In 1981, shortly after a Turkish nationalist with Islamic roots tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II, Catholics didn't burn down mosques or kill mullahs. Indeed, the pontiff forgave his would-be assassin.
Compare his compassionate and forgiving Christian response to that of many Islamic leaders around the world in the wake of a noncriminal, nonviolent observation made by Pope Benedict XVI last week in a lecture at a German university. He referred to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said Islam spread its message "by the sword," and characterized some of Islam Prophet Mohammed's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
The pope did not agree with that assessment, but much of the Muslim world promptly proved the ancient emperor right. "You will only see our swords until you go back to God's true faith - Islam," said a statement issued by Ansar al-Sunnah, a militant group in Iraq.
An extremist group linked to al-Qaida warned that the West and the pope are "doomed." Some Turkish leaders said the pope should be tried for war crimes, and in London a Muslim called for his execution. Mobs chanted that he was a Nazi.
The real Nazis, of course, are the Islamic leaders who encourage Islamic mobs to go berserk - rioting, torching Christian churches, even shooting to death a Catholic nun in a Somali hospital.
Though some Muslim leaders criticized the anti-Christian, anti-West jihad, they were voices in the wilderness. The loudest Islamic voices fueled the fury, even after the pope twice apologized for giving offense.
The riots and violence continued to grow in intensity, just as they did earlier this year over the prophet cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, or Muslims' widespread anger over reports - later proved to be untrue - that U.S. guards at Guantanamo Bay detainee facility had flushed a Quran down the toilet.
Muslim bile directed toward utterings of the pope - or to phantom malefactors, or toward the work of editorial cartoonists or novelists or filmmakers - never seems to be directed at Muslim violence, Muslim threats, Muslim insults and Muslim intolerance.
The pope isn't the problem. The problem is that it has yet to be demonstrated that fundamentalist Muslims are capable of living on the same planet as the rest of us.
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