Osama Versus The Vatican (Atlantic Monthly online)

There are all sorts of problems with the coinage “Islamofascism,” but Bin Laden-style Islamists and Nazis do have one important quality in common: Their posturing would be comical, if its consequences weren’t so serious. If Hitler’s Germany hadn’t turned Europe into a charnel house, many of the elements of National Socialism — the clumsy anti-Semitic propaganda, the philosophical pretensions, the ranting speeches, even the uniforms — would seem almost deliberately comic, like bits and pieces from a Monty Python sketch. Likewise, nearly every pronouncement from Osama bin Laden or his imitators contains something that might be laughable, if it weren’t in deadly earnest.

There’s the incessant nostalgia for the Crusades, heavy-handed enough to embarrass Sir Walter Scott, and the Risk-board view of geopolitics, epitomized by the oft-cited aspiration to reconquer “Al-Andalus” (known to most of us as “Spain”) for Islam. There’s the blinkered understanding of American politics, as when Bin Laden criticized George H.W. Bush for “installing” his sons as governors of Texas and Florida, and seemed to suggest (depending on the translation) that he might make a separate peace with any American state that didn’t vote for George W. Bush. And of course, there’s the consistency with which Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers greet perceived insults to Islam with threats and actions that seem designed to, well, vindicate the offending parties.

When a Danish newspaper published cartoons portraying Muhammad as an assassin and a terrorist, Islamists responded to these outrageous insinuations by inciting their co-believers to … assassination and terrorism. When the Pope stirred up controversy by suggesting that Islam might be less compatible with reason and philosophy than Christianity, he was answered with a burst of (no doubt rigorously reasoned) acts of violence committed on behalf of the faith he had insulted. Now, just in time with Easter, he’s been answered with al Qaeda’s idea of inter-religious dialogue as well. Here’s hoping that His Holiness enjoys a quiet chuckle while he puts the Swiss Guards on high alert. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at evil, so long as your bodyguards are packing heat.


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