The global brouhaha over Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks quoting a fourteenth century theologian who deplored contemporay Islam’s practice of forced conversions has amply illustrated the many false choices that tempt all sides in the religious dimensions of the war against jihadist terrorism.The most obvious malefactors are those jihadists who have rushed to confirm the “insult to Islam” purportedly contained in the Pope’s remarks by sacking churches, burning Benedict in effigy, and otherwise seeking to “conquer by the sword.” They could care less about the actual content of the Pope’s comments; it’s all about seizing on any opportunity to foment irreconcilable conflict between the West and Islam. I agree with my colleague The Moose that Democrats, and all other American and European officials, should denounce such violence categorically.But I don’t agree with those who view this incident as indistinguishable from the earlier dispute over Danish cartoon caricatures of Muhammad, or who consider the non-violent protests against the Pope’s comments indistinguishable from the violent protests in all but tone or degree.The Danish cartoonists were private citizens exercising the free speech rights they enjoy as citizens of Denmark and members of the European Community. Pope Benedict XVI is a head of state, and also head of the largest Christian faith community. He is, moreover, holder of the office which in fact authorized the anti-Muslim Crusades that jihadists so often point to as representing the enduring hostility of Christians towards Muslims. However absurd it may seem to Americans that anyone could fail to understand the vast changes in Vatican attitudes towards non-Christians (and for that matter, non-Catholic Christians) over the ensuing centuries, it’s not completely irrational that Muslims would be a little sensitive on this point.More importantly, it should be obvious that most of the official and non-violent statements of Muslim dismay over the Pope’s remarks are not slightly less rabid versions of the jihadist fury, but something very different: expressions of anxiety about the western stereotypes of Islam as inherently intolerant and violence-prone, and about jihadist stereotypes of malevolent western intentions towards Islam. If, as most Americans profess to believe, moderate Muslim opinion is critical to our success in the war with jihadism, then it’s irresponsible to breezily dismiss moderate Muslim opinion in this case. So does that mean the Pope should be badgered into more fully apologizing for his remarks, even though they have clearly been taken far out of context by his Muslim critics? No, but I think it would be wise of him to issue a clarification that explains the context, and reassures Muslims that they are not the exclusive target of his concerns. From everything I’ve read about Benedict’s speech, he was essentially arguing that violence is incompatible with religious faith of every variety. Perhaps if he frankly acknowledged that Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, has been guilty of the same sort of grievous resorts to coercion and violence as jihadists advocate today, his message would carry more moral weight, and create less offense among non-jihadist Muslims. To cite the most obvious example, forced conversions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (and of Jews) represented a central chapter in the history of Spanish Catholicism. Indeed, the Spanish Inquisition was primarily aimed at rooting out residual Muslim and Jewish religious practices (e.g., refusing to eat pork) among the population that chose to convert rather than leave Spain. A little historical candor, and the kind of collective act of contrition that Benedict’s predecessor so notably exercised with respect to Catholic persecution of Jews, might go a long way not only to end the current protests against the Vatican, but to re-establish the general principle that any faith that tries to “conquer by the sword” is incompatible with its own best traditions, and with civilization itself.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Pushing back a bit against the popular idea that Liz Cheney’s landslide loss in Wyoming was a pyrrhic defeat she will soon avenge, I argued at New York that it marked a point of no return for Republicans that Democrats must understand:
In the end, despite a sizable financial advantage and support from Democrats, and notwithstanding stern lectures to voters by her still-terrifying father, two-term congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her seat in the U.S. House. While Cheney was recently seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, serving as the party’s third-ranking House leader, the race wasn’t close. The Associated Press called the race for Trump endorsee Harriet Hageman early in the evening; she now has a 37-point lead over the incumbent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
Even before primary voters delivered their verdict, there were voices far from Wyoming predicting that Liz Cheney would rise again, perhaps as a challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In fact, it’s reasonably clear that anti-Trump Republicanism died its final noisy death with her defenestration from the House GOP leadership and then her ignominious defeat back home. She will continue to have a distinguished role in the fight against Trump by virtue of her vice-chairmanship of the House select committee on January 6. But those proceedings are being ignored, if not denounced, by virtually all GOP elected officials, and her abject defeat back home is a pretty clear sign that anti-Trump Republicanism has no future.
The alternatives to Trump 2024, if any actually emerge, will be from the ranks of those who have at least partially surrendered to him: toadies like Mike Pence, who defied the president for a single day; post-Trump Trumpists like Ron DeSantis, who promise to continue his extremist policies and his hateful rhetoric; former anti-Trumpists like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and Nikki Haley, who are determined never to cross him again; and anti-anti-Trumpists like Mitch McConnell and a big portion of the conservative commentariat, who clearly despise the 45th president but understand he is now the spirit animal of their party and what now passes for conservatism.
What is most poignant about Cheney’s fall isn’t so much its precipitous nature — though it’s now difficult to remember that Kevin McCarthy was defending her and her lofty leadership position for a while even after her impeachment vote. No, what makes her demise important is that she represented not just the “Republican Establishment,” but the hard-core conservative movement whose conquest of the party was consummated when George W. Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, took power in 2001. It’s amazing to see Republicans who imposed the triune orthodoxy of economic, national security, and cultural conservatism on a once-diverse GOP dismissed as RINOs. They never saw a tax cut too irresponsible to support, a defense budget too high to increase, or an abortion too innocent to prohibit, and when they went to sleep at night they dreamed of “entitlement reform” to take down Social Security and Medicare. That’s no longer enough to be considered conservative or Republican if it is not accompanied by personal submission to Trump, along with savage anti-democratic sentiments and hatred of the opposition, the media, the “deep state,” the Swamp, and once-bipartisan causes ranging from voting rights to immigration reform.
The ancien régime of conservative Republicanism as we knew it not so very long ago expired with Liz Cheney’s congressional career on August 16. Perhaps someday the old faith will be revived. But for now the Republican elephant is wearing a red hat and none dare question its stampeding direction and ear-shattering Trump-eting.