Via Media

A couple more. In a separate post because that last one was plenty long enough, and these take a slightly different angle:

In the Chicago Tribune, Paul M. Cobb is an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Notre Dame and fellow of the Medieval Institute and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

You might ask, "Then why all the anger?" In a healthy intellectual and religious climate, surely two faithful members of two different faiths can bear to hear an insult to their faith quoted to them, at least as part of a larger argument, no?

But there’s the rub. For we do not have a healthy climate in which such a dialogue can unguardedly take place.

I am reminded here of the title of the late Ralph Wiley’s observations on race relations in the United States, "Why Black People Tend to Shout." Like them, Muslims shout because, for so long, they have not been heard. If the Crusades aren’t to blame for Muslim distrust of Western comments on Islam, then surely three centuries of direct and indirect imperialism cannot have helped.

The fact that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims live without the privileges of income, education, literacy, human rights, statehood and health care that Benedict’s audience takes for granted renders even an invitation to converse worthy of suspicion.

For what Benedict seems not to have realized is something his predecessor never would have forgotten: that any meaningful dialogue is a conversation spoken between equal partners at the same table, not hurled down ex cathedra.

To have equal partners in a conversation between Islam and the West, a great deal more work on our part must be done, and perhaps now will be done, to efface the inequities that serve as obstacles. In the awkward dialogue of civilizations that so many of us seek, social justice is a great ice-breaker.

Madeleine Bunting in the UKGuardian takes up the drumbeat of the Warmonger Pope:

Put last week’s lecture in Bavaria and the Fallaci audience alongside his vocal opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, and the picture isn’t pretty. On one of the biggest and most volatile issues of our day – the perceived clash between the west and the Muslim world – the Pope seems to have abdicated his papal role of arbitrator, and taken up the arms in a rerun of a medieval fantasy.

John Allen makes sense in the NYTimes:

Desire for a more muscular stance, however, has been building among Catholics around the world for some time. In part, it has been driven by persecution of Christians in the Islamic world, like the murder of an Italian missionary, the Rev. Andrea Santoro, in Trabzon, Turkey, in February. A 16-year-old Turk fired two bullets into Father Santoro, shouting “God is great.” But perhaps the greatest driving force has been the frustrations over reciprocity. To take one oft-cited example, while Saudis contributed tens of millions of dollars to build Europe’s largest mosque in Rome, Christians cannot build churches in Saudi Arabia. Priests in Saudi Arabia cannot leave oil-industry compounds or embassy grounds without fear of reprisals from the mutawa, the religious police. The bishop of the region recently described the situation as “reminiscent of the catacombs.”

The pope is sympathetic to these concerns, as several developments at the Vatican have made clear.

At a meeting with Muslims in Cologne, Germany, last summer, Benedict urged joint efforts to “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress toward world peace.”

On Feb. 15, he removed Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who had been John Paul’s expert on Islam, as the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sending him to a diplomatic post in Egypt. Archbishop Fitzgerald was seen as the Vatican’s leading dove in its relationship with Muslims.

That same month, Bishop Rino Fisichella, the rector of Rome’s Lateran University and a close papal confidant, announced it was time to “drop the diplomatic silence” about anti-Christian persecution, and called on the United Nations to “remind the societies and governments of countries with a Muslim majority of their responsibilities.”

In March, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for Rome, voiced doubts about calls to teach Islam in Italian schools, saying he wanted assurance that doing so “would not give way to a socially dangerous kind of indoctrination.”

And on March 23, Benedict summoned his 179 cardinals for a closed-doors business session. Much conversation turned on Islam, according to participants, and there was agreement over taking a tougher stance on reciprocity.

Through his statements and those of his proxies, Benedict clearly hopes to stimulate Islamic leaders to express their faith effectively in a pluralistic world. The big question is whether it will be received that way, or whether it simply reinforces the conviction of jihadists about eternal struggle with the Christian West.

E.J. Dionne:

Benedict’s defenders have a point when they question whether his comments fully justify the explosion against him in the Muslim world. A significant number of Muslim religious leaders have said some harsh things about Christians, Jews and Western secularists in recent years. Would that all of Benedict’s Muslim critics were as critical of anti-Christian or anti-Jewish statements from their own side.

But that is precisely why all who are hoping for a liberalized Islam should take Benedict to task, and why he needs to use that great intellect of his to move this discussion in a different direction.

The many Muslims who reject the idea that their faith should be "spread by the sword" will not see their cause advanced by Westerners who take us back to arguments rooted in an era when Christianity and Islam were literally at sword’s point. We should all struggle to interpret our respective traditions in ways that enhance toleration and respect. Muslims who take risks on behalf of religious freedom need to know that non-Muslims are willing to engage with the best and not just the most extreme currents of Islamic thought.

Benedict made a good point when he said: "A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

It’s true that Westerners who reject religion altogether may have trouble opening an authentic dialogue with Muslims. But religious dialogue will not progress very far if it starts off with a slap in the face.

Dionne, of course, writes for the WaPo. Sharing the space on the same topic today is another WaPo columnist, Anne Applebaum:

By this, I don’t mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon; I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology. But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech — surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts — and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde and Fox News — Western institutions of the left, the right and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary — "we’re pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" — but in the days since the pope’s sermon, I don’t feel that I’ve heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus. A lot more time has been spent analyzing what the pontiff meant to say, or should have said, or might have said if he had been given better advice.

All of which is simply beside the point, since nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it’s time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn’t the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain’s chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them — simultaneously?

Maybe it’s a pipe dream: The day when the White House and Greenpeace can issue a joint statement is surely distant indeed. But if stray comments by Western leaders — not to mention Western films, books, cartoons, traditions and values — are going to inspire regular violence, I don’t feel that it’s asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don’t see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.

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