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Remi Kanazi: Tolerating Intolerance

Tolerating Intolerance

By Remi Kanazi

Pope Benedict XVI is not having a good week and yet doesn’t seem to mind. Upsetting one out of every five people living today may be of no concern for the His Holiness—made evident by his half-hearted, “sorry my infallible words offended you” apology—but one can surely understand why some Muslims took offense to his recent speech. Were his comments his own words—maybe not—but it doesn’t take a scholar to comprehend the inappropriateness in referencing 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who proclaimed, “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.” Setting aside Christian Crusade amnesia, it’s like quoting Bin Laden at ground zero on the five year anniversary of 9/11. Unless you’re quoting him to call him crazy, don’t expect applause from the audience.

Unlike the US press, the British press, specifically the Guardian, has been more forthcoming about the Pope’s comments. John Freedland wrote in the Guardian on September 19, “This is what makes the Pope's defenders so disingenuous when they insist that he was merely engaged in a ‘scholarly consideration of the relationship between reason and faith’. He is not a lecturer at divinity school. He is the head of a global institution with more than a billion followers…When he digs out a 700-year-old sentence that could not be more damning of Islam…he has to know there will be consequences.”

The reaction to the Pope’s comments from some in the Muslim world has been disturbing to say the least. Not because of the mainstream line of thought—which asserts that Muslims are intolerant and reactionary—rather the events that spark outrage in the Muslim world are not the only events that should be sparking outrage.

Case in point: the protests and boycotts following the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in February. Physical violence aside, protests and boycotts against European hypocrisy and double standards should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the people of the Middle East should be taking to the streets every day, to protest the destruction of Lebanon, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the general policy of the West, the ineffectiveness of the UN, the complicity of the EU, the corruption of their own leaders, and the abject poverty consuming many of their societies due to America’s fight for oil.

Attacks on churches in the West Bank should be condemned by those of all faiths and sects. Furthermore, it should be used an example of what not to do when offended by a Pope that has done nothing for suffering Palestinian Christians—especially at a time when Christians and Muslims should be uniting (as many have) against a brutal Israeli occupation that dominates every facet of their life. One does have to be weary of who these “unknown groups” attacking the churches are, just as one had to be weary of the non-nationalist group that sprung up in Gaza and kidnapped the two Fox news journalists. Those seeking unrest—mainly out of favor Fatah factions—will prey upon incidents like this (taking on a transparent cover) and use the Pope as an excuse. Yet, don’t hold your breath for a follow up on the church attacks on CNN or Yahoo, informing Americans that Hamas and Fatah both forcefully condemned the attacks and, as Khalid Amayreh reported, “Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, the highest-ranking Muslim clergyman in East Jerusalem described the bombing as ‘immoral, unethical and injurious to Palestinian unity.’”

Forget the clash of civilizations. The West is systematically destroying half the countries in the Middle East and has its eye on a couple more. While some Middle East leaders benefit from the anger of the world’s Muslim population, namely Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Muslims have the right to be infuriated by the Western world’s collective effort to control the Middle East by force—this includes the policy pushed forth by the Pope. The reactions to the events occurring today are perpetuated by US President George Bush’s messianic worldview, the hegemonic philosophy of his cabinet, the acquiescence of Congress and the blindness of the US population in a post-9/11 world.

So next time you Catholics drop money into that collection plate, you should wonder where your money is going. It seems it is filling the same coffers and feeding the same ideologies of an intransigent Bush administration. If this is the case, maybe people should be asking the Pope for tolerance, rather than the Muslim world.


Remi Kanazi is the primary writer for the political website He is the editor of the forthcoming book of poetry, Poets for Palestine, for more information go to Poetic Injustice. He lives in New York City as a Palestinian American writer, poet and performer and can reached via email at remroum @

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