You knew that it would. But an interesting glimmer of hope is that in Egypt, where Muslim-Coptic tensions have exploded into violence all too recently, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic hierarchy are urging people to chill out. In vivid contrast, of course, to the ever-predictable “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” From MSNBC, Sept. 17:
Islamic militants vow war after pope comments
‘We are afraid,’ Middle East Christians say in face of continued Muslim fury,
CAIRO – Al-Qaida militants in Iraq vowed war on “worshippers of the cross” and protesters burned a papal effigy on Monday over Pope Benedict’s comments on Islam, while Western churchmen and statesmen tried to calm passions.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei joined a chorus of Muslim criticism of the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, calling the pope’s remarks “the latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America’s (President) Bush”.
While some Muslims were mollified by [the Pope’s] explanation for the speech made in Germany last Tuesday, others remained furious.
“We tell the worshipper of the cross (the pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya,” said a Web statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq’s branch of al-Qaida.
“We shall break the cross and spill the wine … God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome … (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen,” said the statement, posted on Sunday on an Internet site often used by al-Qaida and other militant groups.
In Iraq’s southern city of Basra, up to 150 demonstrators chanted slogans and burned a white effigy of the pope.
“No to aggression!” and “We gagged the pope!” they chanted in front of the governor’s office in the Shiite city…
Middle East Christians fearful
Extra security guards around churches in Egypt and Lebanon. Armed officers surrounding at least one. With the tensions over Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on Islam still high, many in the Middle East’s large Christian communities are worried about a backlash.
“We are afraid,” said Sonia Kobatazi, a Christian Lebanese, after Sunday morning Mass at the Maronite Christian St. George Cathedral in Beirut, Lebanon, where about a dozen policemen carrying automatic weapons stood guard outside.
There were no reports of violence against Christians in much of the Middle East on Sunday, but two churches in the Palestinian West Bank were set afire a day after Muslims hurled firebombs and opened fire at four other West Bank churches and one in the Gaza Strip.
Protesters also have taken to the streets in some cities, with some angry demonstrators calling Christians “infidels.”
On Monday, about 150 people in the Pakistani-controlled region of Kashmir demanded that the pope apologize over his remarks on Islam, chanting “Death to the pope” and burning his effigy…
Memories of cartoon fury
The protests and violence have stirred up memories of the fury over cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper of the Prophet Muhammad. Angry demonstrations took place in many countries, and some of the violence was directed at Western targets and Christian churches.
Christians have been targeted in other cases. Car bombs exploded in January, killing at least three people in a coordinated spree of attacks outside the Vatican mission and at least five churches in Iraq, where Christians make up just 3 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people.
Egypt, where Coptic Christians are about 10 percent of the country’s 73 million people, saw instances of sectarian violence during the past year. A Coptic and a Muslim were killed and at least 40 others wounded in clashes in the port city of Alexandria in April. Last fall, Alexandria also witnessed deadly Muslim rioting targeting Christian churches.
“We in Egypt, despite coming from two different religions, have lived together for 14 centuries and engaged in religious dialogue,” the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III told reporters Sunday in Cairo.
Recalls cartoon furor
The anger recalled the outrage earlier this year over cartoons depicting the prophet published by a Danish paper…
So far, protests over the pope’s comments have been smaller. However, there has been some violence: Attackers hurled firebombs at seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the weekend, and a nun was shot to death in Somalia.
Some 200 Khamenei loyalists in the Syrian capital, Damascus, held a protest Monday at an Islamic shrine, dismissing the pope’s apology. “The pope’s sorrow was equivocal,” read one banner.
Dozens protested outside the Vatican Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, and schools and shops in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir shut their doors in protest.
“His comments really hurt Muslims all over the world,” Umar Nawawi of the radical Islamic Defenders’ Front said in Jakarta. “We should remind him not to say such things which can only fuel a holy war.”
Malaysia says apology not enough
Islamic countries also asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to examine the question of religious tolerance. Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said Benedict’s apology was “inadequate to calm the anger.”
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood said the anger should not be allowed to hurt ties with the Middle East’s Christian minorities. But worries among Christians in the region are high.
Guards have been posted around some churches, and the head of Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, disassociated himself from Benedict’s statements.
The Dominican mission in Cairo also criticized Benedict’s words, saying he chose a text for his speech that “revived the polemics of the past.”
“These comments, seen by many Muslims as hurtful, risk encouraging extremists on all sides,” it said in a statement, “and put in danger all the advances in dialogue made in recent decades.”
U.S. Muslim group counsels need to ‘move on’
In the United States, however, the leader of the largest U.S. Islamic advocacy organization called for understanding the pope’s error, if not accepting it, and the need to move on.
“The pope has now stated that the quote he used does not reflect his opinions about Islam and Muslims, and we have to take his word for it,” said Ibrahim Hooper, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil liberies and advocacy organization.
“We want to move on from here and make sure relations aren’t further damaged between Catholics and Muslims worldwide. For many years under the previous pope, relations between Catholics and Muslims were quite strong. We would hate to see anything harm that relationship,” Hooper told MSNBC.com.