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Rick Santorum and the Qur'an

That champion of religious liberty, Rick Santorum, is castigating President Obama for apologizing over what U.S. officials say was the inadvertent burning of books of the Qur'an in Afghanistan. Santorum's reasoning is that since the destruction of the Qur'an was done in error, there was no reason to apologize.So one only need apologize for intentional transgressions? This accidental destruction of what a people hold sacred should be shrugged off as "unfortunate," Santorum argues, contending that an apology shows weakness.Obviously, there is a double standard at work here. If the U.S. bishops' campaign for religious liberty is to have any meaning at all, it will have to apply to all religions. Otherwise, what should be a noble idea becomes no more than a lobbying position and, for many who have picked up the theme, a political wedge issue.For the bishops to be silent while those who herald their position simultaneously encourage contempt for the practice of Islam to gain votes makes a sham of the call for religious liberty.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Now, that is reaching.

The U.S.-led military coalition says the Muslim holy books were sent by mistake on Feb. 19 to a garbage burn pit at Bagram Air Field, near the capital, and that the case is under investigation.

So, if Obama says "whatever religious issues Catholics are upset about with the mandate, it is an accident and not intended" he is fine and doesn't have to apologize? Yes, it is a double standard, and yes, as I have said many times, the political discourse about "religious liberty" has been from people who show no interest in religious liberty in the past and show no interest in it for the future. But, if something is an accident, there should be nothing done? Wow. Insurance companies would love that.

This is over-reaching, I think. Any club will do with which to beat the bishops over the head.

If the US military accidentally burned a few Bibles somewhere in the world (something that I would never even know about unless the military admitted it), that does not infringe anyone's "religious liberty" at all. Whereas if people are literally forced to participate in paying for something that they consider immoral, that is an infringement of religious liberty (even if you think it's for a good reason and they ought to shut up about it).

I don't think it's asking too much for those who advocate for religious liberty to apply it to religions other than their own. Cardinal Dolan could have been much more outspoken in the name of religious liberty when, for example, community opposition forced a pastor to back down on a plan to sell a vacant Staten Island convent for use as a mosque.

If the US military accidentally burned a few Bibles somewhere in the world (something that I would never even know about unless the military admitted it), that does not infringe anyones religious liberty at all. Studebaker,Burning a Koran is not the equivalent of burning a Bible. I think a closer equivalent would be desecrating the Eucharist. I simply can't imagine Santorum arguing that someone who maybe accidentally threw the Eucharist in the trash should not apologize because it was unintentional.It doesn't even have to be about religion. Suppose Santorum accidentally steps on someone's toe. Does he really think an apology is not necessary because it was not intentional? It's one of the stupidest arguments I have ever heard. The only possible way to read what he's saying, it seems to me, is that you don't apologize to Muslims.

More about Santorum's views of Obama's "weakness" on the front page of the NYT today. He also disagrees with Kennedy: Mr. Santorum had said earlier that he almost threw up when he read John F. Kennedys 1960 speech in which Mr. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate who some critics said would take orders from the Vatican because he was a Roman Catholic, asserted that separation of church and state should be absolute.

Moral indignation is the pastime of the strong.

The only possible way to read what hes saying, it seems to me, is that you dont apologize to Muslims.Yes, and I think he also sees an opportunity to push that right-wing nonsense about how Obama is undermining the U.S. by apologizing all the time. This is not quite as appalling as Rick Perry's phony outrage when Obama expressed his regret over members of our military desecrating enemy corpses. But it's the same dog-whistle line of attack - "Whose side is he on, anyway?"

It's certainly a club to hit Santorum over the head -which he (and his supporters) deserve.

"I think he also sees an opportunity to push that right-wing nonsense about how Obama is undermining the U.S. by apologizing all the time."I agree - that is what this is really about.

As long as we are giving advice to the bishops . . . another thing they could do to show their support for religious liberty would be to recomend meaningful sanctions against countries that persecute religious minorities - - beginning with Saudi Arabia, and I believe all defenders of religious liberty will have no trouble in filling out the rest of the list.

On the TV program "NCIS" one of the lead characters "Jethro Gibbs" states that 'Apologizing is a sign of weakness'. Although I really like his character---I don't agree with this concept at all.Rick Santorum is aspiring to become the President of the United States. Does he not realize that this planet is occupied with billions of peoples of all different faiths and no faith at all. Does he not realize that these people of faith---believe just as strongly as he does---in the sacredness of their books, teachings, etc.?Does Santorum think that only the Christian bible is sacred? Does he think that only Tabernacles in the Catholic Church are sacred?I see Santorum as a 'religious racist' (only Christianity---and specifically Catholicism is correct, right, God's way). He certainly doesn't display any understanding of the social teachings of the Church. Today, I heard that he called Obama a snob---because the President stated that he believes that all Americans should be able to go to college/university. Santorum stated that Obama is trying to make everyone like him (Obama). Santorum's thinly veiled references to 'man (Obama) making idols in his own image and likeness' is very apparent to me and others with whom I work. Doesn't Santorum read any educational reports that state that the best way for minorities to move out of their poverty is with an excellent education? Or does Santorum believe that only white Christians/Catholics deserve higher education? And blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, Asians,----should be happy to work at menial jobs, with meager pay. I see Santorum as trying to be something that the Constitution does not give him the right to be. Someone trying to impose the directives of the Bishops of the Catholic Church upon the rest of Americans. I see him as a judgmental, narrow-minded prig---who is unable to walk the narrow tightrope that a democratically elected president must walk.He will never receive my vote.

On the TV program NCIS one of the lead characters Jethro Gibbs states that Apologizing is a sign of weakness. Although I really like his characterI dont agree with this concept at all.Little Bear, that notion is enshrined in some (many? all?) relgious orders' rules. The superior never explains, never apologizes.

While the burning of any holy book is not a good practice, where is the liberal moral indignation at the taking of lives for this mistake/transgression??Does the destruction of this book warrant the taking of human life? Is the ideology of political correctness more important to Commonwealers than the sanctity of human life?

"" its the same dog-whistle line of attack Whose side is he on, anyway?"Mollie --Right! it's the same old tribalism -- we gotta stick with our own, our country right or wrong. It is adolescence personified.

Even our old enemies, the Russians, warned the Republican president about Afghanistan. Their priorities are different. We should not have gone there. What has been accomplished? Lives lost, families destroyed, trillions of dollars wasted, etc. All for nothing. (Why were books of any sort being burned? If they were no longer needed, why not put them out for people to take home?)

So if I accidentally rear-end a car ahead of me at a stop sign, because I'm not paying enough attention to my driving, it is inappropriate, or perhaps displays moral weakness, to apologize as soon as we both get out of our cars to assess the damage?

The hypocrisy here is palpable: if these were Catholics killing "infidels" for accidental burning of the bible, I can only imagine the outrage of the Commonweal crowd. Or, how about the Muhammad cartoon episode: if Catholics rioted around the world and killed innocent Muslims for a single offensive drawing of Christ - imagine what you would say about that...The dogma of political correctness demands certain sacrifices in logic, I suppose.

I agree, Paul--great post. If the concern of the USCCB is religious liberty, they should be outraged whenever it's threatened, not only when it's their ox being gored. Of course there are good Catholic doctrinal reasons to stand for religious liberty as fundamental to human dignity. (At least since Vatican II. Before then, the notion that separation of Church and State is a good idea was on the Syllabus of Errors. My, how doctrine develops...)I read a part of the transcript of Santorum's "throw up" interview. Two things emerged for me from that excerpt:1. Mr. Santorum clearly has a sensitive stomach. I hope it wouldn't interfere with his ability to execute the office of president. After all, we've had unfortunate cases of presidents hurling at inconvenient times.2. His idea that separation of Church and State means churches have no public voice at all is a straw man. The better question is how religious groups frame their arguments in the public sphere. He hasn't addressed that, and I suspect if he did, he'd find himself on the wrong side of the Constitution. But who knows--perhaps when his stomach settles down, he'll take on the real question.

Little Bear:You aint seen nuthin yet. It turns out that Obamas position on higher education is one that Santorum used to hold himself. This from Talking Points Memo:

. . . [T]he last time Santorum ran for public office his ill-fated 2006 Senate reelection campaign he was right there with Obama, running on his promise to make college more accessible to all Pennsylvanians. Heres a link to Santorums 2006 Senate campaign website, as stored on Right there in black and white is his Commitment to Higher Education. From the text:In addition to Ricks support of ensuring that primary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania are equipped for success, he is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education, the site reads. Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.

(With apologies to Dinah Washington), what a difference six years make.Theres more at

BrettPerhaps the issue is simple: Catholics are to promote religious liberty. This is something which doesn't start and end with Catholics, but is for all. If we just complain about health care concerns as being anti-religious liberty (whatever small aspect of religious liberty is actually entailed in such concerns) but then when some gross anti-religious liberty is happening before us and we say and do nothing, it looks to most we don't really support religious liberty (universal) but more "we want to do as we want to do, and we should be free to do it, but no one else should have that freedom." That is not Catholic. If we want to promote religious liberty, if we want to promote some positive good, we must do so -- not just for us but for all. Then we show we believe what we say, otherwise, it just sounds like propaganda.

BrettTo continue: Christians believe we are called to a higher standard. This is what Jesus himself points out when he calls us the salt of the earth. If we have lost our saltiness (our goodness preserving the proper moral order for all), then what do we have? We must be reforming ourselves, critical of ourselves when we fail our standards, so that we will always be the salt of the earth. It seems what many don't want is the self-critical reformation but that is exactly what we are called to FIRST with a second concern as to doing what is good to others, even if they would not do good to us. This is how we show we are Christians and this is how conversions are made.

Henry, This is not a religious liberty issue: the US is not banning or burning all of the holy books in Afghanistan. Personally, I don't think we should be in the country and understand the Afghan frustration at the occupation; however, this does not excuse the general disrespect for life shown by Muslims in regards to religious offenses. Does a cartoon or a burnt book or novel (Rushdee) does not take more importance than a human life - and if it does, there is something wrong.If we want to be serious about the question of Muslims and religious liberty (rather than making political hash of the question) - let us talk about the Christian pastor set for execution in Iran or the Copts in Egypt or the banning of churches in Saudi Arabia.

Brett,You are missing the point (or my point, anyway). It is absolutely preposterous to claim that the United States should not apologize for accidentally desecrating the Koran. Of course an apology is in order, first out of common decency and second, to try to do whatever possible to minimize the reaction. Political correctness has nothing to do with it. You don't desecrate something that adherents of another religion consider sacred, and if you do it by accident, you apologize.Now, it is an outrage that Afghans (in uniform, with whom we are fighting as allies) are killing Americans or anyone else over this incident. If that is how the Afghans feel about the American presence, then I say let's get out as soon as possible. But it is just nuts to say it was wrong of the president to apologize.Now, as one commentator on television said yesterday, how can the military be in Afghanistan for 11 years and know you don't burn the Koran? How convincing is it that this was a mistake? It seems to me more likely it was a case of not respecting Islam sufficiently, while in an Islamic country, to take the trouble to dispose of the Korans properly. But even if it was a total accident, an apology was in order.If you want Christianity to be respected, then Christians have to respect other religions.

"If you want Christianity to be respected, then Christians have to respect other religions."And what about Islam -- this is not a one way street, David. Where is the respect in the banning of Christian public worship in the kingdom of Saud? Where is the respect in the Afghan constitution that demands that Islam is the only religion of the state? How about the treatment of Christians in Pakistan or Iran or Egypt?

The apology should also come from the president of Afghanistan for the killing of foreigners and Christians because of one or two books destroyed.I will not hold my breath.

Gerelyn,You stated"Little Bear, that notion is enshrined in some (many? all?) relgious orders rules. The superior never explains, never apologizes."---------------------------------------------------If superiors do not apologize they certainly are not following the directives of their founders. In all Rule of St. Francis---the final Rule of St. Clare----the admonitions to all the brothers and sisters is that they should acknowledge their faults (ministers = superiors in Franciscan communities) ESPECIALLY should be the first to do so.But I agree, Gerelyn, that too many don't apologize. Certainly bishops don't.But I believe that leaders of nations should demonstrate an understanding that people of every nation are capable of anger, hatred, ignorance, etc. against the people of other nations. Apologizes SHOULD be made.And Brett----millions of people have lived their lives based on what is in the Bible (both Jewish and Christian). Millions have lived their lives based on what is contained in the Koran (and other holy books). Many people have also given their lives rather than repudiate those beliefs, all down through the centuries.Since when did this become JUST the ideology of political correctness? Do we not as Catholics state "Your Words are Spirit and Life" (response to today's reading at Mass).I don't think you have ever seen the great respect that Jews accord to the Torah. I have seen an old Rabbi carrying the Torah, trip and fall down a few steps. He held the scrolls up over his head rather then try to protect his face.The scroll never touched the ground---but his face (glasses cracked into his cheeks) and jaw bone were injured. The Rabbi was not concerned about himself---but about the Scrolls of the Torah.Since when did we become so calloused that we cannot recognize the "Spirit and Life" within the sacred texts of each religion?

Little Bear: "Since when did we become so calloused that we cannot recognize the Spirit and Life within the sacred texts of each religion?"Since when have we become so jaded that we cannot call out irrational, murderous behavior when we see it??

If you comit an act of stupidity that offends, and the offended overeacts, does that in any way justify your stupidity?Basta!

You call murder overreaction?

BrettWhether or not Muslims are acting right is no excuse for whether or not we are acting wrong. That you can point to Muslims who act bad and don't follow religious liberty is true. The response, however, is not to deny religious liberty or show hostility towards Muslims or disrespect to their faith. Vatican II tells Catholics that we must avoid the mistakes of the past and work with Muslims for the betterment of the world. Yes, there will be Muslims who will not work with us, but if we keep using that as an excuse not to try, then we really are not following our own religion. Secondly, it is always easier to point to the murderous rage in others and use that to justify the murderous rage in oneself. However, for the Christian, the response is to render good, not evil, for evil. We are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, not what they do to us. Thirdly, it most certainly is a religious liberty issue, because religious liberty involves how we act towards others: "However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one's right and a violation of the right of others" (DH 4).Interestingly enough Dignatitis Humanae 7 I think would provide an interesting talking point on religious liberty which needs to be discussed in America.

Henry -"Secondly, it is always easier to point to the murderous rage in others and use that to justify the murderous rage in oneself."Where did I say that Christian should imitate Muslims in their reaction to religious offenses? I never said that we should react with violent to insults; however, you must infer that in order to continue the relativistic notion that all religious systems or ideas are the same. Nor did I excuse the burning of the Koran (nor am I a supporter of Santorum or of Obama's escalated war in Afghanistan). I am saying that we must be objective and that the original post was not anything of the sort. The burning of a holy book is bad; however, the taking of human life is much, much worse.

BrettYou are showing that no concern should be shown to Muslims, and that they are to blame for everything. It is this kind of rhetoric which lies behind the calls to kill Muslims (which I have seen quite a bit). Whether or not you have done so is beside the point: this line of thought is exactly the line of thought which is used to ignore anti-Muslim bigotry coming from Christians. That is the point. We are not to support such bigotry. Indeed, it is often based upon grave generalizations and ignorance of the differing views of thought within Islam, making them all out the same. It is also based upon ignorance of responses of Muslims who have spoken out against abuses. Second, you are constantly bringing out all kinds of logical errors. Where is there any discussion saying "all religious systems or ideas are the same?" Nowhere. It is clear I am discussing things as a Christian because, well, I believe in the Christian faith and what it teaches; and what it teaches gives us a higher call, and we are to follow it because we are not relativists who point out to others and say "see how bad they are?" Your argument against decency is "they are not decent." Whether or not they are has no place in OUR actions. Third, taking human life -- very bad. Agreed. But let's also look to whether or not it could have been prevented or if it can be prevented in the future and look at what it would take to do so. Not being so callous to the religious beliefs of others would be a good start, don't you think?

Have the US Catholic Bishops spoken out against this burning of the Holy Qu'ran ?One of the weaknesses in the Bishops' position seems to be that of making a great deal of noise about the supposed infringements of their own religious freedom but very little noise about the religious freedom of others.A more consistent approach showing love of neighbor and not just love of self would be more credible.God Bless

I can't see what good it would do for the bishops to involve themselves in the issue of the desecrated Korans. It is not an issue of religious liberty, and I really don't think there is much to say to the Afghans about religious liberty, anyway. The bishops are in no way responsible for the actions of the US military. Anything the bishops might say might be considered a criticism of the military and would also just serve to give more attention to the unfortunate incident, for which multiple apologies have been extended (quite properly) and should be let go of as quickly as possible.

The ideas that Catholics, whose church has a rather long history of heinous actions against human beings of all stripes, get so "holier-than-thou" about how the Muslims are reacting is a bit disingenuous.Murder can never be excused. But ask Holocaust survivors what they think of how the RCC acted and reacted to what happened to them. It's the old mote in the eye and plank on the shoulder story.

I couldn't disagree more with Santorum on the apology issue, but I agree with Fr. Komonchak that it is overeaching to criticize the bishops for not speaking out on what the U.S. military presently characterizes as an unfortunate and accidental occurrence. Those criticizing the bishops on this issue might have a better case if evidence surfaces that Americans in Afghanistan intentionally desecrated the Qu'rans. In such a circumstance, I would hope that the bishops would make clear that religious tolerance is an integral part of religious liberty.

Brett --You are outraged that human lives have been taken. The Muslims are outraged that their sacred books have been desecrated. Some Americans feel ;just like that when they seen an American flag burned. Outrage! Outrage! Outrage! Since you all feel outrage, can't you possibly put yourself in the place of the Muslims for a moment? Or do you think that *your* outrage is a different kind of feeling from theirs? No one thinks clearly and fairly when outraged, Brett. (And doesn't that include you?) What unleashed anger does is fuel more anger, and make us remember other injuries, fueling more anger, more irrationality, and more irrelevance.

" The Muslims are outraged that their sacred books have been desecrated. " Actually, I think it's more than that. Afghanis are most likely sick and tired of being occupied by one foreign Western power after another. And they see dreck from the US about anti-Islamic actions re: the proposed center in New York, the "religious" idiot who burned the Quran in Florida (?), etc. I am sure that they are fueled by the Taliban and are convinced that it is indeed a war of the rest of the world against Islam. War is war and lives are taken in war. Too many Americans don't realize that because way too many Americans haven't felt the near-term effect of losing loved ones in war.

We cannot always get to the bottom of things as to who is to blame. But the bishops should stick up for the rights of Muslims and make the point as a matter of policy since the issue has arisen. It is so clear that Rome and the bishops speak out, for the most part, only when Catholics are harmed. They completely ignore the lesson of the Good Samaritan. But when you are building an empire your papal legates have to defend your turf not that of the hated Samaritans.

Ann, a book is not worth a person, and hatred never excuses killing.

David --I never said they were. What I was talking about was the *feeling* of outrage. Anger is just a feeling, not a rational evaluation of fact, wo different people's experience of outrage -- at a flag-burning or book-burning or killing of a person -- are comparable feelings. That does not imply that the facts are equally immoral. But, unfortunately, we often confuse negative feelings (which are merely subjective reactions to facts) with rational judgments of evil events. Some people even think that the angrier *they* are the worse the *perpetrators* of the evil acts are. In other words, they think that if they are furious at you, it must be because you are really, really bad. Unfortunately, subjective feelings as gauges of objective evil can't work as moral baromeeters.

Some people even think that the angrier *they* are the worse the *perpetrators* of the evil acts are. In other words, they think that if they are furious at you, it must be because you are really, really bad.

I'd never heard that. Interesting. When you say some people, do you mean that literally - only some? Is it pathological, or almost normal?

In an earlier thread by Mr. Peppard, we discussed the event and as was suggetsged there, there's more than just books vs. persons in the dynamic.What saddens me here is that there is an almost childish apptoach to saying look what awful things the other guy did even if what I or we did was terrible and stupid.It continues with the same kind of insatransigence that is so much de riguer today, where nonone can admit the weaknesses of their approach. Really.Of course, that impacts other recent threards as well.....

David S. --ISTM that our inclination to mistake feelings (e.g., anger, disappointment) for rational, objective insights (e.g., Stalin was a ruthless man) is a basic characteristic of people. Part of what we call "original sin". We automatically become angry at aggressors, and when the aggressor was a charging mastodon that was useful -- anger pushes our buttons, as the saying goes, and starts a whole cascade of physiological changes that prepare us to fight well. But the feeling of anger and the body sensations that go with it can be extremely distracting when we are trying to think rationally about a problem. Freshman logic teachers will tell you that it is often extremely difficult to get a student to see the difference between thoughts and feelings, and, therefore, between evidence and distracting reactions to evidence. Such confusions are at the basis of "affective fallacies" -- appeals to feelings rather than reasons. (Actually a lot of rhetoric is just a string of affective fallacies, but don't tell the speech teachers. Effective politicians are often well aware of the differemce and use it to manipulate people.) Unfortunately, we have less intense feelings than fury that can interfere with our thinking. This, I think, is a main reason that all the great religions counsel us to "Know thyself". The Catholic contemplatives in particular trained the monks and nuns to be acutely aware of what goes on inside consciousness, and the Buddhists are particularly aware of this. Some of their practices are designed specifically to make us aware of just how complex and varied our inner life is.Observe what happens on the internet: when a person's world-view or self-image is threatened, he will start throwing hurtful words at his opponent such as "liar", "stupid", "hypocrit" in the same way that cavemen threw spears at each other -- even when the real subject of the thread is the national debt.Actually, life if full of little angers, disappointments, fears, and this process of affective distraction happens with the little things too. If you want to learn to observe this happening in yourself, learn to do "mindfulness" meditation of any sort, and then learn the little Buddhist practice called "naming" or "noting". In the latter you do nothing but watch what is flowing by in your consciousness and you name the basic kinds of psychological events that are occurring, e.g., "desiring", "imagining", "angry", "remembering", "feeling", "amused", "itch", "hoping", "wondering", "afraid" . . . You'll be surprised at the great part feelings play in the flow, especially the little tiny ones we ordinarily don't notice. And you'll learn not to mistake a feeling for an insight.

Here's a site telling you how to do mindfulness meditation. (It couldn't be simpler.)'s one about noting meditation.

ISTM that in the HHS brouhaha the bishops have mistaken their own anger over the real violation of their religious liberty in the original mandate for the nature of Obama's revised offer. It's their feelings that are bad, not the second offer, but they are confusing them because their fear and anger doesn't let them see straight all that is going on. Disappointment and fury are like that -- they cause us to oversimplify badly.

I watched some of santorum's confernce last nigh tand, to borrow an expression, almost threw up.At botom, his idea of his faith informing his politics is horrible -and how can he be a major presidential candidate wit hsuc hviews?Could some of that be laid to the leaders"teachers" of ou rUS Church?????

Bob N. --Santorum is such a weak candidate (Sally Quinn says he says the things he does because he *wants* to lose!). He's not just weak,on a sliding scale he would be in negative territory. I wonder how he has attracted any money at all. I've even started looking for some consipiracy for whom it would be advantageous to have such an off-putting candidate at this point.Could it be Opus Dei that wants him to get into the fight with his far-out views? Are there any American bishops who are Opus Dei members?Yes, this is pure speculation and sounds like Dan Brwn. But how else to explain such an unappealing candidate?

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