Popes, Presidents and the United Nations

It’s been a tough week for prelates and politicians. As the U.N. General Assembly began its annual seance in New York, Pope Benedict XVI, head of 1 billion Roman Catholics across the world, and arguably Christendom’s most visible leader, was threatened with death by Muslim extremists. Not one of the visiting dignitaries to the "World Body" — as the United Nations is fond of describing itself — so much as raised a plucked eyebrow or waved a manicured finger at this outrage. Perhaps that’s because the very secular U.N. Charter deftly avoids any mention of God, a Creator, a Supreme Being or even a benign mention of Divine Providence. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to denounce those who threatened a mere religious figure.

But if defending the faithful is taboo at the United Nations, it’s hard to explain two of the subsequent center-ring acts at this annual circus. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his appearance before the General Assembly to proffer a 30-minute tutorial on Islamic theology. Of course he also managed to work into his sermon the obligatory denunciation of the United States — a recurring theme in the big blue building that could not exist without the support of U.S. tax dollars.

Then, in keeping with this year’s liturgical setting, Venezuela’s Marxist president Hugo Chavez, fresh from a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Havana, used the General Assembly’s "World Stage" to describe U.S. President George W. Bush as Satan incarnate. As the cameras swung through the great hall, no delegate was seen storming out in disgust as the head of state of the most generous nation on earth was vilified by a tin-horn oil baron.

The moral inconsistency — in what is said — and left unsaid at the United Nations would be inexplicable were it not for one commodity: oil. The pope has no oil wells — and therefore isn’t worth defending. Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Chavez have a lot of oil — so they can’t be insulted. The Wahhabi princes and potentates whose imams spew threats at the bishop of Rome have lots of oil. Apparently the "civilized world" — the consumers of all this oil — dare not offend the purveyors of hatred lest they decide to raise prices or cut us off.

Today, oil fuels more than advanced economies — it feeds the fires of hatred. The beneficiaries of our petrodollars — nearly all are autocratic regimes — now finance the instruments of our demise. The leaders of these nations and their minions — in mosques, media and embassies — can say the most outrageous things imaginable. Worse, they have discovered that they can extort silence from those who depend on a steady supply of light crude.

Thus, when Anjem Choudary, a Muslim extremist based in London, calls for the pontiff’s death: "Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment," no one at the United Nations stands up to condemn the statement. Though "freedom of expression" is ensconced in the U.N. charter, no one at this week’s General Assembly dared to challenge his demand that the rest of the world "must also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the prophet."

While the motorcades of visiting diplomats and potentates tied up Manhattan’s traffic all this week, none of them dared to denounce Islamist Web sites and broadcasts describing the pontiff as "You dog of Rome." While supposedly committed to "freedom of religion" — another U.N. founding tenet — none of the "dignitaries" rushing from cocktail parties to press conferences saw fit to comment on the barely veiled threat to the Vatican that the Mujahideen will "shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home. We swear to God to send you people who adore death as much as you adore life."

Because their silence has been bought with petroleum, none of the powerful — or the slavish media following them around — expressed any outrage or even concern when a radical Islamist group said that, "We say to the servant of the cross (the pope): Wait for defeat … We say to infidels and tyrants: Wait for what will afflict you. We will smash the cross … you will have no choice but Islam or death." Nor did any of these "leaders" express concern that jihadists vowed to attack any "worshippers of the cross," while throngs of enraged Muslims in several countries burned the pope in effigy. It was therefore hardly surprising that no one at the United Nations expressed even regret at the murder of Sister Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian nun, at a children’s hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Perhaps the strangest comment in the midst of all this came from outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who said, in what one may hope is one of his final appearances, "Moreover, just as some who benefit from globalization may feel threatened by it, so, many who are statistically safer from conflict do not feel safe. For that, we have terrorism to thank. It kills or maims relatively few people, compared to other forms of violence." Perhaps that explains why defeating terrorism has never been a priority for the United Nations.