I don't find it particularly surprising that a Fox News commentator would resort to a factually challenged and misleading retort to an essay on Pope Benedict XVI's recent geopolitical mischief in the Islamic world. I did, however, find it a bit alarming to see that modus operandi employed at The American Prospect Online, by Kirsten A. Powers.
In her commentary, Who Should Apologize? (which includes an ostensible rebuttal to my essay, Benedict the Bombthrower), Ms. Powers misrepresents my work as a defense of the violence perpetrated by some Muslims in the name of God, and accuses me of blaming the U.S. for the murderous and abusive actions of Islamic theocracies. Hers is a tactic more commonly used on the right: State that someone said something she clearly did not, then berate her for having supposedly said it.
An honest rebuttal would have taken on my interpretation of the pope's speech, which is what my piece was about.
Anyone who actually read my essay knows that I in no way condoned the violent reaction to the pope's comments. My commentary simply takes the pope to task for pouring, in an apparently deliberate manner, gasoline on smoldering coals, and it sets his words into context, assessing actions by the West (not just the U.S., as Ms. Powers asserts) that ignited those coals long ago, and which have since kept those coals stoked. I do indeed hold the pope accountable for the practical results of his rhetoric, just as liberals, including Ms. Powers (who at least plays one on TV), hold the Bush administration responsible for stoking, as outlined in the just-declassified National Intelligence Estimate, the rage of jihadists to the detriment of the American and Iraqi people.
"I'm sorry you're so stupid"
Because Ms. Powers' piece is so rife with misstatements and error, I'm afraid I must rebut it point by point -- virtually paragraph by paragraph. If less than amusing, I hope readers will find it elucidating; hence the many links to source materials. Her first misrepresentation is made in the very first sentence of her piece:
The week before last, Pope Benedict cited an ancient text that criticized Islam for being too violent. Actually, the pope quoted, indeed "from an ancient text," a Byzantine emperor telling a Muslim that the Prophet Mohammad had brought nothing new to the Abrahamic faiths but evil, inhumanity and violence. That's a bit more of an insult than saying that Islam is "too violent." (Read the pope's speech here.)
At the end of her lead paragraph, Powers says, "at any rate [the pope] apologized." Not exactly. He never apologized for making the comments; he simply said he was sorry that people were upset by them. When I was a kid, I remember one of my brothers being made to apologize for some transgression he had made. My parents were not amused when he told the person he had offended, "I'm sorry you're so stupid." That's pretty close to what the pope did here.
Three cheers for Leviticus
Then Ms. Powers belittles Rosie O'Donnell, an out lesbian, for saying that radical Christianity was as dangerous as radical Islam. The pundit writes:
Meanwhile, on ABC’s "The View," Rosie O’Donnell was offering her insight on Islam, arguing that "radical Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam."... Christian groups complained. Nobody was beheaded. To date, no mass burnings of A League of Her Own have been reported....Rosie’s beef with Christian opponents of gay marriage would presumably pale should she find herself living in many Islamic countries. Perhaps she missed former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami’s speech at Harvard recently saying that, "Homosexuality is a crime in Islam and crimes are punishable. And the fact that a crime could be punished by execution is debatable." It's hard to get much more disingenuous than this. It's our form of government in the U.S. that protects, however imperfectly, those whose private lives are so disturbing to some -- not the good will of radical Christians. (If Ms. Powers knew anything about the religious right, she would know that much of right-wing religious ideology is derived from the reconstructionist school of thought, which advocates the imposition of the law of the Old Testament Book of Leviticus as the law of the land. Leviticus mandates that homosexuals and adulterers be executed.)
At the "Values Voters Summit" convened this past weekend by the Family Research Council Action PAC, a concerted effort was made by a number of speakers, including Gary Bauer, to equate queer people with al Qaeda, a comparison that would offer a rationale for killing, waterboarding, abducting and torturing people for the sin of having a non-hetero sexual orientation.
Pat Robertson sure beats the ayatollah
Ms. Powers goes on:
NBC just announced that they will be running Madonna’s “Confessions” tour where the Material Girl crucifies herself on a mirrored cross. No worry. Tower Records will not be burnt to the ground for carrying Madonna’s CD, and NBC employees can safely go about their business without fear of death threats from The Catholic League.Well, I guess I can't say that I actually received death threats from The Catholic League when they issued a vitriolic press release condemning the Prospect and yours truly for publishing a piece about the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts because it suggested that Roberts' religion was a factor in his selection; I simply received several e-mails from followers of Catholic League President Bill Donohue expressing regret that my mother had not had an abortion when she was carrying the fetus that would become me. But that's the Catholics.
Here's Ms. Powers on the Protestant right:
Whatever criticisms one can make of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- and there are many -- fundamentalist Christians are not flying planes into buildings in the name of God, nor are they plotting to blow up ten airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean.No, Pat Robertson (who is not, by the way, a fundamentalist) has not flown planes into buildings; he's just made common cause, through his ill-fated business dealings in Africa, with dictators who torture and kill their own people -- leaders such as Charles Taylor, the now-deposed despot of Liberia and protégé of Muammar Qadaffi, who has admitted blowing up at least one airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland.
U.S. and its allies' torture of women
But Islam is just a preternaturally bad religion, Ms. Powers suggests:
Just being a woman in an Islamic country is enough to get you sent to jail or killed. In Pakistan last week, the parliament was debating whether they should continue to jail women for being raped. In Saudi Arabia, the religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress. Seventeen girls burned alive. Under Islamic law, women who seek a divorce -- even from abusive husbands -- can still be lawfully murdered by their families in so-called “honor killings.” The U.N. Population Fund estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor killing victims may be as high as 5,000.These are horrible practices, indeed, and transgressions about which I have interviewed Muslim feminists, both here and in the refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan -- a town on the Afghan border in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier territories in which the Taliban hold great sway. It is true that women in Pakistan go to jail for being raped, but what Powers fails to mention is the U.S. role in bringing such a misogynist law to Pakistan. It was the dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq who codified that and other horrendous practices, a dictator the U.S. helped to prop up for the better part of a decade.
Honor killings are, alas, still a part of tribal codes in parts of the Islamic world, but they are not, as Powers states, "Islamic." The practice of these killings takes place despite the fact that they are forbidden by the Koran.
Like a rug
Now we get to some brass tacks; because I wrote one piece focussed on what the pope actually said in the whole of the speech that enraged so many Muslims, Ms. Powers writes:
Adele Stan argued in these pages that “to throw a rhetorical bomb such as that the pope tossed into the teeming cities of the Muslim world is to commit an act tantamount to violence. It appears to be a taunt designed to provoke a response, and provoke one it did." It’s a curious world where liberals decline to focus condemnation on a violent reaction perpetrated in the name of a religious ideology (Islam) that jails women for being raped or declares it legal for women to be murdered in the streets by angry male relatives. Even stranger to side against a religious ideology (Catholicism) that has vigorously opposed the Iraq war, torture, the mistreatment of detainees, and the death penalty.Where to begin? I have never declined to criticize Islamic regimes for sanctioning the rape and murder of women. I have written at least as much on these issues as Ms. Powers, even entering an Afghan refugee camp in an "extralegal" manner in order to talk with women who had fled the Taliban. I have also publicly condemned the obstructionist tactics of Islamic governments, acting in league with the Vatican, during the negotiation of United Nations agreements on population and the rights of women. If the pope's speech has any up side, it will perhaps be the breaking of this axis of misogyny, which ultimately kills God knows how many women through forced childbirth and denial of access to appropriate gynecological health care.
Before Ms. Powers lectures me on the compassion of the Roman Catholic Church (of which I am a member), I suggest she study the statistics on AIDS deaths in Africa, where the church is doing all it can -- quite successfully in some nations -- to block the distribution of condoms. Of all women living with HIV or AIDS, 77 percent reside in Africa, where some 12.3 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Six thousand Africans die of AIDS each day.
Closer to home, let's consider a bill sponsored by the Missouri Catholic Conference that would have rendered the killing of a doctor performing an abortion a justifiable homicide. And let's not forget the psycho-sexual torture of children by a number of depraved priests, acts to which the church, for decades, turned a blind eye.
Pants on fire
Now here's a nice little non sequitur, pinned on a reminder I made of the church's violent past:
Attempts to falsely equate the Catholic Church and Islam usually lead to a discussion of the Crusades -- which, of course, happened in the 11th century.I never equated the Catholic Church with Islam. I simply exposed the hypocrisy of the emperor quoted by the pope from a 14th century text (which is somehow more relevant to today's world than something that happened in the 11th century.) While Ms. Powers is correct that the Crusades "happened" in the 11th century, she neglects to mention that, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, they lasted through the end of the 17th century, long after the pope's apparently more relevant source text was written.
Here's a paragraph that reveals somebody's pants to be on fire. (Note: I'm wearing a skirt today.):
But the idea that Islamic culture would be pristine but for the interference of ugly America is an analysis that ignores how repressive Islamic governments can be even with their own people.I never said this, or anything like it. To suggest that I did is, pure and simple, a fabrication.
By jingo, where's the liberal?
If you're not yet overwhelmed by the wealth of disinformation provided by Ms. Powers, herewith her attempt at a coup de grâce:
Are U.S. military operations responsible for Islamic governments torturing their own citizens, killing gay citizens; stoning women for adultery; amputating thieves’ hands; murdering schoolgirls who violate Islamic dress or jailing people for “insulting” the government? In 2004, a 16-year-old Iranian girl was hanged in the public square for “crimes against chastity.” Is the United States to blame for that?This paragraph bears no relation to anything I wrote in my piece on the pope. In fact, while the Taliban marched into Kabul, and began cutting off hands and stoning women, the Clinton administration, in which Ms. Powers served as a deputy assistant trade representative, was trying to broker a deal with those very hand-amputating, women-stoning theocrats, on behalf of the oil company, UNOCAL, for a trans-Afghanistan pipeline. (In fairness to the Clintonites, let me say that a number of fellows who went on to become Bush administration luminaries represented UNOCAL in the negotiations.)
Only the protests of The Feminist Majority kept the administration from recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan -- that is, until, in 1998, al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to which President Clinton responded with a barrage of cruise missiles into Osama bin Laden's encampment, missing the terrorist by only hours.
Ms. Powers seems to believe that because one has a right to do something that will incite those who would harm others to do so, one bears no responsibility for the fruits of such action. She fails to understand that true feminism involves caring about women whose lives are threatened not just by your enemies, but by your friends, as well. And she appears not to have learned that true liberalism requires self-examination; jingoism -- whether in the name of God or country -- is not liberalism at all.