9/11 Revisited | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | September 8, 2006 | Page 1
Still another opinion is that the so-called "terrorists" within Islam are a minority. They generally are inspired not by Koranic sources but by Western philosophy, especially Fascist and Nazi sources. No doubt, again, there is some truth to this. The historic Muslim problem has been its own failure to modernize. The search for scapegoats to explain this failure is part of the drama of modern Islam. One might argue that the problem lies within Muslim thought, but as this approach is unacceptable for many, there must be an effort to use these violent means in the manner of their most successful examples in the last century. This is the so-called "Islamo-fascist" interpretation in all its varieties.
Now all of these views have points that are not to be ignored. Still, even if most aggressive proponents of recent turmoil admittedly did see the moral weakness of the West to be a major opportunity and many leaders did study in the West, the major explanation is still religious. No doubt, our own internal philosophies, liberalism, multi-culturalism, and ecumenism militate against elevating "religion" to such a prominent place wherein it must be dealt with on its own terms. On this premise that the religious explanation is closed, we must look for other reasons. Once we seek to explain our problems in non-religious terms, we no longer examine the validity of the religious claim on which Islam rests -- on its original "inspiration," on the texts and doctrine that is found therein.
Many, no doubt, will be amused if not scandalized by a proposal that suggests that the first principle of practical politics is to take theological positions seriously by examining the validity of what specifically they maintain. However, I think, by the mere logic of exclusion -- the other explanations do not fully explain -- it is really the most sensible approach to the long-range problem that faces us from this source. It is also, paradoxically, the most "ecumenical" view, the one that is willing to take seriously the theological view of those who think that the mission of Islam is to spread the law and worship of Allah to every people. It is not the "moderate" Muslims that we must take seriously, but the radical ones.
A central question arises, then, namely, are there intellectual "tools" available to perform this task? In view of the rather obvious refusal of Islamic sources to have its own doctrine subject to public debate or analysis, one might argue that we should not enter into this sort of discussion. It just creates more turmoil. It is best to stick to those more practical things that we have in common, certain aspects of family values, common economic problems, the price of oil, and so forth.
On the other hand, Islam specifically denies the two basic truths of the Christian faith, the Trinity and the Incarnation, both of which are considered to be in Muslim terms blasphemous. Christians are seen, at best, as polytheists. Except in very restricted instances, Mass or the Bible or any effort to explain Christianity (or other faiths) is not permitted in any existing Muslim state. The civil disabilities that the few Christians in these lands experience are objectively enormous. The literature on how followers of other religions are made second-class citizens within Islamic states is, by any objective standard, conclusive. But these restrictions are the logical consequences of theological positions. It does no good to complain about them unless we are willing at some point to challenge their logical veracity. Indeed, one of the reasons given for not pressing these issues is that doing so would just make it worse for remaining Christians, even costing their lives.
I do not consider this endeavor to come to terms with what Islam is to be either something hostile to Islam or its polity. Indeed, I think the reluctance to come to terms with it over the centuries is one of the causes of the current problems. We really do not have, from the Christian side, any authoritative statement on the question, "What is Islam?" It is not enough to speak of "respecting" other religions without going into what it is they believe and how they practice what they believe. Rather, it is a question of asking, in the most careful and reasonable manner, about the "truth" of what they maintain about themselves. No matter how destructive they are to us, the so-called "terrorists" -- who claim that they do have a religious motive for their deeds -- are forcing Christians themselves (and everyone else) to focus on this theoretic core of the problem
Perhaps the most visible issue that we associate with the resurgence of Islam is, ironically, the suicide bomber. No other instrument, I think, could be, from the Muslim terrorist side, more effective than this in giving attention to the seriousness, in their minds, of their cause. We tend to think that a suicide bomber is about as deviant from any understanding of the good as it is possible to get. To arrive at this conclusion, we have to assume there is such a thing (beside Islamic revelation) common to all, Muslim and every one else, a natural law, or whatever it may be called.
But if natural law itself is not possible in the context of a view of Allah that makes him the arbitrary cause of all activities in the world, with no internal order either to himself or the world, we can have no "natural law." If it is an "insult" to Allah to say that he is not the direct cause of all things, we cannot propose as an alternative the natural law that proposes stable secondary causes that the Muslim will also recognize. The suicide bomber, be it noted, is not considered to be violating any "law." Rather he is following a law. The suicide bomber does not see himself violating any such law. In fact, he sees himself obeying the "law" or "will" of Allah.
We do have instances of Western religious leaders sympathizing with suicide bombers on the grounds that their pain is so great they must lash out. But the "oppression" is usually itself defined in terms of Western political philosophy that no suicide bomber himself would ever follow. Moreover, it seems strange that we do not have the moral passion about this phenomenon that we once heard expressed against "nuclear weapons," even now that countries like Iran claim to have a right to them and may in fact have developed them, or is currently developing them.
Yet, I would maintain that it is precisely the matter of the "suicide bomber" that brings us closest to the religious issue that we must deal with. In terms of the Muslim theology professed by their practitioners, the suicide bombers are in heaven. What they do is wholly justified in religious terms. We cannot simply write this reasoning off as "invincible ignorance." The suicide bomber claims that it is indeed legitimate both to kill oneself and to kill innocent civilians in the pursuit of the cause of getting rid of Islam's greatest enemies and eventually establishing the rule of Allah on earth. They are, in their own minds, doing Allah's work.
Again, here I am arguing sympathetically with what the suicide bombers and their promoters think they are doing. I may think, as I do, it horrendous that any mind or religion could come to this view, but some minds and religion have come to this view. If we insist on writing them off as mere fanatics, madmen, or hypocrites, well and good. But in so doing, we miss the import of what is going on. We are no longer capable of dealing with the root causes of the problem. Again, the root causes are theological. Basically, the question is whether or not Islam is true objectively in its explanation of itself. If so, why so? If not, why not? I think we must locate someplace in the culture to begin to treat of this issue in a much more fundamental manner. Dialogue may be well and good, but it is not the first requirement.
We must be much more aware than we are that Islam denies the validity of the basic truths of what is specifically Christian. We must coldly look at the basis of this claim. Islamic thought explains the Christ phenomenon in such a way that He was not and could not be divine. At most, He was a holy man. To accept this view means that we Christians are required to blaspheme. Moreover, any claim that He was anything more will be considered an insult to Allah. Thus the key issue is: what exactly is Allah and what is the objective status of this "revelation" that Mohammed is said to have received? Is it or is it not in any way credible? When we "respect" other religions, do we imply that the claim for a later revelation that corrected the last Christian revelation is possible or true? And if we deny that it is, on what grounds? What, in other words, is our argument about these claims as such stated as accurately as possible?
Barry Cooper, in "History and the Holy Koran," the Appendix to his New Political Religions (University of Missouri Press, 2004.) has given a survey of those Western scholars, often German, who have gone carefully through the difficult task of tracing the sources of Koranic texts, their consistency, age, language, integrity. It is work that often involves much personal danger to such scholars unless they come up with positions that see no problem. Publication of such criticism is often again considered, like Christian dogma itself, to be blasphemous. Nonetheless, this research and critique, or lack of it, is where the real problem of the war lies. Is it true that Muslim revelation and its proposals are true? If so, the effort to make the world Muslim by such means is justified. Those who think it is true, however many or few, constitute the real origin of contemporary politics in this area.
While I might think that the "terrorists" have, as they claim, the better part of the argument from within Islamic theology on their own terms, it is up to other Muslim thinkers to prove, again on their own terms, that it does not. But what I think is more fundamental, something that is not really being addressed in any systematic fashion (for a variety of reasons, mostly arising out of our own culture, not Islam) is the lack of a serious critique of Islam as such. We need an examination that is objective, sympathetic, and accurate, but one that does not avoid the fact that not a few Muslim thinkers and their political followers think that what they are doing, including acts of terrorism, is nothing less than the will of Allah. It is because we are not willing to face the implications of this more basic issue that we are having so much trouble in the political order. We do not want to name the problem as it is.
Again, what I suggest is an opinion. We should not forget what an opinion is. But it is an opinion, at least in my own mind, which respects Islam for what it claims it is: a religion destined to subject all to the will of Allah. That is why I think its claim, even when principally promoted by what we call "terrorists," needs much more serious intellectual attention than it is receiving. This religious position, accurately spelled out, is, I think, closer than the other explanations to the real cause of that horrific event and day that we know as "9/11."
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Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.
Read more of his essays on his website and on his IgnatiusInsight.com Author Page.
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