Friday, April 14, 2006

Jesuits on Islam

Sandro Magister features an article recently published by the Italian Catholic journal Studium. Entitled 'The Islamic Question', it is surprisingly bold in its description of the dilemma facing the West in its relations with Islam. Surprising because of its two authors - Roberto A.M. Bertacchini and Piersandro Vanzan - the second of which is a Jesuit priest and on the editorial team of La Civiltà Cattolica, voice of the Jesuits in Rome, and a professor of pastoral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He is not someone from whom you would expect to hear ideas that diverge too far from those of the Vatican.

Sandro Magister offers an edited translation (the original is not available online). It begins with a dispute within Islam during the 60s, a dispute concluded with the victory of Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Al-Zawahiri’s ideological program, which he pursues with a complex strategy. For the formula of “modernizing Islam,” he substitutes another: “Islamizing modernity,” and therefore the West.

Within the Muslim world, Islamization means de-Westernizing everything: from political and cultural institutions to economic ones, even to the point of rethinking banking operations. On the outside, it means spreading Islam through vigorous missionary activity, in both Europe and the United States: this activity is supported above all by Saudia Arabia. But according to the most radical interpretations, Islamizing the West means violently attacking its political and economic power, without sparing the civilian population.
What is notable here is that the authors see the 'radical interpretations' not as an exceptional and anamolous phenomenon, but as one end of a continuum. At the other end are activities that no Western state could constitutionally oppose, religious gatherings and education. In between, there are such examples as this, any number of which could be cited.
In Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, since the end of the 1970’s there has been a Tunisian community that obtained permission to preserve its identity in all respects, with Tunisian schools, teachers sent from Tunisia, Tunisian laws, etc. So although polygamy is illegal there, it is tolerated. In other places, Muslims open unauthorized schools, but no intervention is made. Infibulation is practiced on women, but no one is put on trial. One the whole, this creates an asymmetry among citizens before the law, by virtue of which some minorities are first protected, but then become privileged. And this proves the incompatibility of radical multiculturalism and the rule of law.
The writers do not dwell on Europe's response to Islam, though they do not hide their concerns. The Pope himself, before he became so, looked at the laws that protected Judaism and Islam in Europe while leaving Christianity to be mocked with impunity and wondered if Europe was still able to defend itself.
The West reveals here a hatred of itself, which is strange and can be only considered pathological; the West is laudably trying to open itself, full of understanding, to external values, but it no longer loves itself; in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure.
What Europe is always willing to do is talk. Now there's no point in talking to people who, if they do talk to you, only see it as another step towards destroying you. Negotiate with Moderate Islam, then?
Moderate Islam, properly so called, does not exist because there is no institutional and moderate form of Islamic theology. There are moderate Muslims, and some of them see things with a clear and long-term perspective. But Islam itself, or rather the institutional religious culture of the Muslims, has reacted in its encounter with modernity by entrenching itself in fundamentalist positions. And this is true not only in Iran or Pakistan, but also in Egypt.

There is, therefore, an objective convergence between the trend in Islamic theology and the ideology of the terrorists. Fortunately, not all the imams have the same zeal for jihad, but the problem is that there is no moderate Islam, or rather there does not exist an Islamic theology that has integrated modernity. This is why it would not only be prudent, as cardinal Giacomo Biffi has suggested, to discourage Islamic immigration in Europe, it would be masochistic to encourage it without demanding reciprocation in terms of integration.
In introducing this translated excerpt from the original essay, Sandro Magister notes the similarity of this analysis of Islam to that of Oriana Fallaci. For many, that would be reason enough to dismiss it. But these are two writers with a vast experience of theological debate at a very high level, a training shared by few of us layfolk, and who are close to the Vatican, itself led by a formidable thinker. Their analysis is not born of a culture that lacks the self-confidence to defend the values that sustain it, but rather one that feels it still has a lot of offer the world. If only more of us felt that way!

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