Islam, Religion, & Politics

by on September 19th, 2006

No sooner had Pope Benedict XVI given his speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany than Islamic extremists worldwide condemned him and demanded everything from an apology to his death.

Whether they had read his complete remarks or not, this response highlights the core problem for anyone with a purportedly religious belief that concurrently advocates the murder of innocents. The religious underpinnings of this argument is, ironically, exactly what the Pope was trying to use to kindle a dialogue.

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal provides the context necessary to understand the unique correlation between reason and belief; as the Pope noted:

“The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance, not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, also from that of world history…This convergence, with the subsequent addition the Roman heritage, created Europe.”

The delicate balance between reason and belief is threatened when the latter becomes so all-consuming that it subsumes the former, which can only lead to religious fanaticism. The Pontiff provided a cogent and erudite argument in his speech, which included an illustrative quote from the 14th century emperor of Byzantium, Manuel II Paleologus:

“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.”

This Pope is not merely an intellectual giant who, since 1981 was the Church’s Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–i.e., the guarantor of orthodoxy–but is a deft polemicist who typically uses his opponent’s own foibles which convinces his audience of the veracity of his argument. This is precisely what he did in this speech and for that he was predictably vilified.

Although his apologies and regrets were heartfelt and sincere, we should be under no illusions that they will have any impact on the extremists because their monomaniacal hatred of the West and concomitant Islamic militancy has thoroughly blinded them to reason.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether Islamism, as practiced by the extremist strain, is capable of reasoned discussion? The question the Pope raised was meant to engage moderate, mainstream Muslims, in particular those in leadership positions, in a dialogue to effectively isolate the extremists. In other words, this is their chance to denounce the terrorists and convince the civilized world that Islam is, in fact, a religion of peace.

We’ve heard the voices of violence and barbarism that have called for attacks on the Vatican and the Pope. Where, pray tell, are the presumed multitudes of moderate Muslims to condemn the extremists and assure us that peace is a goal they share with the Western world in general, and with Catholics specifically?

Mella is Founder and Editor of

Philip Mella