Raymond Ibrahim had an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times the other day on the differences between Islam and Christianity. The catalyst for the piece was Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Istanbul in general and to the Hagia Sophia in particular.
Built in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia — Greek for "Holy Wisdom" — was Christendom's greatest and most celebrated church. After parrying centuries of jihadi thrusts from Arabs, Constantinople — now Istanbul — was finally sacked by Turks in 1453, and Hagia Sophia's crosses were desecrated, its icons defaced. Along with thousands of other churches in the Byzantine Empire, it was immediately converted into a mosque, the tall minarets of Islam surrounding it in triumph. Nearly 500 years later, in 1935, as part of reformer Kemal Ataturk's drive to modernize Turkey, Hagia Sophia was secularized and transformed into a museum.
Protests aimed at keeping the pope out of Hagia Sophia rocked Istanbul right up to the morning of his visit to the site. Contrast that intolerance with the tolerance granted Muslims in regard to the Al Aqsa mosque — this time, an Islamic site in Jerusalem annexed by Judaism. Unlike the permanent Muslim desecration of Hagia Sophia, after Israel's victory in the 1967 war, the Jews did not deface or convert the mosque into a Jewish synagogue or temple, even though the Al Aqsa mosque is deliberately built atop the remains of the Temple Mount, the holiest site of Judaism and, by extension, an important site for Christians. Moreover, since reclaiming the Temple Mount, Israel has granted Muslims control over the Al Aqsa mosque (except during times of crises).
All this illustrates the privileged status that many Muslims expect in the international arena. When Muslims conquer non-Muslim territories — such as Constantinople, not to mention all of North Africa, Spain and southwest Asia — those whom they have conquered as well as their descendants are not to expect any apologies, let alone political or territorial concessions.
I've frequently heard about the "genocide" against the Palestinians as well as the usual Holocaust denier suspects. Yet repeatedly, throughout history, it has been Islam and its followers who have felt justified not merely to conquer an area and its people, but to annihilate the culture of those places and force non-Muslims into dhimmitude.
But perhaps Muslims cannot be blamed for expecting special treatment, as well as believing that jihad is righteous and decreed by the Almighty. The West constantly goes out of its way to confirm such convictions. By criticizing itself, apologizing and offering concessions — all things the Islamic world has yet to do — the West reaffirms that Islam has a privileged status in the world.
At least they haven't called us a "paper tiger"...yet.