As was mentioned at First Things recently, this response was entirely predictable. I don’t really care what his intention was in using the quote (a rhetorical usage to discuss the relationship between violence and religion, I understand) – by using the whole quote without qualification The Pope set himself up for strong Muslim public outrage response and yes, even a little bit of violence (and I say a "little bit," for the murder of a nun and the firebombing of a church – while reprehensible, irresponsible and otherwise condemnable – are isolated acts of violence that could just as easily have taken place in my fair City of Brotherly Love last evening).
Does the Muslim World need to step up and prove that it is a religion of peace worthy of sitting at the great table of world religions, as both LutherPunk and First Things suggest? No, I don’t think so. No scholar or sociologist or armchair world observer worth their credentials could fault Islam for what are the failed policies of dictatorships and the economic realities of the third world (by the way, we purchase oil from Saudi Arabia and Iran, don’t we?). In Columbia – a Roman Catholic nation – terrorists routinely kidnap and kill public officials and common citizens. That they don’t do so in the name of Jesus is only window dressing. Such violence and unrest is a function of failed states and economies, not failed religion. (Also, the fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland had more to do with politics than it did religion, even though religion was a flag that the combatants waved.)
Our brother Martin Luther, who lived and preached at the dawn of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, had some wicked things to say about Muslims and Jews. Was that Christianity speaking? Were his words the words of Christ? No. Rather, he was a product of his time and place – it’s economy, politics and world view. Our culture and religion needed to mature in order to see that such violent rhetoric was of the Devil rather than the Divine. We must always remember that religion comes dressed in cultural clothing and is never naked or pure.
Furthermore, Islam does not have the "benefit" of a hierarchical structure akin to the Roman Catholic Church or a Western corporation. From what I understand, it is somewhat "congregational" – for lack of a better term – and thus does not speak with a unified, coherent and clear voice. Think of our Evangelical brothers and sisters, whose churches have a congregational polity – though most Evangelicals share a common heritage and set of values, they are very diverse and divided in practice and belief (think George W. Bush, Brian McLaren, and Rick Warren). No one voice speaks for the whole Evangelical tradition. So too with Islam. I have heard enough Muslim scholars and leaders tell me that theirs is a tradition and religion of peace to satisfy any doubts I may have.
And finally . . . . Let’s look at the political reality on the ground. For many Muslim clerics and ordinary Muslims, the war in Iraq, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Palestine, and the West’s penchant for gratuitous violence and sex are moral outrages of the highest degree. Add to that outrage the economic/political reality of living in third world dictatorships and you have a few factors that contribute to the general public’s sympathy with violence-waging radicals. (Sympathy with their cause and outrage, but not outright support.) That the voice of moderate, peaceful Islam might be tempered (or not spoken into a CNN microphone) doesn’t bother me. In fact, it makes perfect sense to me.