Noel Muscat OFM
Remember the lecture that Pope Benedict XVI gave to intellectuals and researchers of the University of Regensberg, Germany, on 12 September 2006? The words of Benedict XVI, quoted out of their context, inflamed extremist elements in the Muslim world to the extent that hatred against Christianity became all too evident, even though Benedict XVI himself expressed a delicate sense of concern regarding the unexpected result of what was, after all, a simple example of a simple truth, namely, the futility of crimes against humanity in the name of religion.
Let me recall the exact words of Pope Benedict. “I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara – by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both […] In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that Surah 2,256 reads: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ […] He addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, 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.”
The quotation of Mohammed was taken out of the context in which it is found, and was interpreted as a statement of hatred by a Christian leader against the Muslim religion. We know what was the outcome of this interpretation. On the part of Christians we have gone into great pains to patch up any differences that might have ensued, and to insist on the intrinsic goodness of the Muslim religion and of all religions. Indeed, certain circles of Christians have gone as far as to advocate the equality of the so-called three monotheistic religions (Jewish, Christianity, Islam) and the “inspired” nature of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
The reaction on the part of certain circles within Islam was anything but tolerant. Although some have insisted that there is a “moderate” Islam that can enter into dialogue with Christianity, the events that have unfolded within this last decade or so have shown quite the opposite. The truth of Benedict’s quotation regarding the evil nature of violence in spreading of religious beliefs has been only too obvious in recent events that have seen Islam being used for political and inhuman ends. The Arab spring that was hailed as a democratic revolution in North Africa and the Middle East has resulted in the establishment of tyrannies that are much worse than the ones they replaced.
The slow but sure invasion of Islam within the confines of Europe is something that is now self-evident. It has taken advantage of the surge of secularism present in the European society that has rejected its Christian roots, and is invading all strata of society. Its weapons consist in the sheer increase of the number of Muslims on European soil and the spreading of fundamentalist Muslim beliefs. Its results have been the harrowing scenes of European Muslims joining jihadist extremist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and committing atrocities worse than those of the period of which Benedict XVI was referring to.
Indeed, this “world war” of Islam against Christianity has been staged after a long preparation in the fundamentalist Qur’anic schools in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. We are now witnessing its concrete actualization. Whole populations of minority Christians in Syria and Iraq have been wiped off the face of the map. Churches have been burned, women and children raped and kidnapped, men beheaded in a barbaric violence unheard of for centuries.
The so-called “Western world” has largely stood aside to look at these atrocities and maybe condemn them, but it has never asked itself why they have materialized and what should be done to stop them. Indeed, it is a known fact that the guilt of the whole situation lies squarely upon the shoulders of countries that have created a power vacuum under the pretext of a western type of democracy that cannot exist in North Africa and the Middle East. The United States of America, the European Union, and Israel have a great share of responsibility in what is happening right now in this turbulent region. It seems that they are now waking up to the fearsome possibility that such a war will start being waged far away from the Middle East, on US and European soil. 11 September 2001 was just the beginning of what looms as a worldwide catastrophic war against the evil of fundamentalist religion.
I wonder whether any of the so-called civilized countries of the West are asking themselves as to the underlying reasons for this kind of hatred against what is seen as a “Christian” culture. It seems that they are afraid of doing so, and prefer to speak about the ethics of self-defense. Indeed, it seems that the only road and option now open is that of decimating the enemy in order to defend themselves from this culture of hatred and death.
What has Benedict XVI’s speech in Regensberg to do with all this? It certainly proves that the Pope was right when he spoke about the dangers of hatred, which results from religious extremism. It certainly also proves that Christianity is right when it states that a society devoid of God and values is a fertile land for the invasion of religious extremism and fundamentalism. Indeed, the end result in the Western world is that of having created an indifferent society, with a new danger that is looming ahead in many countries, namely xenophobia against the invasion of alien cultures, and concretely xenophobia from extremist pseudo-Christian quarters versus the war of religion from extremist pseudo-Islamic groups. This goes to show that one can silence religion in the name of secularist freedom, but that one will never silence the swords and guns of hatred in the name of a false interpretation of religion.
It is high time the West wakes up to this reality. It is high time that we realize that the boiling pot in countries like Libya, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many others, will eventually be poured on home ground and that the time of reckoning that we can wage war through money and technology is over. Unfortunately now we are witnessing the time for brutal force. We either face it or we perish. There is no other choice. Evil in the name of religion destroys humanity. Pope Benedict XVI was right!