Where the pope got it right,
and where he blundered
•A guest editorial
from a recent JCOM grad now in uniform
By Leon D'Souza
October 3, 2006 | If there was ever a doubt about
whether the rhetorical war on terror has, in effect,
succeeded in polarizing the Muslim and Christian worlds,
the pope's ill-timed and unfortunate remarks at Germany's
Regensburg University ought to have dispelled any confusion.
We are, clearly, in the thick of what has inevitably
become a religious war: one that pits Western Christianity,
and its ideologies of doctrinal liberalism, consent
and free will, against Arab Islam, and its attendant
ideologies of orthodoxy, anti-modernism and fidelity
to every letter of Koranic law.
For years now, intellectuals have skirted the issue
of Islamic terror, preferring to characterize it in
less offensive terms. Some have described it as a political
expression of domestic frustrations; others have condoned
it as righteous outrage against the Western policy of
cozying up to tyrannies for easy access to oil.
But whichever way one chooses to reason, there is
an undeniable link between Islamic radicalism and the
outbreak of terror that threatens the modern world.
That is to say, the appeal of even the most terrifying
ideologues in this war is, essentially, a religious
As Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has put it, the
struggle, for many Arabs and Muslims, is about honor:
a value that has its pride of place in the Islamic tradition.
The fight, in Nasrallah's view, is about regaining lost
pride by displaying a readiness to sacrifice and a readiness
to suffer. It is a quest to restore Islam to its influential
Golden Age. And it is a Machiavellian quest: one that
glorifies the end while pardoning the means.
This is the unjust and perverse methodology that Benedict
XVI sought to assail in his Regensburg speech. The pontiff,
in my opinion, wasn't taking aim at Islam in general,
but rather at the particular brand of violent Islam
advocated and practiced by men like Nasrallah and American
nemesis, Osama bin Laden.
Where the pope erred was in his choice of historical
reference and the inflammatory language contained therein.
To be sure, Christian-Muslim relations have come a
long way since Manuel II issued his scathing criticism
of 14th-century Islam. The inter-religious outreach
of John Paul II especially helped cement ties between
two of the world's oldest faith traditions. Thus, to
turn the clock back so dramatically was both unnecessary
and ignorant of the ecumenical progress both religions
have made since the divisiveness of the Crusades.
What's more, the pope's indictment was too sweeping
-- the sort of hard-line rhetoric that alienates even
moderates, forcing them to adopt a more aggressive stance
in defense of their beliefs.
Taken together, the language of the Regensburg address
was exactly the sort of self-righteous Bible thumping
that hinders the process of interfaith dialogue, so
vitally important to addressing the theological and
social differences at the heart of this war.
That said, it did serve one important purpose: it
was provocative. And it has resulted in the opening
of a serious dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders
at the highest levels.
This is where the ideological -- and specifically,
the theological -- questions underlying the problem
of Islamic terror can be resolved. For this, we can
all have hope.
All told, there is a silver lining to this cloud.
For additional reading on this and related topics,