[Marxism] Islam's unlikely soul mate -- the pope

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 28 10:19:03 MST 2006

Birds of a feather flock together. The Roman Catholic Church has more
than a little in common with Islamic fundamentalism and so it may be that
the Pope is going to Turkey to fish for prospects alienated from Islam and
providing a certain amount of competition for the followers of Islam.

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California


Islam's unlikely soul mate -- the pope
Both bemoaning the West's secularism, Benedict XIV 
and Mideast Muslims have a shot at true dialogue.
By John L. Allen Jr.
JOHN L. ALLEN JR. is the Vatican correspondent for the 
National Catholic Reporter and author of "The Rise of Benedict XVI."

November 26, 2006

Can jihad be redeemed? That is, can the religious and moral sense of
purpose that often fuels Islamic extremism be leavened with a
commitment to reason and peace, and can it be done without opening
the door to gradual secularization? It's the

$64,000 question facing Islam, and it is, for the most part, one that
only Muslims can answer.

One could make the case, however, that if anyone in the West can
help, it's Pope Benedict XVI, despite the firestorm unleashed by his
Sept. 12 comments on Islam. Benedict is the lone figure of global
standing in the West who speaks from within the same thought-world
that many Muslims sympathetic to the jihadists inhabit.

Benedict XVI will visit Turkey this week, his first trip to a
majority Muslim state. And given the furor following his quotation of
a 14th century Byzantine emperor that Muhammad brought "things only
evil and inhuman," the pope will certainly have the Islamic world's
attention. Much may ride on what he does with it.

A detour into the recent history of Islamic thought illustrates the
potential for common ground.

Egyptian poet and essayist Sayyid Qutb, hanged by Gamal Abdel Nasser
in 1966, is the father of modern Islamic radicalism. He spent 1948-50
in the United States attending Wilson Teachers College, the Colorado
State College of Education (today the University of Northern
Colorado) and Stanford University as part of an exchange program.
Based on that experience, Qutb penned his famous tract, "The America
I Have Seen," which still exercises a profound effect in shaping
Muslim perceptions of American culture.

The work amounted to a ferocious attack on what Qutb called "the
American man," depicted as obsessed with technology but virtually a
barbarian in the realm of spirituality and human values. American
society, for Qutb, was "rotten and ill" to its very core.

He wrote: "This great America: What is it worth in the scale of human
values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And,
by the journey's end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a
balance may not exist between America's material greatness and the
quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have
turned and the book of life will have closed and America will have
added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that
distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals."

A particular zone of disgust for Qutb was what he saw as the sexual
licentiousness of American culture (and this, bear in mind, was the
early 1950s). He wrote that a society in which "immoral teachings and
poisonous intentions are rampant" and in which sex is considered
"outside the sphere of morality" is one in which "the humanity of man
can hardly find a place to develop." Qutb said that "providing full
opportunities for the development and perfection of human
characteristics requires strong safeguards for the peace and
stability of the family."

In general, Qutb's writing simmers with an outrage and extremism that
no one would associate with the Old World, cerebral style of Joseph
Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Yet for anyone familiar with Ratzinger's
cultural criticism over the years, there is nevertheless something
strikingly familiar in Qutb's polemic ? not so much with regard to
America as with the West in general. What both figures share is a
conviction that the West's cult of technology has produced a deep
spiritual and moral crisis.

In his 1990 book, "In the Beginning," on the doctrine of creation,
Ratzinger wrote of Western society: "The good and the moral no longer
count, it seems, but only what one can do. The measure of a human
being is what he can do, and not what he is, not what is good or bad.
What he can do, he may do?. And that means that he is destroying
himself and the world?. [The question] 'What can we do?' will be
false and pernicious while we refrain from asking, 'Who are we?' The
question of being and the question of our hopes are inseparable."

Ratzinger has even linked this argument to the question of birth
control, saying that contraception is merely a mechanical solution to
an ethical and cultural problem. In his 1997 book, "Salt of the
Earth," he said: "One of our great perils [is] that we want to master
the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that
there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible to
technological solutions, but that demand a certain lifestyle and
certain life decisions." Benedict XVI would thus find in Qutb a
version ? admittedly in a sometimes irrational form ? of his own
critique of the West.

This is the most compelling reason why Benedict's repeated insistence
that he wants a "frank and sincere" dialogue with Islam is more than
lip service. Fundamentally, the clash of cultures Benedict sees in
the world today is not between Islam and the West but between belief
and unbelief ? between a culture that grounds itself in God and
religious belief and a culture that lives etsi Deus non daretur, "as
if God does not exist." In that struggle, Benedict has long said,
Muslims are natural allies.

Recently, for example, the Vatican vigorously protested a gay pride
march in Jerusalem, arguing that such an event is "offensive to the
great majority of Jews, Muslims and Christians." It's a classic
example of an issue around which Benedict believes engagement with
Muslims is possible.

Yet Benedict is also well aware that Islamic radicalism tends to
discredit religious commitment in any form by associating it with
violence and fanaticism. Hence, when Benedict presses Muslims to
reject terrorism and to embrace religious liberty, he believes
himself to be doing so not as a xenophobe or a crusader but as a
friend of Islam, pressing it to realize the best version of itself.

That, no doubt, will be part of the argument he tries to make in

If they could set aside their prejudices, at least some of the
spiritual sons and daughters of Sayyid Qutb might well recognize a
potential ally in Joseph Ratzinger ? and therein lies perhaps the
last, best hope for Muslim-Christian dialogue under Benedict XVI.

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