The jihad against the Pope

Excerpts from Melanie Phillips

In fact, the Pope's real crime surely lay in speaking a truth that is denied by the many who claim that Islam is a religion of peace. On the contrary, Islam does indeed have a long history of imposing its faith on the world by the sword. The Emperor whose remarks sparked this furore had spoken in despair when his empire was under siege from the Ottomans. It is that religious tradition of holy war which is precisely what is driving the global Islamic terrorism that currently threatens us all. Which is why the Pope's observations were a contribution to a crucial worldwide debate which must be had.

Certainly, many Muslims who reject this tradition of violence are appalled by acts of terror in the name of their faith and insist that Islamic theology dictates that it is a religion of peace. It might also be argued that, contrary to the Pope's remarks, Christianity also spread itself by the sword before the Reformation ended its own religious wars.

The extent to which holy war is an expression of religious belief or politics - or a fusion of the two - is a perfectly legitimate debate. So it is obviously essential for people to be able to express their opinion about Islam and to criticise it, just as they should be able to criticise any other religion. But it seems that we are fast getting to the point where people are being intimidated into silence about Islam, since it appears that no one can criticise it without violence and mayhem breaking out. This deadly process of intimidation started in the West in 1989 with the fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, after he was held to have insulted Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses.

Last year, the re-publication of Danish cartoons protesting at Islamic violence that included depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, which Muslims regarded as an insult, led to rioting, kidnap attempts, and the murder of some 140 people across the world. As with the Pope's remarks, the trigger for the violence on each occasion was the claim that Islam had been insulted. But religion generally provokes strong passions, and one faith almost inevitably gives offence to another. If all such offence is to be prevented, vital debate will be stifled, too - and if violence is used to bring this about, freedom itself will be brutally stamped out. For free expression lies at the core of a free society. Sure, it isn't absolute; some limits are placed on it, but only where such expression threatens fundamental human rights, such as the right to life or to live as a free and equal individual (which should surely mean that Mr Choudary should be prosecuted).

The warriors of the Islamic jihad wish to destroy that whole way of life. Which is why it is absolutely vital that we stand up for free speech and act as one in staunch opposition to murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, there are some in our society who are not prepared to do so but who seek instead to appease the aggressors and blame their victims....

The BBC, in particular, has behaved in a very questionable manner. As so often, it has given undue airtime to extremists, thus lending credence to the false interpretation of the Pope's remarks. In common with several newspapers, it wrongly said that the Emperor Manuel had accused the Prophet Mohammed of bringing into the world `only "evil and inhuman" things'.... And it wrongly reported in news bulletins and on its website that the Pope had apologised - rather than merely expressing regret for the misinterpretation of his remarks - thus helping Islamic extremists believe that the forces of intimidation had cowed the Pontiff and scored a notable victory in the war against western civilisation.

Our greatest danger comes from those in the West who, in these and other ways, have mentally surrendered to the irrationality and false logic of those who accuse the West of aggression simply because it defends itself against Islamic holy war. This surrender has already resulted in a degree of self-censorship and back-to-front thinking, with accusations of ` Islamophobia' hurled at those telling the truth about the violence practised by some Muslims in the name of Islam.

If we are ever to defeat the global jihad against free societies, it is vital to tell that truth - that it is the West that is under attack. It is in that context that the Pope's remarks must be seen - defending Christianity and western civilisation from an onslaught that has not just snuffed out many innocent lives, but seeks to snuff out freedom and truth itself.

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