We, the Barbarians!

Have all leaders, religious and political, in the so-called Muslim World, become illiterate all of a sudden? Or are they intent on using every little opportunity that presents itself to prove in deed what they continue to deny in words, namely: that Islamic civilization and culture are dead, and that Muslims are adamant on continuing their head-long descent into barbarity?

Pope Benedict XVI did not write some long anti-Islamic treatise, but delivered a brief lecture, whose text number less than 3500 words, in which he referred to Islam in only two places, at the beginning and end of the lecture. Anyone who bothered to read the entire text should be able to see that the two references were not meant as some theological condemnation of Islam itself, but of the circumstances surrounding its historical emergence onto the scene, which indeed raise some important questions about the relationship between faith and violence.

In raising this issue, the Pope does not betray any signs of ignorance regarding Islam, as the early chorus of critics has contended, on the contrary, he is quite aware of the oft-quoted Qur’anic verse “there is no compulsion in religion.” But he is also aware of the fact that this verse appeared at a time when “Mohammed was still powerless and under threat,” and of the fact that, later, when Muhammad grew more powerful, new instructions appeared in the Qur’an concerning the obligation of holy war. He was also aware of the different treatments accorded in this regard to the “people of the Book” and the “infidels.” But, to him, that still does not excuse Muhammad’s command “to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” in the words of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II, as quoted by the Pope.

At a time when much violence continues to be wrought in the name of Islam, and at a time when Muslim jurists remain remiss in their duty to voice a unanimous and clear condemnation of this tendency, this is indeed a very legitimate issue to raise, especially within the context of the call that the Pope later made for conducting intercultural dialogue and for accepting the continued relevance of faith, in all its varieties, to the modern world. By simply attacking the person who raised this question, Muslims all over the world have shown that they are not ready for dialogue.

For if the only thing Muslims can do at this stage is to resort to violence and protests whenever their faith is criticized, whether by internal figures and reformers or external pundits, what sort of role or niche are they carving to themselves in this world?

Why can’t Muslims take a more proactive approach to these matters, and organize some sort of a periodic meeting where certain problematic issues, such as jihad, apostasy, freedom of conscience, academic freedom, relation between Islam and the state, not to mention the ever problematic issues of gender relations and sexuality, are continuously addressed and the Muslim positions on these matters is continuously refined?

True, there will be many dissenting voices, but if enough known scholars gathered and proposed a document that can be used as a reference point by states and regional and international organizations, then, Muslims all over the world will be in a much better position to present themselves as true partners in the making of contemporary civilization, rather than some troublesome relics and throwbacks.

We cannot just continue to give ourselves the right to criticize others for what they have done and continue to do us, without giving them a similar right to criticize us for what we have to done and continue to do to them. This is a simple corollary of the Golden Rule to which both Christians and Muslims subscribe, and it makes perfect sense in this case. But if we are to continue to blind ourselves to the realities of our history, and of its impact, real and perceived, on others, then, we will have no moral right to present our case vis-à-vis the injustices committed against us at this stage.

The Muslims were up in arms not too long ago when the Vatican apologized to the Jews for the way they were treated by the Church all through history. The Muslims immediately demanded that the Vatican issues a similar apology to them for the Crusades. Just like that, Muslim leaders and jurists were willing to forget all about their own occupation and Islamization of previously Christian lands. Many of them did not, and do not still, all attempts at explanation notwithstanding, see the embedded irony and contradiction in this stand of theirs.

Such is the level of our conviction in our own righteousness that we leave no room for any doubt to protrude into our minds and souls regarding the sacred nature of our history and our beliefs. We do not review anything. We do not revise anything. All intellectual analysis in our parts has ceased to exist a thousand years ago it seems. The sporadic attempts at reviving it throughout the last Century have come to naught. The few that are still being made today seem even more pitiful. The Islamic currents that exist today have no real intellectual component or analysis at its core, but mere assertions, usually expressed in the negative, that are better presented in the form of bullet-points.

As for the secular currents out there, they are indeed pure products of western ideologies. No real attempt has so far been elaborated to explain them within the context of the Islamic historical experience. Perhaps such an undertaking is indeed impossible at this stage, seeing that the cut-off between these traditions and whatever Islamic precedent in this regard might just be insurmountable. But, perhaps we really don’t need to tie these ideas and ideologies to Islamic precedents. Perhaps what we need to do is simply to elaborate them using our own unique voice, and on the basis of our own present and historical experiences. Perhaps we just need to learn how to think again even if from scratch, because, in some instances, especially when we are not dealing with the hard sciences, we really need to reinvent the wheel in order to better appreciate it.

So, perhaps the meeting I proposed above should be organized by liberal intellectuals instead, in cooperation with those Muslim jurists, such as Gamal al-Banna, who have shown enough courage, creativity and adventurism to become true partners in a new process meant to finally bring us into the modern era.

We cannot afford to be silent anymore. True, our protests have succeeded in getting the Pope to apologize and recant, and before that, we did manage to punish the Danes over the cartoon controversy, but that is not because we manage to earn any understanding or appreciation for our point of view, but because we have found a way to terrify the world. We have become the barbarians of the modern world. People will fear us, but they will never respect us, or accept us as equals, or appreciate the legitimacy of many of our grievances, no matter how far and wide we spread our terror.

Moreover, our barbarism will give the civilized peoples of the world more excuses to dabble in our lives, ignore our just demands and needs, and impose their will upon us. For, as history has repeatedly shown, when barbarians are not able to be the destroyers of civilizations, either because they are not powerful enough yet or civilization weak enough yet to allow for that to happen, as indeed is the case at this point in time, then, they become the ultimate and unsympathetic victims thereof. Indeed, there is a high price to pay for the foolish pride we continue to harbor within us, because we have nothing to show for it anymore.

49 thoughts on “We, the Barbarians!

  1. I completely agree with your thoughts on this. Double standards and hypocricy are so prevalent, and even when you point it out to people, they cannot see them. Th eproblem is, I don’t foresee any change in direction from our side, and on the other hand, things are also going down hill with opportunists on the western side waiting to flame things up.

  2. Am happy that you are bringing this subject Ammar , i was away and disconnected from the news last week and just came back to find that the world has turned upside down! I have to say that a man in the pope’s position has to be more than careful in his statements specialy under the current sensitive situation between the west and the east.however i was reading his speach ,and i beleive that it was somehow misinterpretated , he just qouted some dialogue between some byzantine emperor , who’s empire was under othman threat , and a learned persian moslem ,where the emperor wanted to explain the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.and in regards to that dialogue the pope says:”. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point – itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself – which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”..”and in his discussion he quotes the surah which says that “there is no compulsion in religeon”In fact i was positively surprised to find that in this speach the pope debates the man’s relation with God , if God is absolutely transcendent or his will should be bounded with our rationality.It could be that there are too many ways how his speach can be interpretated but regardless of its context , it cant be that we lost any language except the language of violence , it cant be that we have no other ways of reaction except violent demonstrations , burning flags cars and churches , threatening to burn Rome and to explode the western capitals…even some of our “intellctuals” rushed to talk about religeous war!!we see people being killed daily in iraq in the name of Islam ,women stoned to death in the name of Islam , only few weeks ago fanatics cut the head of sudani journalist in the name of Islam and NO ONE is doing anything , not the regime , not the people , not even the intellectuals to stand against those who distort the image of Islam…so how do we expect the world to be protictive and positive to our image if we are destroying it by our own hands?(Note m not moslem but i say WE because i belong to this people no matter of religion)

  3. Hello – I agree with your analysis… if the Pope was any researcher on theological matters…But the Pope is a “political” and symbolic figure. We should achnowledge that his statement, whether he means what he said or not, is “maladroit”. Specially now, a couple of month after the “Denmark” burst and Bush’s statements about “Fascist Islam”. How could the pope be so careless?!? I am starting to think he meant to make such a statement. The latter would definitely help the US catholic church regain some support after all the scandals that it has gone through. Let me know what you think

  4. Ammar, this time I agree with you whole-heartedly with every word you have written. I congratulate you for showing that we have intellectuals who are capable or understanding and responding in civilized manner. Our religion as we understand it, is also have the same face of civility. Great Islamic philosophers and thinkers were never reactionaries. Muslims scholars always criticized western Middle Ages for their treatment of heretics and our groupings and sects are prove of our religious diversities.

  5. I spent at least an hour yesterday trying to find some analysis of the pope’s speech. Apparently the western press is mostly terrified of looking closely at it except for the very right wing writers, who are not known for their interpretive care. This is a very valuable piece of writing for me to understand the validity of the pope’s statements. I would add, however, in response to Maya, that this pope is never careless. He does things on purpose. I think he was quite consciously challenging both ‘westerners’ and Muslims to directly confront this weird way we have of looking at things like this, that is, either wholesale condemnation, or wholesale excuse-making. I’m not a big fan of this pope, but one thing he’s not is careless. He meant to issue a challange to Muslims as much as to Christians like myself. So far Ammar’s the only one I’ve found who took up that challenge. There are hopefully others out there.

  6. Ammar, an escellent post, as usual:-)Let me add just one small things. The following is the statement by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry as delivered by Tansim Aslam: ” Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”. lol.

  7. Ghassan,That quote reminded me of an item of graffiti on a wall in West Beirut, when I lived there in the early eighties.. it goes something like ‘No to sectarianism.. Islam is the only way!..’… or words to that effect!!…

  8. Indeed, as Curt pointed out, the Pope definitely knew what he was doing. He wanted to issue an intellectual challenge to his Muslim counterparts and generate some debate over the issue of forceful conversion and intercultural dialogue. Note here that he did not use the word interfaith dialogue, as seems bent on including the secular elements in this dialogue as well. This is really a very cleaver speech, and its real purport seems to have been lost to so many, which is, in my opinion, a real indication as to the lack of global readiness for undertaking such a serious dialogue over the relations between faith and reason, and the necessity of a serious intercultural dialogue, not just lip service in this regard. Like many such calls, a position was also staked here, the Pope did not try to play the role of some neutral figure, he had a point of view and expressed loudly, the violent character of Islam, or its jihadi tendency, is a source of worry for him and reflects negatively on the history of the faith, if not the faith itself, especially at this point in time, when other faiths, especially Christianity, seem to have transcended to a great extant (although much still needs to be done here as well) their erstwhile messianic zeal, and the violence associated with that. The Pope seems to be inviting the Muslims then to undertake a similar review of their faith and its history, and take a clearer stand on the issue of faith-inspired violence. Coming at this point in time when many acts of violence are being perpetrated in the name of Islam on a daily basis, this is a very legitimate issue to raise. The nature of the Muslim reaction in this regard more than validates this stand.

  9. Ammar,Great post. Thank you for articulating what many of us think but few have the courage to speak out loud. We need thousands of voices like yours.

  10. The stiff stand against civil communication between Islam and Christianity is almost similar to the stand of secular dictatorship against dialogue of all kinds. Currently, no Islamic leader (or secular leader) have the courage to tackle the differences between Islamic sects which creating bloodshed and genocide in Iraq, however they do not stand short to ask for apology from the Pope for mentioning incident happened in the middle ages. What is happening so far is a failure to see the opportunity for a civil dialogue between the faith leaders. This is a reminder of the stiff stand of current President of Syria when the late Pope visited Syria in the beginning for this century.

  11. Thank you for this post — it is a sign of hope. If you want to know what our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, really thinks about Muslims, I encourage you to read his address to the Muslim community at Cologne, Germany in 2005. His words carry a greater weight than ever before, in light of recent events. It is unfortunate that they are being forgotten and that the media is playing up the controversy for all that it’s worth, fanning the flames of hatred where there is simply no cause.As for an understanding of the context of his speech, which was as much a criticism of the loss of reason in the secular West as it was a challenge to Islam — really, a theological defense of the integration of biblical faith and philosophical reason — see Pope Benedict XVI on “Faith, Reason and the University” Regensburg, 2006.Thank you again for your post — it is very encouraging.

  12. Great post Ammar, but I have to say that the pope could have done a bit better in packaging his message. It is not enough to be a knowledgeable theologian, he needs to also be a talented communicator, like the pope he replaced.If he intended to talk to all Muslims (not only the highly educated ones) … then there is a much more direct way to present his challenging questions, not the confusing way he embedded them within a quote within his highly philosophical speech. Aljazeerah wasted no time in quoting the most controversial parts of that speech.I will reserve my judgment on his efforts until I see him following up through more detailed questions and arguments. Maybe when he visits Turkey.Didn’t the Israelis also ask the pope to apologize last year after he accused them of committing crimes against the Palestinian civilians?

  13. If he intended to talk to all Muslims (not only the highly educated ones) … then there is a much more direct way to present his challenging questions, not the confusing way he embedded them within a quote within his highly philosophical speech. Aljazeerah wasted no time in quoting the most controversial parts of that speech.The speech was given at Regensburg university where he taught — to students and faculty. Honestly, I’m not sure how ‘calculated’ was his use of the quote, or if he anticipated it’s being excerpted by the media in the way that they did. Unfortunately, the media by and large doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to tackle the core of his lecture (remember: his comments about Islam comprised 2-3 paragraphs of a rather long and detailed address). I fault the media as much as any of those who are burning the Pope in effigy for picking and reporting out of context what they knew would be inflammatory. What did they expect with headlines like “Pope Enjoys Private Time after SLAMMING Islam”? — The journalists knew what they were doing and what would happen. Controversy sells. It’s hard to say whether those who attended the address thought anything of the remarks at the time they were made, understood in the full context of what the Pope was suggesting.

  14. Ammar, thank you so much for your post. I have been so depressed seeing the reaction of the Moslem world to the Holy Father’s comments. It made me question whether there is any chance for a dialogue between the West and the Moslem world. What I found so disconcerting were that so many were eager to criticize the Pope (Moslem and Westerner alike) without taking the time to read his whole speech. Your post have given me hope. Thank you and God Bless you.

  15. Ammar-I think this was maybe the best piece of your’s I have ever read. I have to borrow from something I heard Dennis Prager say today. Roughly paraphrased:”The Pope (or as my Hebrew-speaking wife keeps calling him..”the Pop”)is a religious and moral leader. What is he supposed to do, be the world’s therapist and make everybody feel all OK and warm and fuzzy? If there is something to criticize…then he has a DUTY to speak up.” Come on “sticks and stones can…”I have to throw in another part of a piece I read today by a Moslem American:”While this fighting is often thought to be the only way to empower Palestinians, and even all Muslims, it’s really nothing more than the power to self-destruct. Our goals of creating a better life for Palestinians and Muslims are not being accomplished. Instead, life is becoming unbearable across the Arab world. Is that power? Muslims are not powerless. We have the power to do what no one else ultimately can. We can stop the violence. But we need to convince other Muslims that this behavior is vile, rather than telling non-Muslims that this is not Islam. Stopping this strain from flowing through our faith and cultures doesn’t mean that bad feelings won’t remain and that Palestinians won’t continue to feel that Israel has humiliated them. It means that as Palestinians get back on the road to dignity, trust will be gained and they’ll eventually be able to give their children something to to look forward to: life. This is the only chance that Muslims have for gaining the respect we crave from the rest of the world, and it is the only way the Middle East will ever become a viable part of the global community.” I know I was long-winded here…but this is a vital issue and a crucial time. Not just for the ME either.Criticism is not necessarily and insult. And if you get insulted…well deal with it…and then do something to make things better.

  16. AmmarThis is really an excellent post, which I very much appreciate and agree with.I have posted someting similar on my blog and linked it to yours.

  17. Thanks for this post! I agree with it 100%! I actually think the whole thing is comical, because by rioting and pillaging at the suggestion that Islam is a violent faith, they prove the pope correct!I have much respect for Muslims or ex-Muslims, such as yourself, but very little respect for Islam the faith, a faith that has so view voices of moderation and tolerance within it. I have so little respect for a faith that contains clerics and imams who regularly call for the death to infidels, and then get offended when the pope says his mild comments.But I want to be clear that I have the utmost respect for you and people like you, who speak out against the barbarism. You are a voice of sanity amidst the insanity. So thank you.

  18. You seem as ignorant as the Pope is on Islam; no wonder you’re a heretic. The verse 2:256 was revealed in Madinah and NOT in the early period. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Shame on you.

  19. hi,I work for the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.We think of translating your post “we the barbarians” into french and include it in one of our publications. Would it be ok? (We would of course mention that the copyright is yours).You can contact me at internet at rsf.orgJulien Pain

  20. I shouldn’t be floored at that last anonymous comment (taking issue with one line of your lengthy and thoughtful post and expecting that to discredit the whole thing), since that’s essentially what so many have done with the Pope’s speech, but the irony still staggers me…Apart from that I have nothing insightful to say, but wanted to add one more “God bless you!” It’s increasingly difficult to find any kind of reasoned discourse from any side, much less on this issue…all we keep seeing in the Western media are wild-eyed men stomping on burning papal effigies and so forth (and, of course, Tasnim Aslam’s tacit endorsement of violent responses). Your blog has given me new hope, and I’m adding it to my links. I look forward to reading more from you.

  21. “You seem as ignorant as the Pope is on Islam; no wonder you’re a heretic. The verse 2:256 was revealed in Madinah and NOT in the early period. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Shame on you.”Actually, neither I nor the Pope had anything to say about the exact period in which the verse appeared, be it Makkan or Madinan. But you should note here two things: there are so many verse in the Qur’an whose origins, whether in Makkah or Madinah, are not decided with any certainty and is still subject to debate, verse 2:256 being one of them. The second point is that, even, in Madinah, Muhammad and the Muslims remained “under threat” until after the Battle of the Trench and the massacre of the Jewish Tribe of Bani Quraizah. The arrogant attitude of the true believer in your intervention is also pretty amusing, especially when suggest that if I ended up embracing heretical views, I must be ignorant of Islam. The fact is: I studied Islam in depth for many years, and was an Islamist preacher at some mosque in LA in 1988-89. I even had the dubious pleasure of converting people to Islam during that period. Believers have to really factor in their calculations that no matter how dear their faith is to them, human reason and calls of conscience can still lead people to other conclusions, and that this cannot be interpreted as a sign of ignorance of the faith. No heretic is a born a heretic. Indeed, heretics are usually quite versed in their erstwhile faith. It is the combination of their intimate knowledge of it, their particular experiences in life and their constant soul-searching that lead them away, but not necessarily astray.

  22. An American author and former priest, James Carroll, has pointed out that the Holocaust may have been the inevitable culmination of many centuries of European theological and racial hatred and persecution of the Jews.Thus, it is amazing to me, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, to find that I owe compliments to the maturity and humanity of modern Christianity, compared to Islam.Christianity has finally put into practise Enlightenment ideals (or, if you will, practical application of Christ’s own admonition to “turn the other cheek”). Whether Rome’s Nostra Aetate or the French Church’s “Declaration of Repentance,” Christianity has begun to recognise the criminal wrongs it has committed, to assume moral responsibility for its actions, to (mostly) reject proselytisation by force, to preach tolerance towards other religions, and to accept gracefully (to a certain extent) separation of church and state.Daily, in mosques and radio broadcasts and newspapers, the Muslim world calls Jews “sons of apes and pigs” and calls for our extermination. It is with amazement and appreciation that I note the voices raised in objection are not only Jewish but Christian as well.The convergence of our weltanschauung is indeed amazing. The conception of committing violence out of nothing more than pride, because one’s religion has been “insulted,” is now foreign both to Christianity and Judaism — but typifies Islam.My people’s survival may now depend upon Christianity’s success in resisting Islamic barbarism.How strange and ironic is history, which brings me to say: May Christianity (and Christian tolerance) flourish!

  23. Anonymous,May Christianity flourish, and may Islam flourish and May Judaism flourish. But violence in the Middle East is not always “religious violence”.Israel needs to act less selfish and less paranoid. You can’t always wait for the other side to be smile to you. Israel can make a difference by taking the lead towards tolerance and understanding.Our problems in the Middle East are not going to be solved if each side keeps blaming the other side for everything. Part of “Islam’s violence” is made in Israel, the other part is made in the rest of the Islamic word. Israel can help the region be much more peaceful. Notice how there is much less violence from the countries you signed a negotiated peace treaty with? Egypt and jordan? notice how you still have conflicts with the the countries where you are trying to impose your preferred “solution”? (Syria, the Palestinians)Iran, which was not wronged by Israel, said repeatedly that they will accept any peaceful solution that the Palestinian people accept. So Even those should be expected to modify their policies if Israel does the right thing.Occupying other people does not work anymore. France and England learned that lesson in the sixties. It is time Israel (and the U.S.?)learn it and help the whole world start to become more peaceful.

  24. Sorry this comment is a little off topic from your current post. Just had the pleasure of hearing you speak today (the 19th) and I wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. Having lost your name after originaly hearing of you through NPR, extremly glad to have found your blog.You probaly won’t remember me as the guy who asked about athiests/agnostics within Syria & throughout the middle east.

  25. All of US, Barbarians!In principle I agree with Ammar, but not on his claim of knowledge of Islam, and the fact, if it was really a fact, that he was extreme Isalmist, does tell us that this extremism-ability that he had, is still there, so can you explain to me, why I always feel you are so… Extreme against your Old Islamic self?I really liked this post but, why we always forget the saying كلمة حق أريد بها باطل and please forgive me for not translating it coz simply I am not so good in English, as you can see. And ironically this is the phrase that accompanied the start of distortion of the “democratic exchange of power” in Islamic History, and not religion btw!In Europe, last month there were a lot of fuss about Jostein Gaarder and his article “God’s Chosen People”, my question is: is this latest Pope thing a diversion? And why I didn’t read any posts from Ammar about the previously mentioned article, knowing that it is totally related to what Ammar is dealing with. and when being “Objective” starts to change into “A.. Licking” Ammar?No body said that Muslims are not human beings, thus, what applies to Christian or Jewish or whatever human beings applies to them, and if we are to understand why France Murdered in the modern fu..ing history one and half million Muslim human beings, and Germany, and England, and very recently and still is, USA, again about one and a half million Iraqis, as “Logos Humanitarians” spreading the word of democracy. Then why deny the murdered people, the anger they feel when you attack and kill them or their children! Which unfortunately manifests itself in the symptom of violence?Islamic Civilization and Culture might not be present, due to the DEADLY diseases it has to rid it self from, the thing which is difficult to do while too many parties are trying to MURDER IT for so long now, namely by the Civilized Christian Europe/ USA, the only sign that it didn’t die completely yet!The real Barbarians are those who are aware and sane and civilized enough, not to let injustice prevail in the world, but still THEY DON’T FIGHT IT, you Ammar are sitting in the lap of those who are referred to, by their own people, as WAR CRIMINALS, and trying to preach there victims how not to be reactive!ALL OF US ARE BARBARIANS BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUIPPED AND DEVIOUS THAN THE OTHERS

  26. Ammar,I would like to clarify something tell me if I’m wrong. I do understand your post and when you call the Moslem who reacting violently against the pope, barbarians, this is only to criticize those violent punch. But, this does not mean that people from other religions to call all Moslems barbarians or the faith itself barbarian. The fact is that the majority of Moslems did not say a word and stayed at home. The charged atmosphere of religions relationship in these times is high and in desperate need for criticism from moderate on both sides for the extremist. Have anyone heard the right wing Christian like Robertson insulting the profit and the faith. I might be a heretic like you Ammar, but I do not appreciate other who takes advantage of the moderate self-criticism. Ref. Anonymous 4:42

  27. Ammar,I was finally able to read your great post completely today. Bravo, I am very proud of you.You inspired me to write something from my prespective, afterall moderates from all religions should rise up and criticize what is wrong in their worldsPope and Aftermath

  28. Ammar , you do not have to be insulting to Islam and Moslems to be liked by the west.were Islam not being mercifull there will be no Christian in the Midleast ,especialy after the Crosades times ,so the Pope was not just wrong but what is sad is that he did that on purpose to insult Islam and to move from president Bush stand of loving Islam and hating Moslems to hating and insulting Islam and Moslems.

  29. Norman,It is not as bad as you think. The Pope did not change the Vatican’s position on Islam. He was not speaking as the pope but as the professor. The “lecture” was not a speech. His position on Islam is known.However, I agree that he could have communicated this “challenging question” in Turkey where Muslim intellectuals could have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with him.Here is an earlier speech of his, where his position on Isalm is clear:Dear Muslim Friends, It gives me great joy to be able to be with you and to offer you my heartfelt greetings. . . . I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up one of our concerns as we notice the spread of terrorism. I know that many of you have firmly rejected, also publicly, in particular any connection between your faith and terrorism and have condemned it. I am grateful to you for this, for it contributes to the climate of trust that we need. […] If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible. The believer – and all of us, as Christians and Muslims, are believers – knows that, despite his weakness, he can count on the spiritual power of prayer. Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values. […] Only through recognition of the centrality of the person can a common basis for understanding be found, one which enables us to move beyond cultural conflicts and which neutralizes the disruptive power of ideologies. […] Past experience teaches us that, unfortunately, relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the Name of God, as if fighting and killing, the enemy could be pleasing to him. The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization. In this regard, it is always right to recall what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said about relations with Muslims. The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God…. Although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people” (Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 3).For us, these words of the Second Vatican Council remain the Magna Carta of the dialogue with you, dear Muslim friends, and I am glad that you have spoken to us in the same spirit and have confirmed these intentions. You, my esteemed friends, represent some Muslim communities from this Country where I was born, where I studied and where I lived for a good part of my life. That is why I wanted to meet you. You guide Muslim believers and train them in the Islamic faith. […] Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. We must not yield to fear or pessimism. Rather, we must cultivate optimism and hope. Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends. […] I pray with all my heart, dear and esteemed Muslim friends, that the merciful and compassionate God may protect you, bless you and enlighten you always. May the God of peace lift up our hearts, nourish our hope and guide our steps on the paths of the world.

  30. Ying-Yang, I do not think it an extremist stand to express an opinion that is radically different from a certain long-standing consensus. Extremism is about hate, if that’s what you see in my words, then it is something that exists in your mind, not mine. I have every right to be ashamed of my Islamist past, because part of it was about hate, hate that stemmed out ignorance, fear and youthful anxieties. I am glad that I have outgrown that phase though I learned a lot from it. So, it was not all that negative. Islam is not that negative, and I still believe in some of its ethical teachings. No faith system can ever be denounced and reject completely, I am a heretic after all, not a megalomaniac nihilist. You also should take note of the cautionary feel that runs all through the post, I am suggesting in my usual frank and direct style, a style that some people tend to disagree with because we are used to sugar-coating everything, even death منحط عل موت سكر, while I prefer to state things frankly, because the ugliness of our position is itself a strong enough message that we should heed very carefully, if we continue to ignore it, then our fate is sealed. So, I am suggesting here that if we continue to react in the way we do, no matter how these reactions seem justified in the context of ongoing regional woes, we are going to end up as barbarians, or Talibans, if you like.It is true we are being killed, it is true we are being oppressed, it is true external powers do interfere in our lives and use and abuse us as they see fit and in accordance with their interests. But so do our regimes, our corrupt commercial elite, and our religious leaders, they are all part of that cycle of oppression that is tearing our lives apart.But we are to blame as well. Because we know, we know what is taking place, but we do not face it, because we do not want to face the responsibility that knowledge, conscious knowledge, will put on our shoulder, we do not want to change ourselves, we want God to do it for us. Well, I think God made it very clear not only in the Qur’an but in plethora of other holy books as well that, out of respect for our free will, He would only support our initiatives for improving our lot, He won’t do the work for us. That is basically my point. I hope I have made myself a bit clearer now, though I have a feeling that it doesn’t really make a difference to you. I have a feeling that, as far as you are concerned, I am already damned and condemned, because I refuse to join the usual chorus chanting their usual meaningless condemnation of foreign conspiracies and provocation, and not bothering to see how their own actions and words are facilitating the conspiracies, the first one being the one perpetrated by our own leaders. I hope I am wrong though.

  31. The speech was a central moment in Benedict’s six-day trip home to visit Bavaria, where he grew up, became a priest, a prominent theologian and, finally, a cardinal. Earlier in the day, at an outdoor Mass here attended by some 250,000 people, he expressed similar concerns as in the speech, urging believers to stand up against the “hatred and fanaticism” that he said were tarnishing the image of God.This critique seemed aimed as much at secular Western society as at any other threat.”Today, when we have learned to recognize the pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason, and the ways that God’s image can be destroyed by hatred and fanaticism, it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe,” the pope said.”Only this can free us from being afraid of God – which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism,” he said. “Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.”The speech at the university was the only significant secular event in a schedule packed with Masses, evening prayers and other religious occasions aimed at Catholics in Germany, where regular Mass attendance has plummeted to under 15 percent.That low number is connected directly to many of Benedict’s long-expressed concerns about Islam. He often urges people not to forget the Christian roots of a Europe waith fewer practicing Christians and more Muslim immigrants, over four million here in Germany alone.The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, said that Benedict’s comments were not meant as any statement on Islam, but only as a small example, at the beginning of four tightly packed pages of text, of his argument of the dangers of the separation of reason and religion.”I believe that everyone understands, even inside Islam, there are many different positions, and there are many positions that aren’t violent,” Father Lombardi said. “Here, certainly, the pope doesn’t want to give a lesson, let’s say, an interpretation of Islam, as violent.”He is saying, in the case of a violent interpretation of religion, we are in a contradiction with the nature of God and the nature of the soul,” he said.In the weeks after John Paul’s death in April 2005, Islam and how to confront terrorism seemed key issues in the selection of a new pope. As a candidate, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict after his election, embodied the more skeptical school inside the Vatican.Unlike John Paul, Cardinal Ratzinger did not approve of joint prayers with Muslims and was skeptical of the value of interreligious dialogue, with a faith of many shadings and few representative leaders to speak with.In 2004, he caused a stir by opposing membership in the European Union for Turkey, saying that it “always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe.” He has not repeated this opinion since he became pope, and he is scheduled to visit there in November.Once he became pope, Benedict’s new approach was apparent quickly: in his first trip outside Italy, he met with Muslim leaders in Cologne, Germany, and politely but clearly told them they had the responsibility to teach their children against terrorism, which he called “the darkness of a new barbarism.” He said Catholics and Muslims had the obligation to meet and to overcome differences.At the end of that summer, he devoted an annual weekend of study with former graduate students to Islam. In that meeting, and since, he has reportedly expressed skepticism about Islam’s openness to change, given its view of the Koran as the unchangeable word of God.As such, and despite Benedict’s call for dialogue in the speech on Tuesday, several experts said they did not expect much real progress under Benedict in bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims.

  32. BY MY COUNTOn Saturday, Palestinian Muslims threw firebombs and sprayed bullets at five churches in the West Bank and Gaza.Sunday they torched a 170-year-old Greek Orthodox church in the West Bank town of Tulkarem and partly burned a smaller church in the village of Tubas. In Somalia, gunmen shot an Italian nun to death outside a children’s hospital in the capital. In Sydney, Australia several churches, none of them Catholic, have been violated and an effigy of the Pope burntThere were no arrests during Sunday’s demonstration outside Westminster Cathedral, but police have received about 25 complaints of reported remarks calling for the Roman Catholic leader to face capital punishment for insulting IslamAl Qaeda militants in Iraq vowed war on “worshippers of the cross” and protesters burned a papal effigy on Monday overPope Benedict’s comments on Islam, while Western churchmen and statesmen tried to calm passions.

  33. I have to say that I agree with Ammar. Futhermore, I am ashamed by fellow Muslims taking to the streets acting like barbarians at any chance they get, using any excuse to release their frustrations, which are actually a result of their own general lack of freedom and rights. As always, I believe that this goes back to our governments. As I said in my own blog, I think education is the key missing element in the Muslim world. I believe that a more educated society would naturally lead to a more civilized people.And Ammar, you are absolutely right, why do we not hear from the Muslim masses in response to the many injustices are taking place in the Muslim world?

  34. Alex, i realy enjoy your writing ,you should write an Arabic translation to newspapers in the Midleast ,i think that will decrease the tention.

  35. Ammar-Just another thought…There is a story today about an Iraqi al Queada guy who murdered a Jordanian trucker driver because “he was an apostate”.It got me to thinking about the various Pope riots.A man smarter than me once talked about man’s favorite sport of general raping and pillaging…he explained people do it “because they can”. You see…I don’t see this as Moslem “outrage”…I see it more as an excuse to party by a segment of society that has always existed within the human race, those that take great pleasure in the surge and rush of doing mayhem…rape, break and murder. Could have been English soccer fans.I have my questions about Islam’s currrent leadership and how they are using their power…but the folks that are burning churches and murdering etc….I think most of them are just having a good ol time much moreso than being pissed. Beats a day driving the taxi on a day in the cubicle.

  36. I agree with your observation Howie, the people in the street are just looking for an excuse to riot and “party”. The leaders are the real problem, This is a leadership problem par excellence, which why it is important for the liberal to step up and attempt to project another leadership style. This is not going to be easy by any means, and we have to find ways to build our credentials somehow by playing a role in tackling certain socioeconomic and developmental challenges in the face of stiff opposition and crackdown from both the government and the religious authorities. But, unless we can do this, we are condemned to irrelevance, and our society to spiraling descent into barbarism.

  37. Thank you Norman. You are very kind. But at the speed I type in Arabic, they will have peace in the Middle East before I’m done typing.Howie, one of the problems with Islam (Sunni Islam at least) is that there is no Pope .. the “mufti” of every country is often appointed by the ruler of that country and is therefore not totally trusted by everyone as many feel he is simply there to represent the interests of the regime, or the king.So it is often the local Sheikh who controls, through his Friday prayers, how his listeners react to provocations. So unlike other organizational structures, if you want change to take place, there is no CEO to champion the process…

  38. Hi Heretic Pasha: This is your Mauritanian friend (N) from SOS, I found your post quite interesting. However, I wanted to ask you, as I can’t find anyone who could give me a convincing answer, how do you say libertarian in our beautiful language??Regards from the STL, N

  39. “Why can’t Muslims take a more proactive approach to these matters, and organize some sort of a periodic meeting where certain problematic issues, such as jihad, apostasy, freedom of conscience, academic freedom, relation between Islam and the state, not to mention the ever problematic issues of gender relations and sexuality, are continuously addressed and the Muslim positions on these matters is continuously refined?”____Wouldn’t anyone taking part in such meetings be at risk of assassination if he spoke honestly?

  40. Great post… and about your comment: “The arrogant attitude of the true believer in your intervention is also pretty amusing, especially when suggest that if I ended up embracing heretical views, I must be ignorant of Islam…….”This is very frustrating… I face the same thing every time I raise an issue about Islam… Some even suggest that my views (or my logic) stems from the fact that I’m a woman! LOLSo at least you have one less thing to be accused of 🙂

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