Wednesday 18 July 2007


The loopy outbursts and threats of violence from sections of the Islamic community that accompanied the recent decision to confer a knighthood on author Salman Rushdie demonstrated again the serious dysfunction eating away at Islam. Whatever Rushdie’s crimes against Islam, the bloodshed advocated by his detractors disgraces them.

More distressing is the Islamic world’s apparent capacity to unite in violence against proposed affronts to their religion in the West, while the horrors being perpetrated by Muslim against Muslim most graphically in Iraq, Afghanistan and now increasingly in Pakistan goes on without any serious united outcry from Muslims. Where is the mass movement for Islamic moderation?

There are Islamic leaders fighting the hard fight for moderation. I only wish they were more capable of transforming theirs into a powerful and visible global movement.

Of course the prosecution of the war on terror and the wider actions of the US, Australian and other Western governments have made the job of moderates the world over harder.

And just in case you thought that the Catholic Church had moved on from the dark ages, Pope Benedict has recently started to express views that – minus the calls for mindless slaughter – are as useful to global and religious peace and unity as the utterances of extremists of any religious complexion.

Last year, he managed to incite Islamic violence by quoting a 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor who was harshly critical of the prophet Muhammad .

Two recent pronouncements have in my view been even more provocative.

In Brazil in May, the Pope said that pre colonial indigenous South Americans were “silently longing” for the faith graciously bestowed by the marauding colonisers. Then last week, he restated an earlier view that other non-Catholic and non Orthodox Christian faiths did not in fact constitute “churches” due to “defects”. These defects were in part bound up with the fact that “other” Christian churches could not trace a continuous line to the apostles. You don’t need to be a religious historian to know that the “direct line” in question here is one drenched in bloodshed and horrors that would provide great inspiration to fanatics of any faith.

It’s Talibanesque in its blithe self-certainty. And it’s remarkable that in the same week this same church with its direct and superior line to divinity announced a $660 millionUS settlement for more than 500 cases of child abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Is there any relationship between this self proclaimed sense of supremacy and these abuses? What price do we pay in the wider world for similar concepts of religious supremacy?

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