Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bridging the religious gap

Bruce Lawrence addressed the neocons disastrously misguided notion of the "clash of civilizations" in No More Crusades: Rethinking Islam in the West Harvard International Review Winter 2004. He wrote then:

Since September 11, the "Clash of Civilizations" theory has dominated and incorporated all others. It seems to explain Muslim-Western hostility as both ancient and irreversible. It is neither. This enmity is made by humans and thus can be unmade by humans. The historical events over the past millennium can and must be retold from a broader perspective that includes multiple interpretations of the same events and their sequels. There is no single Christian view and no single Muslim counterpart; both exhibit an internal variety.
Even before Pope Benedict XVI took over the papal role, John Paul II, whose greatest positive achievement was to advance Jewish-Christian ecumenical relations managed to hit false notes in relation to Islam. Lawrence writes:

By comparison to Protestant doomsday sayers, Catholic sabre rattlers may seem almost anodyne in their view of both the last days and Arab adversaries. But are they? Consider the Vatican. It has often been suggested that the current Pope is well disposed to Muslims in general and to Palestinians in particular. But Papal pronouncements also include beatifications; one recent beatification, announced in April 2003, elevated an obscure Capuchin monk/priest named Marco d'Aviano. Brother Marco is alleged to have inspired the now famous cappuccino coffee, but he was also a seventeenth century Capuchin monk, and he helped to defend Vienna against a Turkish assault in the 1680s. The Turks were Muslims and they were allegedly defeated because Brother Marco rallied both Protestants and Catholics to oppose the Muslim invaders. The Turks, defeated in the 1683 Battle of Vienna, never again besieged Western Europe. In his April pronouncement Pope John Paul II celebrated that moment as a Christian victory. He lauded Brother Marco as a true Crusader, asserting that he had helped defend the "freedom and unity of Christian Europe," reminding today's Catholics that the continent is founded on "common Christian roots." The Holy Father's commendation had an unspoken trailer: "Muslims are not welcome; go home, to Asia or to Africa, but depart from Christian Europe!" (my emphasis)
Lawrence uses a Crusader analogy for both Islamic jihadists and Christian warriors. He observes, "Indeed, it is the internal dissenters [in a religion] who are the most dangerous." This is what Freud referred to as "the narcissism of small differences".

Lawrence cautions all believers to have a decent amount of humility about knowing divine truth:

Because Mystery is the first and last name of the divine and demanding humility rather than hubris is the litmus test of faith. The true problem is neither Islam nor Christianity; the enemies are not those who identify as Muslims or Christians. The enemies are those who claim religion as the basis for conflict, faith as the motive for violence, and Armageddon as the outcome of war. The enemies are the militant defenders of the faith, at once blinkered and blinded to divine mystery. It is not a mock war, but rather a serious, protracted war, and those on the sidelines need to move beyond their own religious labels and grapple with the militants of both camps, reclaiming a truth, which is also a truce, beyond their grasp.
He points to the tolerant, even ecumenical, tradition in Islam:

In this anti-Armageddon battle a formidable Muslim warrior is the Shi'i activist and university professor, Abdul Aziz Sachedina. For Sachedina, as for a growing number of Muslim pluralists, the Qur'an must be read as a whole book of coherent intent and not as a scrapbook of conflicting messages. The largest intent is inclusive: to marshal all humankind on the path to peace, and that message prevails despite the contexts of aggression that evoked Chapters 8 and 9. The Qur'an presents Islam as the affirmation and the summation, not the denial, of earlier religions. Even later Medinan Chapters declare that Muslims have no monopoly on divine grace, either in this world or the next (2:62, 5:69); they also invite Jews and Christians to join Muslims in emphasizing the essential similarities in their beliefs (e.g., 3:64). (my emphasis)
In this effort to build ecumenical understanding, he writes:

We do need religious voices to speak to the current fault line between East and West, Islam and America, and it is Muslim pluralists who are the philosophers and religious thinkers with whom non-Muslim others can and should make common cause.
Tags: , ,

No comments: