want the very name of Allah to 
terrify the world? Or do they want it to signify goodness 
and mercy? These questions should answer themselves.

     Whatever "true" Islam may be, the world judges by 
what it sees. And as someone has put it, "Islam is as 
Islam does." Right now the fanatics are doing most of the 
audible talking and too much of the visible acting; and a 
community is judged not so much by the character of the 
majority, but by its prevalent powers, even if they are 
only a violent and tyrannical minority.

     Today the world sees Saudi Arabia, for example, 
banning Jews, Bibles, the public display of Christian 
symbols, and the celebration of Mass. It sees Iran's 
ayatollahs calling for the killing of authors. It 
recently saw democratic Afghanistan sentence to death a 
Muslim convert to Christianity. It has seen terrorists 
threaten to behead captives unless they convert to Islam, 
and now the murder of an old nun. It has seen Sunni and 
Shi'ite Muslims slaughtering each other and bombing each 
other's mosques.

     If these are all violations of true Islam, one could 
easily get the wrong impression. At least the Bad Muslims 
disdain to prevail by reason and persuasion. They are 
promoting the identification of Islam with sheer 
savagery. And the real tragedy is that good Muslims put 
their own lives at risk if they oppose them.

     Fear may make quick and superficial conversions, but 
Christians have learned that it fails in the long run. 
Fear, after all, is our enemy, and one of the New 
Testament's most frequent sayings is "Be not afraid." Our 
faith has been spread by the courage of our martyrs, such 
as the murdered nun, who died saying, "I forgive." She 
remembered that Christ died for all of us, including 


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