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
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Some of the contradictions in Republican talking points on election law and voting rights are becoming clear to me, so I wrote about it at New York:
During the intense controversy raised by Georgia’s new election law, which included a negative reaction from Major League Baseball and a number of corporations, many defenders of the law have played a game of whataboutism. What about voting laws in Colorado, the state to which the MLB’s all-star game has been shifted? What about liberal New York? A lot of these comparisons have been factually challenged, or have zeroed in on one benign feature of the Georgia law while ignoring others. But it does raise a pretty important question: What is the posture nationally of the GOP or the conservative movement on the right to vote and its limits?
Not long ago you might have said that Republicans and conservatives were firmly committed to the view that rules governing voting and elections —even federal elections — were purely within the purview of state and local policy-makers. But that was before Donald Trump spent four years disparaging the decisions made by liberal and conservative jurisdictions on voting procedures whenever they contradicted his often-erratic but always forcefully expressed views. If, for example, voting by mail was as inherently pernicious as Trump said it was, almost daily from the spring through the autumn of 2020, allowing states to permit it was a Bad Thing, right? That simply added to the complaints made by Trump after the 2016 elections that California’s alleged openness to voting by noncitizens cost him a popular vote win over Hillary Clinton, and the widespread Republican whining after 2018 that the same jurisdiction had counted out Republican congressional candidates (whining that somehow subsided when Republicans did better in the exact same districts following the exact same rules in 2020).And that was before Team Trump and his many Republican enablers spent the weeks and months after November 3, 2020, shrieking about state and local election procedures around the country, culminating in efforts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule state court interpretations of state election laws. Indeed, since Trump, his congressional Republican backers, and the Capitol riot mob were trying to block the certification of state election results by Congress on January 6, you could say that a major segment of the GOP wanted the federal government to impose its will on the states with respect to voting and elections.
And if the prevailing conservative idea is that decision-makers closest to the people should determine voting and election rules, then it’s hard to explain the provisions in the Georgia law (and in pending legislation in Texas) that preempt local government prerogatives decisively.
So what doctrine of voting rights does the GOP favor, other than whatever is necessary to produce Republican election victories? That’s hard to say.
Yes, at the Heritage Foundation you will find experts who more or less think everything other than in-person voting on Election Day should be banned everywhere. And now and then you will get someone like Kevin Williamson who will articulate the provocative old-school conservative case for restricting the franchise to “better” voters, which was pretty much the ostensible case for the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow South. Unfortunately, snooty contrarianism isn’t a particularly helpful guide to the development of voting laws, and most Republicans (other than those caught in a gaffe) are unlikely to agree out loud with the Williamson proposition.
Until quite recently, most Republicans agreed that the jurisdictions that had for so many years discriminated against the voting rights of minorities deserved extra federal scrutiny and some additional hoops to jump through before changing their rules. In 2006, George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act that did just that, after it passed the Senate unanimously and the House with scattered opposition. Then a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key feature of the VRA, and now it’s almost exclusively Democrats (via the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) who want to restore it. Where are Republicans on that idea? With the states and localities, or just with the states and localities where federal intervention in voting and election practices doesn’t inconvenience Republicans?
Whatever you think of Democratic attitudes toward voting and elections, at least they can answer such questions coherently. They have united to an amazing extent around highly detailed legislation (the House and Senate versions of the For the People Act and the aforementioned John Lewis Act) that generally expands voting rights and sets clear federal standards for procedures in and surrounding federal elections. The Republican response to these proposals has been almost universally negative. But it’s unclear what, if anything, they would propose of their own accord.
If the implicit GOP position on voting and elections is simply that such rules are part of the give and take of partisan politics and that both sides are free to play fast and loose with the facts and get what advantages they can, then I can understand why they are loathe to make it explicit. But in that case, people who care about voting rights one way or the other should simply choose sides and have it out.