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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
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
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."
Comments or questions about this article? Share them on the Insight Scoop blog!
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Tom Burnett: A Hero on Flight 93 | An interview with Deena Burnett, author of Fighting Back
On the Term "Islamo-Fascism" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
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.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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