It is high time that religious and political leaders call out Islamic leaders for not calling out Islamisits for their use of violence in the name of religion. The Pope did so last week but then promptly wimped out, apologizing for hurting anyone’s feelings. Didn’t know the Pope was from California. Feelings? Since when did the Pope turn PC?
Media have not helped. They have quoted one line the Pope quoted and put that forward as an insult to Islam. Well, far be it from me to defend the Pope who does not defend himself, but read that line — from Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus in 1391 — in context and it is an important statement about both violence and rationality and religion:
The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent.
Transcending law, even reason.
I think it’s ironic that the Pope then goes on to try to expand the definition of reason beyond that accepted in the West because he wants to portray religion as reasonable.
We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.
And he seems to be arguing that there — under a larger umbrella of reason — there is a meeting point for the religions to meet. I would say that defines optimism in our age.
So the Pope’s point was not to attack Islamic jihad but to use that as an illustration of fundamental differences. Still, he did attack violence in the name of religion. And I believe he should have stood by that firmly, for that is the discussion we must have. But instead, he wimped. And I believe that Islamic leaders should be standing firmly in the same spot, condemning violence — political violence, let’s be honest — in the name of their religion. But instead, they whine.
Where the hell are the moral leaders for our age?
: LATER: We should dread the aftermath. A Turkish paper reports that a church in the West Bank was attacked. Make that two churches. The Guardian has a picture of angry Muslims in India burning the Pope in effigy. Is this the sequel to the Danish cartoons? Let’s hope not. There are a lot more Catholics and Christians in the world to fight than there are Danes. But do note the terribly irony: The response to words condemning violence is violence.
: The Times writes a simplistic editorial calling for the Pope’s apology. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel defends her Landsman:
“What Benedict XVI emphasized was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion,” she said.
Yes, and it is tragic that others do not join in that renunciation.
: MEANWHILE: In Australia:
The Howard government yesterday challenged the spiritual leaders of the nation’s Muslim community to reject terrorism.
In a firm address, Andrew Robb, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, told a conference of Australian imams in Sydney that they had a responsibility to “quarantine Australia from the extremist elements who are tormenting the world, masquerading in the name of Islam”.
: Says the Sunday Times of London, God bless them:
The clash of civilisations is not between Christianity and Islam, it is between nations that encourage religious diversity and those which practise religious intolerance. It is between those who favour open debate and those who think free speech is anathema. The Pope may or may not have known what a hornets’ nest he was stirring up. Even if he did, there was nothing inappropriate, within context, in what he said.
The Vatican has said he is very sorry his speech caused such offence to Muslims. That is fine but it should not go further than that. He should certainly not be pushed into withdrawing his remarks. As in the case of the Danish cartoons, Muslim zealots are trying to impose their restrictions of free expression on the West. Mindful as we should be of religious sensitivities, that cannot be allowed to happen.
: And meanwhile in Iraq:
As security was beefed up around Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday night, the Mujahideen’s Army movement in Iraq threatened to carry out a suicide attack against the Pope in revenge for his comments about Islam and jihad.
On a website used by rebel movements in Iraq, a message posted by the Mujahideen’s Army said members of the organization would “smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome.”
As the Pope was saying….
: LATER STILL: Glenn Reynolds has a major roundup of opinion on the Pope.