Monday, September 18, 2006

Three More Things...

I have been reading and musing on the Muslim Outrage du jour over the weekend, and finally managed to think about the situation somewhat calmly. A few observations:

I have already mentioned the Catholic Londoner blogger who photographed a Muslim demonstration outside Westminister Cathedral this Sunday. According to the post, they were out there from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day, many with faces covered (and not just the females either. Big surprise.) The signs they brandish are something to behold: "Pope Go To Hell," "Jesus is the Slave of Allah," "Islam Will Conquer Rome," to mention a few. Obviously the respect these people demand for their own religion is not something they feel particularly bound to reciprocate. Heck, if those slogans aren't calculated to offend to the highest degree, I don't know what they think will.

What struck me, however, was the print-shop quality of the signs. Nobody rushed home in a frenzy from Friday worship to hand-stencil these on the back of an old science fair project. I know computers make jobs like these faster and easier than they used to be, but really! If the local Islamic society doesn't have its own personal poster shop, it at least knows a printer willing to drop all his other jobs to work on theirs. Kinko's will have to watch its back. I wonder if there's some kind of Muslim Rapid Reaction force in London that watches for outrage opportunities and then gets into gear making appropriate signs, organizing the mob, excuse me, the crowd, getting speakers, etc. The average D.C. Mall demonstration spends weeks or months getting their ducks in a row, but in London, in four days (three if you went to mosque Friday) we have Instant Protest--just add demonstrators.

Not being too up on my medieval history, I decided that the best way to get to the bottom of what all the fuss was about (after reading the Papal address that started all the furor, that is) was to read up on Manuel Paleologus, whom the Holy Father quoted. So, I got out the appropriate Britannica volume (1971 edition.) Yes, I know they have them on disc now. I got out the book anyway. I'm a Luddite; so there. The basic info on Paleologus is going to have changed since 1971?

Paleologus' life had more ups and downs than a carnival ride, so I won't go into all the details here. In brief, after family struggles over his father's throne that should make us all thankful we didn't get his relatives, he ended up in custody at the Ottoman Sultan's court. Now, the way I read that "in custody" bit, he wasn't there on a foreign exchange program. He was there as a hostage, presumably to prevent him and deter any more of his relatives from attempting to return to power. My bet is that he was, during his sojourn at the Ottoman court, also under less-than-subtle pressure to convert; at least one source I've read places the conversation that led to all the controversy during this time. He escaped around 1391. Back in Constantinople, Paleologus was crowned emperor, and proceeded to hold off an Ottoman seige for seven months.

Eventually Paleologus was forced to accept tribute to the Ottoman empire. He traveled to western Europe to beg help, but received only promises. Meanwhile, the Sultan was defeated and the empire erupted into civil war; by clever politicking Paleologus was able to improve matters somewhat for his empire for a time. After additional upheaveals, he again ended up having to pay tribute, gave it all up, and became a monk for the last year of his life. Britannica says:

Manuel was an intelligent ruler, but with the meagre resources of his shrunken and enfeebled empire he was unable to take advantage of the misfortunes of his enemies. He was a patron of arts and letters, and himself composed theological, rhetorical, and poetical works; and his correspondence is of considerable historical interest.
Wikipedia has a very good article on the controversy, and makes some improtant points about what the Holy Father actually said and what was published in translation.

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