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Saturday, March 12, 2011


From Roland Shirk at Jihad Watch:
I hope that secular readers will pardon me for an intra-Christian column, but the attitude of Christians toward Islam is one of the critical problems we face in fighting jihad, so I think it is worth addressing. In a thought-provoking column at the worthy group-blog The American Catholic, Christopher Blosser mulls over remarks by the late, great Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:

Yet more troubling is the message that Islam, in order to become less of a threat to the world, must relativize its claim to possess the truth. That plays directly into the hands of Muslim rigorists who pose as the defenders of the uncompromised and uncompromisible truth and who call for death to the infidels. If Islam is to become tolerant and respectful of other religions, it must be as the result of a development that comes from within the truth of Islam, not as a result of relativizing or abandoning that truth. Is Islam capable of such a religious development? Nobody knows. But, if the choice is between compromising Islamic truth or a war of civilizations, it is almost certain that the winner among Muslims will be the hard-core Islamism that [Bernard] Lewis rightly views as such a great threat. 
Christianity is more, not less, vibrantly Christian as a result of coming to understand more fully the mysterious and loving ways of God in His dealings also with non-Christians. Although the story of this development is complex, the important truth is that tolerance and mutual respect are religious, not secular, achievements. I will say it again: the reason we do not kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God is that we believe it is against the will of God to kill one another over our disagreements about the will of God. Christians have come to believe that. We must hope that more and more Muslims will come to believe that. That will not happen, however, if they are told that coming to believe that will make them less faithful Muslims.
It would be easy at this point to dismiss Neuhaus as just another dhimmi—but that would not be fair. As Blosser points out, Neuhaus was one of the first major writers (along with Emmanuel Mounier) to tout the work of Bat Ye'or in chronicling centuries of Islamic intolerance, after decades of white-washing by ecumenical Westerners.
So instead, let me engage Fr. Neuhaus directly. Opining that Muslims will not surrender intolerance if they think that would compromise their claim to possessing the full religious truth, he expresses the hope that some unexpected development from within Islam may teach Muslims how to reconcile their orthodoxy with modern pluralism. Neuhaus admits that “[n]obody knows” whether this is even remotely possible. Readers of this site and of Robert Spencer's exhaustive, still unrefuted works on Islam will answer, solemnly, “No. Next question?” Readers of Robert Reilly's The Closing of the Muslim Mind might go further and explain why Neuhaus' hope is tragically unfounded: The one strand of Islamic intellectual tradition that was amenable to secular reason, capable of reinterpreting Muslim texts and traditions in the light of history, the Mu'tazilite movement, was utterly defeated in the struggle for dominance some 800 years ago. Its “heresy” was buried as completely as the Albigensian movement in Christian Europe, and its very name is a byword among religious Muslims for compromise and apostasy. As Robert Spencer pointed out in his interview with Reilly, this happened for good religious reasons: The Mu'tazilites, however much we might prefer them, did not have the texts on their side. When their critics such as Al-Ghazali accused them of adulterating the primitive spirit of Islam with Hellenistic rationalism that undermined the firm (but brittle) structure of Muslim thought, the anti-rationalists had most of the texts on their side. Indeed, reading Reilly's account of the Mu'tazilites suggests that their innovations, if adopted, would have shattered Islamic orthodoxy. They weren't so much like Renaissance critics of the papacy, or even Protestant reformers, as they were like Enlightenment philosophes, or modern Episcopalian liberals.

Here is the problem with Neuhaus' foray into optimistic speculation: The rigorists are right. When Rev. John Courtenay Murray argued in the wake of World War II that the Catholic Church could renounce the centuries-old position that Catholic states should restrict non-Catholic worship, he could point back to the early writing of St. Augustine on the subject, to the papacy's long record of protecting Jews from predatory Catholic monarchs—and more fundamentally, to the deep Christian respect for the dignity of the person. Jesus Christ Himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and the Church for centuries fought to distinguish her role and her powers from those of the State. Muslims who favor tolerance, who reject dhimmitude as the proper role of unbelievers, have no such sources to point to—apart from some early suras that were abrogated within the Qur'an, and flouted by Muhammad. A Muslim who rejects sharia and dhimmitude rejects Muhammad. Doing that, I can say with some confidence, would indeed “relativize” the truth claims of Islam.

Really, I have to ask why Christians are even bothering to play this game of fantasy foosball regarding Islam. If (by some unimaginable chance) there came a revival of Mu'tazilite rationalism within Islam, it would not come as the result of debates in the pages of First Things magazine. The last time Muslims took seriously the claims of Western modernity it was within the Ottoman Empire, and occurred because of repeated military defeats, economic backwardness, and political humiliations inflicted on Muslim states by superior Western powers. Islam, it began to seem to certain Muslims, wasn't “working,” and since it claims in its own sacred texts and traditions to be a conquering faith, its this-worldly failures raised theological doubts. Muslims began to adopt Western-style reforms, to abolish “backward” practices like the jizya, and re-examine (furtively and cautiously) the relation between faith and reason. None of this had anything to do with interreligious dialogue—whose sole purpose today is to diminish Muslim atrocities against the helpless Christians in their midst.
So to the question Neuhaus raises, “Can Islam reform itself?” I answer not “Nobody knows,” but “I don't care.” Our efforts as citizens of secular states should be driven by proper patriotism, a love for ourselves and our neighbors who really will be oppressed if Islam (as it currently exists) takes power in any country. What some fantastical future Islam might do under unimaginable conditions mattters little. We should leave such questions to the providence of God.

Insofar as we speak and write as Christians, a different question arises. Should we be urging on Muslims the most corrosive aspects of secular modern culture (such as feminism, skepticism, and hedonism), in order to weaken our enemies—in effect, should we poison their wells? Here, the answer is no. Let those potent forces, which have already devastated the West, operate without our encouragement. What we should be saying to Muslims is not: You must embrace the Enlightenment, the Sexual Revolution, or the 60s. We should instead be arguing energetically that Muhammad was not a prophet, that Islam is not true, that many of its practices outrage the God of Abraham, and its followers should abandon their false religion for the true one. What the West needs now is not a Muslim Voltaire, but an Arabic Saul of Tarsus.
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