I wrote this in April of 2011. Seems apropos now.
The Koran was recently burned by a Florida pastor, Terry Jones. In response, UN aid workers were attacked and killed in Afghanistan. This has become a predictable outcome when some Muslims are aggrieved. A few years ago, Danish cartoons, some with pointed messages, some quite benign, and some created by Imams to create even greater outrage, caused widespread protest, rioting, and bloodshed.
Real or perceived slights to the Koran or to the prophet Mohammed are often met by violence, rage, rioting and murder. Many times, it is a Christian or a Christian community that is attacked. This is greatly due to the fact that in the Islamic world, it is (incorrectly) assumed that the West is Christian, and thus, if the crime of desecration occurred in the West, it was a Christian action.
For the Christian, there is an apologetic value in Islamic rage. By apologetic, I don’t mean that this is a chance to apologise for the foolish behaviour of the burners of the Koran. If you didn’t burn the Koran, you are not responsible and have nothing to apologise for or feel ashamed of. This is not a case of guilt by association. By apologetic, I mean that Islamic rage is itself a strong argument against Islam. I do not advocate creating more rage-provoking incidents; this will happen easily enough. What I do wish to point out that this kind of response to criticism betrays a fundamental weakness in Islam. I believe that systems that are false and untrue will have faults that are un-healable.
I think I understand the rage. It is the rage of impotence. Allah does not act: for all the greatness attributed to Allah, he does nothing in the face of insult. Allah does not fend for himself, or protect himself, but depends upon his followers for vengeance. Every unanswered insult against Allah is a sign, a proof, of his non-existence. In the face of insults against Allah or Muhammad, what other response can there be except rage.
If someone takes a crucifix and places it in a jar of urine, it is awarded a spot in an art gallery (this has happened). Why don’t Christians riot, destroy, and kill? For one thing, we aren’t disappointed that God didn’t show up to take some vengeance, because this isn’t what He told us to expect. Look at Matthew 13:24-30, and you will notice that judgement is future.
A parallel to Islamic rage may be found in the defeat of the prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18). But before I continue, I wish to make it clear that I do not find a parallel between Elijah and Terry Jones. I have little to say of him. While much has been said about Jones, and less, significantly, about the Islamic response.
A showdown between 450 prophets of Ba’al and Elijah resulted in the total defeat of queen Jezebel’s prophets. As you read the account, you will be struck by the pitiful hopelessness of their cause. Try as they might, their god did nothing. There was no voice, no action, no sign at all that any of their cries were heard. Ba’al, whom they expected to avenge himself, was silent. But God answered Elijah’s prayer. He then commanded him to slaughter the prophets of Ba’al. The text is clear: the prophets of Ba’all failed because Ba’al failed: there is no Ba’al. He is false, a lie, a fiction. But he was the religion of the nation. So what’s a queen to do? When Jezebel heard of Elijah’s role in their massacre, she said, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kings 19:2). Then, as now, impotence and defeat gives birth to rage.