Latest posts on Christian Aid

Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

Places Christians shouldn't go A quick tour of Christian Hate?'s case against Christian Aid

Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslims in 'Pope is a Catholic' storm

Well, I'd been planning to link to the Pope's Regensburg lecture since I saw him delivering it live on TV. In my humble opinion it's a fine piece of theological reasoning. I was also impressed by the sermon he preached earlier the same day.

And, yes, I did have a feeling there was going to be trouble. Funny, isn't it, that although the lecture contains a lot more criticism of western secularism than of Islam, it somehow never occurred to me that the trouble might come in the form of enraged atheists firebombing churches? Or that Catholics would interpret the lecture as giving them the green light to shoot an imam or two?

It's one of those occasions when I look to the bloggers to preserve my sanity.

At Harry's Place Brownie simply puts the 'offending' quote in context and asks 'So...what exactly is the problem?'

Shuggy is spot on:-

'At the close of his speech he said:

'"It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

'It wouldn't be this task of the university - to join the general conversation of mankind - that the Islamists are afraid of, would it?

'No doubt the usual 'liberals' will, in that special pained sort of way they have, 'regret' the insensitivity of the Pope's remarks. In anticipation of this I can only insist on the following. We are not talking about a few infantile cartoons being published in a provincial European newspaper now, this shifts it to fundamentals: you either believe in free speech or you do not; you either believe in academic and intellectual freedom or you do not; and you either believe in the freedom of religion or you do not. And if you chose the censorious path, let's hear a respectable intellectual argument that does not rest solely on accusations of racism. Oh, and don't call yourself a liberal - don't you dare.'

As is Laban Tall:-

'Because this isn't about peaceful co-existence. This is about imposing one's will on the spiritual enemy. In fact, the greater the apology, the less likely it is to be accepted - because it's taken as a sign of weakness, to be exploited further.

'No religion has been mocked and vilified more in the last 40 years than Christianity. And it continues - because the consequences don't involve bodies with knives pinning notes to their chests, decapitation, explosions, burning buildings or trains.

'Faced with such things, Western society retreats, draws back, self-censors - engendering a sense among the bad hats (and among those who share the aim even while having reservations about the method) that there is no limit to the retreat - no ground on which the enemy will turn, stand and fight.'

In a situation where the Pope is simultaneously being compared with Hitler and accused of Zionism, satire is pretty much superfluous here, but Simply Jews are not to be deterred.

Thank heaven for the blogs, because without them we'd be left at the mercy of the msm.

Take, for instance, today's al-Grauniad. Not only do we have Karen Armstrong grinding out her one tune (Islam is peaceful, and if it's not it's our fault) but John Hooper is encouraging the Jews to show a bit of solidarity with the Muslims. Because now the Pope's been quoting the rabidly anti-Semitic St Paul. This must take the biscuit for cynical opportunism even by al-G standards. Mr Hooper prefers not to spoil his point by mentioning that Paul was, like Jesus, his disciples and all the authors of the New Testament, Jewish.

Ruth Gledhill in the Times claims that the Pope's Quranic scholarship is suspect. Well, that's fair enough, and he's positively inviting dialogue with Muslim scholars on that level. But let's spell out once again the precondition for that kind of conversation: all sides are free to speak their mind without facing the threat of violence. In Ms Gledhill's piece that takes a back seat to Pope-bashing.

In the real world outside the blogosphere, is there anybody manning the barricades for freedom?

Not the trendy Christian liberals who've seized the opportunity to stick the boot into Ratzi -dishonourable mentions for Giles Fraser, chaplain to al-Grauniad, and the Pope's old antagonist Hans Küng (see the Ruth Gledhill piece). Here's a vintage Fraserism:

'For in claiming that Islam may be beyond reason, and then to claim that to act without reason is to act contrary to the will of God, is pretty close to the assertion that this religion is godless. And that's not how different faiths ought to speak to each other - especially when we all have each other's blood on our hands.'

So, Dr Fraser, scourge of the conservative evangelicals: when Iranian zealots string up gay teenagers, do they serve the living God or an idol of their own imagining? Tricky one, huh? Remember: engage brain before opening mouth.

Who's manning the barricades? In German politics, not Renate Künast, leader of the Greens in the Bundestag, who called for an apology, and thinks that the Pope has not only the Crusades but the Irish civil war (sic) and the invasion of Iraq on his conscience (German source here). Bad news for Germans who want to save the planet without surrendering their democratic rights.

You'd expect the Christian Democrats to do better and they do. Chancellor Angela Merkel has stood up for the Pope, whilst the party's General Secretary, Ronald Pofalla, says: 'All those who are now attacking him don't want dialogue, but an intimidated and silenced West'. (German source here)

Credit is due too, perhaps less predictably, to Lale Akgün, Muslim Affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats:

'Look, there are three and a half million Muslims living in Germany, over 20 million in Europe. These are not small numbers. That means we have no alternative to convincing the majority of comparatively apathetic Muslims of the need to accept and show the peaceful face of Islam. [...] We must simply ensure that those who are rather indifferent to religion, who tend to fight shy of religion, take an active stand, that we persuade them to join with us in developing an Islam in Europe which is compatible with democracy, with human rights, with women's rights. And which is also prepared to submit itself to discussion, prepared to accept other opinions or at least agree to disagree.'

(my translation, original here)

OK, it's not a great advertisement for a belief system if you have to look to the apathetic to salvage some basic decency. Never mind, he's on the right side.

Returning to the UK papers, the Observer's Will Hutton gives us a mixed bag. He's been reading a book by a progressive Muslim, and he desperately wants to believe its message:-

'Nor is Islam less able [than Christianity or Judaism] to accommodate reason or Enlightenment values.'

Well, I'd very much like to believe it too. Mr Hutton should carry on reading, and if he will add the New Testament and the Quran to his reading list he can, I hope, correct his impression that they are both equally guilty of glorifying violence (see below).

Still, he does get it to this extent...

'Aslan is persuasive, but the reaction of some Islamic leaders to the Pope's incitement belies his optimism. They can choose to ignore the pontiff, challenge him or demonstrate through reference to Islam's own teachings that he is wrong. Instead, they stress the enormous offence that has been given. There is no sense here of a commitment to pluralism or mutual tolerance.


'The principle of tolerance is one on which the West can never compromise. The Pope was right on one thing, though; the West, its religions included, accepts the grandeur of reason. So, ultimately, must Islam.'

And there's William Rees-Mogg in today's Times. 10 out of 10. I fear he may be a little long in the tooth to be manning the barricades, but then so is the Holy Father, and with so many 'liberals' deserting the cause of liberty we need everyone we can get...

'The Pope’s actual quotation is not just a medieval point of view. It is a common modern view; even if it seldom reaches print; it can certainly be found on the internet. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and then you shall find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

'Is it true that the Koran contains such a command, and has it influenced modern terrorists? The answers, unfortunately, are “yes” and “yes”.

'The so-called Sword Verse from Chapter 9 must have been in the emperor’s mind: “So when the sacred months have passed away, Then slay the idolaters wherever you find them.

'“And take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush.”

'This does shock many Muslims: extremists are angered by the implied criticism of those who quote it, while moderates who cannot disavow the terms of the Koran prefer more evasive interpretations. The shock it creates shows the importance of the doctrine.'

Lest the barricades stuff comes across as a mite hysterical, let a correspondent to the same paper have the final word:-

'Sir, The Pope did not give offence (reports, Comment and leading article, Sept 16): his enemies took it.

'Taking offence is a blackmail strategy and any excuse, real or imagined, will do: it is seen in the belligerent drunk, growling “What are you lookin’ at?” or the gang member who draws a knife because he has been “dissed”. It works because polite, educated respondents try to treat this as a real question, to apologise and negotiate.

'You cannot negotiate with a drunk or a knife, and you cannot negotiate with those who manufacture offence as a weapon.'


Anonymous said...

As always, Cyrus, an excellent post. It is a pity that you do not receive more comments. In any event, I am commenting.

I note that Will Hutton read Reza Aslan's book. But, I do not think the book was read too critically and, more than that, with an eye to facts not included by Aslan - who, by the way, wrote and interesting and subtle apologia but not, at least in my view, a careful history.

Aslan defends Islam's origins by noting, in response to the comment that Islam spread by the sword, that all religions have done so. Accepting that as possibly true - although he offers no proof for that proposition -, he follows that by noting that in response to the Crusades - which are overblown as they did not have, at the time, the importance to Muslims that they have today (but, of course, who would ever let facts get in the way of a good thesis?) - the classical doctrine of the destroying the dar al-harb by Jihad was developed - which, by the way, is not correct as, in fact, the closer view is that position was, instead, removed from point of argument - and became dogma that lasted until, in the 19th Century, some more peaceful versions of Jihad developed (particularly in India, although the doctrine of a small group) but which are now under assault due to the spread of Wahhabism - which has certainly played a role in stirring up Jihadist sentiment -.

Stated a bit differently, Aslan's argument - when the facts are shaken from his enjoyable text - find a short period of time (i.e. the 19th Century until the rise of Jihadism in the later half of the 20th Century) when "true," peaceful Islam existed. And, to follow his argument, Islam is, in its gut, peaceful and egalitarian and pro-women's rights and always was, as such is inherent in the religion including, most especially, Shi'ite Islam. In this, he employs the methodology of a contextualization, ala some liberal Protestants and reform Jews, which is not the approach adopted by classical Islamic theology which, to my knowledge, actually prevails for most of the world's Muslims.

Now, you might think that I agree with the assessment that Islam is evil or irrational. Actually, I do not. My view is that Islam is an heroic faith and should be understood in such terms. It is just that notions of the sanctity of life in countries where people have only a few children collide with Islamic culture that still views life as expendible, as life is seen more collectively than individually. In part that is due to people have very, very large families. Hence, one could allow for the death of a child where there are many others to carry on the family name and the Islamic umma.

Anonymous said...

"It is a pity that you do not receive more comments."


As always an excellent post and round-up of sane reaction to the current "misunderstanding".

Cyrus said...

Neal, thanks for a very interesting comment. I'd naturally be pleased if I got more comments, but quality counts for more than quantity.

All religions spread by the sword. Maybe, but not all of them are following the example of their founder when they do so.

Contextualization: yes, anathema to Muslim orthodoxy as is the suggestion, hinted at in the Pope's lecture, that Mohammed's thought evolved between the early and late surahs. Contextualization would imply that updating is needed to reflect modern conditions. The Baha'is took this view in Iran in the nineteenth century - they were persecuted as heretics then and are now.

I'm just wondering, how well would ancient Israel fit your thesis that big families and respect for the sanctity of life don't go together?

Anonymous said...


I do not think that is quite what the Pope meant. Islam is, rather, a rolling revelation and the formula adopted, by classical Muslim scholars, was later in time abrogates earlier revelations to the extent there is a conflict among them. That was the Pope's point, by the way, with reference to the comment about there being no compulsion in religion. In classical Islamic thinking, that verse is basically abrogated by the verse which reads: "Fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh with them." The mitigation, which allows for the survival, albeit discouraged survival, of non-Muslims under Muslim rule reads: "Fight against them who do not follow the religion of truth until they pay tribute by right of subjection, and they be reduced low." Not all that encouraging, at least for those reduced low.

As for ancient Israel, my view is that pre-rabbinic Judaism has much in common with Islam, with the exception that there is no universal program to bring the entire Earth under Jewish law. Rather, Judaism, so far as I know, was always a particularist faith, whether or not such was in a period when conversion was not discouraged. Moreover, I think pre-rabbinic Judaism fits the category of heroic style faiths, at least in my view. There is great heroism beginning with Abraham but also military heroism beginning with Joshua. And, yes, large families and the willingness to sacrifice offspring are, in my view, related - for Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and everyone else. Otherwise, sacrifice is something permitted only in true self-defense, which is the current fashion in the West.

Anonymous said...

I don't know enough about Islam (or even Judaism) to be able to contribute to this interesting discussion, but I do have a quick something to add to the other stream of thought here:

Cyrus, you'd probably get more comments if you didn't write so well. Nine times out of ten you say things I agree completely with, in ways I couldn't improve on. I don't think a regular contribution of "What he said" from me would raise the level of the debate much, but you're welcome to take it as implied pretty much every time.