Monday, September 18, 2006

I should be defending the Pope's speech on the grounds of free expression, or on the grounds that the reaction to it proves the point made in the quoted remarks that gave offense.

But instead I find myself asking: What's the point of engaging in this kind of provocation? Never mind the Pope's right to do so --what does it accomplish? What does Western society get out of it?

It's clear from the reaction to the Danish Muhammad cartoons that harsh and insulting critiques of Islam don't help tip the balance in Islam in favor of moderation and nonviolence -- they don't embolden moderates to rise up and challenge extremists. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Unrest ensues, some of it violent. Moreover, it's violence we know we can't contain completely.

Therefore, the Pope knew, or should have known, that his words were not going to lead to a more constructive dialogue -- and might well threaten lives the West can't protect.

Yet if I listen to right-wingers -- not just bloggers but respectable editorialists -- the possibly retaliatory murder of a Somali nun is an acceptable cost for a political utterance that accomplishes nothing.

Or perhaps getting someone killed is the accomplishment. After all, it gives the West the opportunity to say about Islamic extremism, "See? We told you so. We told you these people are scum."

If that's all we get in return for someone's life, or maybe more than one life, a right-winger might say it's worth it. I don't.

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