The third-most popular article today in the Washington Post religion section caught my attention. Not so much for its content, but because I could not help but question its underlying principle.
Journalist Selcan Hacaoglu reported some of the speech given by Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Ministry, to a Muslim conference in preparation of the Pope’s upcoming visit to Turkey. Among the things Bardakoglu said was that criticism of Islam is, in and of itself, an obstacle to world peace:

A leading Turkish cleric called criticism of Islam a serious threat to world peace, speaking Wednesday as Turkey prepared for a controversial visit by Pope Benedict XVI later in the month. Benedict visits Turkey…two months after provoking widespread anger by quoting an emperor who characterized the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings as “evil and inhuman.”
Ali Bardakoglu, head of the country’s religious affairs, said “it was saddening” to see Islam being criticized while the religion’s contribution to civilization is ignored.
“This attitude, which fuels division and lack of mutual trust, is seriously threatening world peace,” Bardakoglu told a conference in Istanbul attended by several African Muslim leaders.

I must say that I am inclined to agree with Bardakoglu. Not only is criticism of Islam an obstacle to world peace, but criticism of Islam takes the attention away from the pathology of terrorism and unduly draws attention away from non-Muslim terrorists.
During any of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals, when archdiocese after archdiocese saw itself mired in a slew of phone calls and investigations, when the Pope himself had to comment, did anyone say anything to the effect of, “Wherever you find Thomas Aquinas creating anything new, there you will find things only evil and inhuman”? Even with the quick juxtaposition and clarification the Pope followed his quote up with?
For some reason, even in the Arabic-speaking media, such a contention was not even a thought. However, Islam has been subject to website after website decrying it as the problem. Not only does this serve to partially indemnify terrorists, as one has placed blame on a centuries-old ideology and not a human being with explosives attached to them, but it also is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By dissing the religion espoused by one-sixth of the human population of the planet, one sets oneself up to be hated. By a lot of people. Why isn’t, for instance, nationalist violence (committed largely by Christians and atheists) in Europe paralleled by a series of cartoons of Christian personalities vilifying enough to make Andres Serrano’s historic Piss Christ look like The Little Mermaid? Why was shari’a allowed to be flagrantly disrespected in the media through the Muhammad cartoons by non-Muslims — which infuriated me, for one, if only as a religious individual (I can’t imagine how insulted the Muslims who protested must have felt) — but blue laws were allowed to be on the books until 2002 in Massachusetts without a peep?
I think we are seeing the proliferation of a baseless hatred for Islam. Perhaps rooted in European colonialism and pan-European racism, perhaps rooted in pan-Americanism and general neocon vociferousness, but definitely there. Islam takes criticism no one subjects other ideologies to. The Washington Post article made me question: why would you even think to criticize Islam, the ideology?
Criticize the imam who denounces Jews. Criticize the sheikh who calls for violence. Criticize the suicide bomber. But to not examine these things as what they are — violations of Qur’an, not the “following of Islam”, and certainly not “mainstream Islam” itself — places the blame on hundreds of millions of innocent people and removes blame from the hundreds (perhaps) of actual criminals. Criticism of Islam does prevent world peace from becoming a reality.
It takes our attention away from the real hindrances to peace.