From Reuel Marc Gerecht, in the WSJ:
Popes ought to help clarify–not camouflage–the great troubling issues, as Shiite Islam’s most senior ayatollahs try to illuminate the most perplexing questions that confront their followers and Muslims in general.
The pope doesn’t tell us how we should proceed to counter the defects he sees in Islam. He should, since that would begin a real, painful but meaningful dialogue, which will surely cut both ways between the West and Islam. But what is most disturbing in the Western reaction to the pope’s speech–and one sees the same reaction among those who are uncomfortable with President Bush’s use of the term “Islamofascism”–is the often well-intentioned refusal to talk openly about the other side. No one wants to offend, so we assume a public position of liberal tolerance, hoping that good-willed, nonconfrontational dialogue, which criticizes “our” possibly offensive behavior while downplaying “theirs,” will somehow lead to a more peaceful, ecumenical world.
We won’t talk about the history of jihad in Islam. We would rather emphasize that jihad can mean an internal moral struggle for believers, even though the most progressive, revisionist Muslim (unless he has been completely secularized in the West) knows perfectly well that when Muslims hear the word “jihad,” they proudly remember holy warriors, from the prophet Muhammad forward. We won’t probe too deeply, and certainly not critically, into how the Quran and the prophet’s traditions, as well as classical Islamic history, have given all believing Muslims certain common sentiments, passions and reflexes. We don’t even talk about how the post-Christian West’s great causes–nationalism, socialism, communism and fascism–entered Islam’s bloodstream and altered Muslim ethics, often catastrophically. Many in the West, on both right and left, prefer to see Osama bin Laden’s terrorism as a violent reaction to Western, particularly American, behavior. It is thus something that could be avoided. (Israel usually enters the discussion here.) We shy away from the more existential arguments that suggest that bin Laden’s popularity in Islamic lands is the product of an enormous religious and philosophical distemper that derives from the world being the reverse of what God had ordained: Muslims on top, non-Muslims down below.
But we need to talk and argue about these things. We need to stop treating Muslims like children, and viewing our public diplomacy with Islamic countries as popularity contests. Given what’s happened since 9/11, a dialogue of civilizations is certainly in order. To his credit, Benedict has at least tried to approach the invidious issues that will define any helpful discussion.
Read the whole thing. Twice.
It was a long address. I think it was a defining address, a very important one. And it was really a critique of the West, a self-critique of the West, as well as a critique of any attempt to link violence to religion, by showing that the fundamental principle here is that God is not only love, as he showed in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. But God is also logos. God is reason. And he shows the difficulty that’s going to exist for societies to live together peacefully if that rational element of our faith is lost.
In January I interviewed Father Fessio about the September 2005 gathering of Benedict’s students and the Pope in which the subject for discussion was Islam. Controversy followed the publication of the transcript of that interview, but it remains a critical bit of background for the reporter attempting to figure out what Benedict is trying to do for Christianity and Islam.
It needs to be pointed out to the MSM that a man who knows Benedict well, who has spent time with him at least yearly since 1972, is available to you. If you want to understand the Pope and his speeches, just call up Father Fessio and provide him enough time to speak. That this doesn’t happen is another indictment of MSM. Anderson Cooper, Charlie Rose, Katie Couric: If the Pope’s speech matters –and it does– spend some airtime figuring out what the Pope said, not just the fact that the jihadist propaganda machine has manipulated his words.