Newsweek: Pope, Wilders Hope For Murdered Nuns And Priests?

Mollie Z. Hemingway at Get Religion is confounded by an obnoxious Newsweek essay by Christopher Dickey titled “Christian Rage and Muslim Moderation.” In it, you can see the Cold War echoes in it, with Newsweek taking up the usual schtick: the American (or conservative, or anti-Islamic) side is being clumsily, pointlessly, tastelessly provocative, while the Ayatollahs are calmly, reasonably planting seeds of a new detente. But it’s Muslim rage, not the headlined Christian rage, that Dickey is suggesting that the “wrong” side is hoping to foment:

Pope Benedict XVI, an exiled Egyptian journalist, a bleach-blond Dutch parliamentarian and Danish cartoonists all have something in common with a Teddy bear named Mohammed. They have been at the center of that seething storm called Muslim rage in the last few months, and, with the exception of Mohammed T. Bear, they appear to be testing that anger to see if it will erupt … yet again.

If it does, the crisis could peak just as Benedict begins his visit to the United States in mid-April. As he preaches world peace before the United Nations, once more we’ll witness scenes of books and flags and effigies burning in the world of Muslims. If precedent holds, rioters may die in Kabul, a nun could be murdered in Somalia, a priest might be gunned down in Turkey. All this is all too predictable, as provocateurs like the peroxide blond must certainly know.

This is a really toxic charge that Dickey is implying, that the Pope and Geert Wilders (the “bleach-blond Dutch parliamentarian”) are hoping to provoke a violent crisis in which priests, nuns, and rioters die. Newsweek ought to know better than unload this kind of balloon-full-of-blood smear – what with their own history of phony-Koran-flushing stories in 2005, not to mention Adm. Jeremy Boorda committing suicide in 1996 after Newsweek “provocatively” investigated whether his combat medals were fraudulent. (Oops, that also ended in hypocrisy.)

Does Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, who regularly unfurls long cover stories on religion and appears on television as a religious expert, really hope Americans will tune into for his “Popecast,” his online narration of the papal visit, when he approves this kind of article? “Please watch me describe the Holy Father, who seeks the death of priests and nuns at the hands of radical Muslims for the church’s advance”?

Mollie first took issue with page two, and how blatantly Dickey dismisses how Wilders is a waste of his time and space, a human void, and his film Fitna isn’t worth much more:

There’s no use wasting much space on the Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, the dyed blond with ugly roots who is promoting a film he says will prove his belief that “Islamic ideology is a retarded, dangerous one.” What to say about a politician reminiscent of Goldmember in an Austin Powers film who claims the Qur’an should be banned like Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”? No Dutch television network will show his little movie, so he released it on the Internet this week, reportedly drawing 2 million page views in the first three hours. The general reaction in Holland thus far has been little more than shoulder shrugging.

Dickey also thinks the Danish cartoonists are reprehensible human beings only caring for their own fame:

Danish cartoonists and editors previously unknown to the wider world garnered international attention when they published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 that brought on bloody riots in several Muslim countries in 2006. Having sunk once again into obscurity, the editors decided to publish one of the cartoons again last month, reportedly after the arrest of an individual plotting to kill the cartoonist. Great idea. Take one man’s alleged crime and respond with new insults to an entire faith.

But Dickey was really offended by Pope Benedict’s provocation, baptizing Magdi Allam on the Easter Vigil:

The most problematic event of late, however, was Pope Benedict’s decision to baptize the Egyptian journalist Magdi Allam in Saint Peter’s on the night before Easter, thus converting a famously self-hating Muslim into a self-loving Christian in the most high-profile setting possible. Perhaps Benedict really thought, as the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano opined, that the baptism was just a papal “gesture” to emphasize “in a gentle and clear way religious freedom.” But I am not prepared to believe for a second, as some around the Vatican have hinted this week, that the Holy Father did not know who Allam was or how provocative this act would appear to Muslim scholars, including and especially those who are trying to foster interfaith dialogue.

Ever since 2006, when Benedict cited a medieval Christian emperor talking about Islam as “evil and inhuman,” and the usual Muslim rabble-rousers whipped up the usual Muslim riots, more responsible members of the world’s Islamic community have hoped to restore calm and reason. And now this. “The whole spectacle, with its choreography, persona and messages provokes genuine questions about the motives, intentions and plans of some of the pope’s advisers on Islam,” said a statement issued by Aref Ali Nayed, a spokesman for 138 Muslim scholars who established the Catholic-Muslim Forum for dialogue with Rome earlier this month.

This is where Mollie stepped in and really let Newsweek have it:

The most problematic event was the baptism of a journalist? For an article trying to argue that Muslims are moderate and Christians and those in the West are not, I’m having a really hard time here.

If Newsweek is going to run this type of first-person-journalism-with-an-edge thing, could they pick people who are less cowardly? People who care about freedom of religion, the press, etc.? A reporter who gets why these values are important would do a much better job arguing that Pope Benedict XVI was being sinful when he baptized a prominent Muslim convert.

Mollie’s also right on in scolding Dickey for suggesting Allam was speaking for Pope Benedict in saying the Vatican’s been “too prudent in converting Muslims.” Dickey also suggests Allam is provoking Muslims so he can cash in:

Allam claims he is hoping his public embrace of Catholicism will help other converts to speak out in public. But that hardly seems likely. The more probable scenario is that others will feel even more vulnerable, while Allam’s books, like many Muslim-bashing screeds that preceded them, climb the best-seller lists.

Mollie concluded:

And to say that Allam’s public conversion was because he is greedy? That’s a bit much, isn’t it? As for the idea that Allam’s conversion makes “others . . . feel even more vulnerable,” it’s not the best way to end a piece arguing that moderation carries the day in Islam. Or maybe I don’t get why these “others” might feel so “vulnerable.”

—Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center