Yet many worthies have decided that we needed another Byzantine debate.
OK, Let's Have it
I note that all the worthies “pile it” on the pope, without really reading what he said.
What the pope Said (Mainly):
He essentially made the case that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”. Bold words indeed.
He based his argumentation on a marginal aspect of a “dialogue” written by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos during the siege of
The pope essentially focused on the “central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general”, and stated that “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul” and that "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature”.
He also pointed out that, since “Faith is born of the soul, not the body […], to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
He then added that, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature”. This, for a person “shaped by Greek philosophy”, is a “self-evident” statement.
So far, so good. Unless you expect the two kidnapped Fox News journalists to start fasting on Ramadan.
The problem, for many, starts when the pope points out that, for “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent”. This is true of many modern teachings, who follow the line of “Ibn Hazn [who] went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us”. Logically, it follows that, “were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”
To be sure, Lebanese Christians have Aoun, Bashir Gemayel… Many Americans have Jerry Falwel... Few can accept that you question their idols.
But even fewer blow up others.
Well, not Exactly All he Said; the "Side" issue...
A fellow blogger, EngineeringChange pointed to my attention a grievous omission that I made in this post; I did not "mention all of what he said and specifically the part that [was viewed as] insulting to Muslims". I stand corrected on the exact facts.
What the pope said, verbatim, is that Paleologos, during his dialogue turned "to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: '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'".
However, we should note that the pope was drawing a contrast here, and setting the stage for a debate; he does clearly acknowlege that the "The emperor [...] expressed himself so forcefully" as a rethoric move. In a university setting, all ideas are exposed as they are, with no self-censorship; the pope was using this to "serve as the starting-point for [his] reflections on this issue".
The main issue remains; the pope's main contention was the value of "Reason", or "logos" (the word comes up 46 times in his speech), and the elaborate reflection leads to the main issue that "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul”.
Picking up a fight with the pope of the subject of quoting Paleologos is a side issue, in my modest opinion. They are attempting to change the topic, and the autodafes of old are not far away.
Voltaire had the best answer to censorship of any kind; "Vous proférez, Monsieur, des sottises énormes, Mais jusques à la mort, je me battrais pour qu'on Vous les laissât tenir".
An Inter-Faith Dialogue?
I agree with those who consider that “interfaith dialogue is a waste of time”. You choose to believe what you want, and you leave others out of it...
To be sure, proponents of such a dialogue make some good arguments, some based on the work of Tarik Ramadan. Here are the best arguments, posted by fellow bloggers, who outline Ramadan’s four essential rules for inter-faith dialogue;
1. Recognition of the legitimacy of each other's convictions and respect for them.
2. Listening to what people say about their own scriptural sources and not what we understand (or want to understand) from them.
4. The practice of self-criticism, which consists of knowing how to discern the difference between what the texts say and what our coreligionists make of them, and deciding clearly what our personal position is.
More Like an Intra-faith soul-searching
I feel that those "rules", though laudable, are essentially flawed, for three reasons;
A true believer can still respect the other's right to have beliefs, as long as they are open to attack; if I think I will be saved and not you, then I already have you pegged as an inferior...
This is especially the case for "Missionary Religions", such as Christianity, Islam, and to a far lesser extent, Buddhism... Buddhists have yet to carry out an inquisition and blow up buildings, they'd rather burn themselves. Hint to martyrdom candidates...
Second, "listening to what people say about their own scriptural sources" sounds like a worthy goal. But it is not necessarily objective. In a fact-based debate, such as science, hard evidence is necessary.
Otherwise, the debate remains a mere exercise in rhetoric, in the sense that it would be limited to using language effectively to please or subdue (mentally), not persuade, with high-flown style, excessive use of verbal ornamentation, "the grandiosity of his prose", and "an excessive ornateness of language"… All noticeably common in the Arabic media and public debates; we hide behind our beautiful Arabic language to avoid addressing real issues. Much like the Lebanese National "Dialogue"...
Facts and hard evidence, to be sure, are anathema to many a “true believer”.
Another problem is the concept of "reciprocity", a key element for missionary religions such as Christianity and Islam: Essentially, it means "acess" to one another's followers for attempts at conversions.
In this respect, the Pope and the Catholic church certainly have a point when they consider "that a meaningful dialogue with the Muslim world is not possible while Christians are denied religious freedom in Muslim states". And so is the case for Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, Zoroastrians who are not trying to "access" any one... Even Moslems such as Ahmadis are denied rights in "mainstream" Islamic countries.
Or even journalists for that matter.
Third, Inter-faith debate assumes that all religions are well established, monolithic schools of though.
Each remains an evolving religion, with much Intra-faith debate.
Mainstream Christianity: Inspired Texts, not Revealed
To some extent, Christianity has overcome its early hang-ups, and was effectively able to deal with “revelations” such as the Essenes’ Dead Sea Srolls, or Gnostic challenges posed by the “Gospel of Judas”.
Extreme Christianity: Revealed Texts. Period
On the other hand, there still are those who take the bible literally, along the Creationist spectrum; witness the creationist debates, and George Bush's support for that litteralist view which ignores scientific fact.
Evolution, as a theory, has not been completely demonstrated, but there is no other scientific theory so far. None. Intelligent Design is not a valid scientific theory. It is “not even wrong”; there is nothing intelligent about an appendix whose sole feature is to cause appendicitis.
Witness, more dangerously the "end of day" Chrisitians who are trying to read in real current events, the predictions of the Apocalypse. Some even hope to provoke them, thus giving God a helping hand.
In any case, that’s another holy war, for another day. It already took us too many innocent victims to get here; only now are protestants and catholics able to bury the hatchet, as in Ireland. Then again, maybe.
Modern Islam: A Revealed Text, not merely Inspired
Modern Islam gives the Qur'an "revelation" authority, not "inspired". This distinction seems to have been made after the passing of the prophet, Muhammad bin Abdel-Muttalib Ben-Abdallah, peace be upon him.
Some moslems may yet move to viewing the Qur’an as "inspired", by relying on historical facts. But the "mainstream" is too well funded.
The historical fact is that "Qira'a" was first memorized. In ancient Arabic and Hebrew, the word “Qira’a” did not mean reading from a text, but rather “reading” the “words” of God that were “inspired” to the prophet. It is a fact that modern Islamic scholars misinterpret the meaning of that word, and ignore its semantic origin. Literate people did not write back then; they memorized.
Can you imagine a bedouin lugging books along with him? They just remembered them. This is how Arabic poetry was transmitted through the ages. And this is how most of it got lost; the memorizers would get killed...
As too many of the “memorizers” got killed in the battles, it was decided to write it all down, in a gathering of the “readings”, a "Qur'an".
The Hebrew bible went through a similar process, but over a longer period of time, where the “readings” of the many prophets were all gathered in a written document. This did not please other “prophets” of the day.
As the "Qur'an" was "collected", one “version” was assembled and other “versions” destroyed; this created a single written source… There was also a later process in which the “Qur’an” was "hurrik", essentially adding vowels and punctuations; Semitic alphabets have none.
The “Qur’an”, therefore, evolved over time, much as the Bible did. But its interpretations are fixed in time. Assuming, as modern moslems do, that the present version is still the same as the prophet's original "Qira'a" requires that all those "memorizers", "reciters", "collectors", and "hurrikers" were somehow guided by the hand of God.
Much like the prophet. But he was the last one, according to Islam...
The Pope hinted at such an evolution when he commented on Surah 2: 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion"; he described it “one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat”.
All such talk is anathema to modern Wahabis and their Shiite fundamentalist imitators. They are waging a campaign against Islam's past, trying to reclaim it and start a brave new world of their own; even the Prophet's home is not sacred to those modern vandals.
The war agaisnt religion is not confined to the West, but in the Arab world, it hides under the mantle of a sinister fundamentalism.
In Lebanon, it seems that the Sunni Mufti Kabbani and Shiite Cleric Fadlallah are siding in this camp. Which reminds me; at the funeral of Rafic Hariri, wasn't the Sunni Mufti late to show up? I recall the Maronite Patriarch dared to show up, and found himself there first... This would be significant in the sense that it would mean Kabbani was in the Syrian/Iranian political camp from the beginning.
Sometimes, there really are connections.
Ancient Islam: A Revealed Text, Written by Man, Interpreted by Reason.
Philosophers in Andalus and Baghdad were pondering issues of faith based on an empirical understanding of the world. The Andalusian Abu Al-Walid Mohammad Ibn-Rushd, in his "Tahufut al-Tahafut", had clearly demonstrated the supreme value of Reason over Revelation. Thus, "when revelation entered into contradiction with reason as constituted by the philosophers, it must be reinterpreted until that contradiction was resolved"...
I am not sure what would have happened had the Pope quoted Ibn-Rushd.
In Lebanon, he Shiite Mufti of Tyre, Syed Ali El-Amin, may fall in this camp; he called for an objective examination of the pope's comments, away from the passions of the street.
It is tragic that, having once saved the great texts of Greek philosophy, expanded on it, and used them to enrich Islamic though, the Arabs today are now rejecting the lot. Welcome to the Dark Ages.
In Praise of Ancient Greek
All interfaith debates should be carried out Ancient Greek. This language is supremely adapted to such “intellectual masturbation”. There is cure for that ailment, but for those who insist on such a worthy activity, Ancient Greek has some of the most convoluted double-uses for words…
John the evangelist demonstrates this unique feature when he stated that “In the beginning was the word, and the word is God”. The word he actually used was the Greek “logos”, which means both a “reason” which is “creative and capable of self-communication” and “word”, a “a unit of language”. In John, God acts with “logos”, and Jesus is the personification of that “logos”… This was the main crux of the pope's discussion.
The Druze have a similar concept, the Akl, apparently evolved from the “logos”. But while their texts are in Arabic, they have the wisdom of letting only the “learned” deal with such matters, and keep religion away from the “Ignorant” masses… The "learned" also pray in your stead, so you're off the hook. No, they do not accept converts.
So, if the debate persists in Ancient Greek, no one will understand what is going on, and the ignorant masses will keep on wallowing in their ignorance. Basically, they can focus on menial tasks, like being happy.
In praise of Chickens
Instead of pursuing the debate further, the pope appears to have somewhat backtracked at first glance; “The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers".
But the pope's official statement on the issue is far more subtle. I think that the official statement will not be accepted as an apology; in our modern dark age, few moslems can accept "certain passages of [the pope] address [...] should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions".
In Lebanon, Fundamentalists relish the opportunity to pick a fight that distracts from the real issues. In Pakistan, it allows them to hit back at the anti-Taliban campaing next door, and maybe win a few more votes. In Iraq, well, you know... Iran... And so on...
In this game of chicken, they will push further. And they play rough. And they listen little; what is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable... This is not about debate, it is about power, and about changing the subject. Pay no attention to the guy behind the curtain...
Needless to say, any conciliatory moves will be perceived as weakness. More churches will burn, and more Mosques will burn. More innocents will get killed in medieval style. You would think that, if God had ennemies, he could easily kill them. Better yet, make sure they are not even born...
But the Mullahs know better; didn't they draft Him in their party?
It is time the civilized world confronted fanatics of all stripes in the battlefields of minds, rather than watch helplessly as they put the "fun" back in "fundamentalism"; stonings, behadings, amputations will continue unabated.
Thanks to all your SUV's and the oil money they derive, Sunni Moslems are today the hostage of a backward wahabi doctrine, Shiites are under the thumb of a middle-age style Iranian revival. Both are well funded, and easily push aside other interpretations.
The Inquisition is not over; it has just changed sides. They changed red for black. They call themselves mullahs and Syeds now... They upgraded torture techniques, and use electricity. No wonder Iran needs all that Nuclear energy for electric power.
They also have support in the west, thanks to anti-clerical, dogmatic left-wingers who have no grasp of deeper issues, and who are still smarting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. They also have on their side a few Catholics with a guilty conscience. Get over it, guys; you cannot change the past, but you can work on the present... And hope for the future.
Critics of the pope, like Fadlallah, forget that their own great Khomeiny considered that there "are eleven things which are impure: urine, excrement, sperm, bones, blood, dogs, pigs, non-Moslem men and women, wine, beer, and the sweat of the garbage-eating camel". It is time the world asked for some reciprocity; Khomeiny said those words when he was a refugee in France, at Nauphle-le-Chateau. He then lived to rule Iran. No "fatwa" came after him.
It is only at this price that Islam could be saved from the current wave of what is called "Islamism"... And if it took an outsider to rekindle the debate, it is because the main people concerned are cowed into submission, unable to do much. Or too imbued in their own victimhood.
An update (Sept. 16, 2006):For more perspective on the debate; for those who read French, check out the insightful piece by Samir Khalil Samir on l'Orient-Le Jour.
I feel that The pope's satement, as I saw them on the BBC, were a masterpiece; conciliatory, but not an apology for something only his critics read in his statement, and that the media blew out of proportion.
Now the media is misquoting the pope again; they state that he was "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of [his] address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims", and reiterated that they "were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express [his] personal thought".
And the BBC can title: "Pope sorry for offending Muslims". After misquoting him earlier, they misquote him again; the fat is he said he "I regret the violence"; that's not "sorry". Jesuits...
In this day of Political Correctness, soundbites, and one-liners, watching the news becomes a chore. It suited them to fan the flames, it suits them now to help extinguish them... after all, on ne parle pas des trains qui arrivent a l'heure, and they have to maintain ratings...
I would love to see this motley crew report news in Iran or Saudi Arabia; they would not last a year... Then again, they may learn to K.S.A. very quickly.
The media must have realized that the assertiveness of Benedict XVI has nothing to do with the war-mongering of Urbain II. This time, they spin his words as an apology, thus leaving Islamic fundamentalists with little room for maneuver.
What the pope said should be enough to appease (sic) "leaders" who tried to earn political kudos among an ignorant populace, but it will likely be refused by extremists, who picked up the fight to begin with. The Maronite Patriarch understood as much, when he expressed "sorrow about the reactions in the Islamic world", and clearly reminded his listeners that the pope had been misunderstood.
When more attacks come, and they will, fundamentalist will find a less complacent Western media. But that would not stop them; even with less formal support from mainstream leaders, they will do something.
They only need an excuse; if there is none, they will make one. This is actually quite smart; if you want to start a war, choose excuses you can live with... And convince others to die for.
The Mufti of Tyre is very lonely in his courage (Sept. 18/19, 2006)
Now it is going to get lonelier for the Mufti; Hussein Nasrallah is calling for a "massive rally" in Dahyeh. No doubt more braying masses will add to the scholarly debate...
Velayati F... indeed.
In Israel, the issue is poorly debated, in spite of the presence of many insightful scholars with a direct stake in this. The Jerusalem Post has a good piece on this, though a bit self-centered.
In Germany, however, the debate is apparently more robust; Der Spiegel has an interesting interview that hints that the Church is not backing down. Rather, it wants a real debate on the matter.
Al-Jazeera, known widely for its consistency and objectivity, has weighted in with a rather tongue-in-cheek cartoon, which has been followed up on some blogs. The odd thing about it, is that when I showed up there to to "spontaneously" demonstrate and "accidentally" burn the offices of Al-Jazeera, but I found muself alone with my Jerrycan. It is a shame no one got the memo. No one ever does...
Talk in the wider world still consists of braying... same hatred, different target.
Freedom is never having to say 'sorry' (Sept. 20 & 26, 2006)
Dan Rabinowitz has a very good opinion piece in Haaretz, in which he laments that "the pope forgot that the present era is 'logocratic', [...] in which life or death are determined by labels, [...] and where there is no longer a chance for complex messages".
This point is confirmed by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, who also points out the need for exegesis, or "criticism of Scripture"; in Islam, much of it stopped within about 300 years. As a result, "The lack of critical interpretation of Qur’an, the lack of hermeneutics, is the problem".
I will give the final word on this thread to Prof. Chibly Mallat, in his excellent and courageous opinion piece in the Daily Star. He concludes with:
"Beyond the quote chosen by Benedict, there is a more tragic dimension at play, one that concerns the fate of Christians in the Middle East. For the past half-century, the region's Christians have been increasingly threatened by a specific type of religious intolerance supported by extremists in the Muslim and Jewish communities..."