Much has been said about the events following the Pope’s perhaps unwise comments about Islam – see here and here – but it’s worth repeating. Unwise though the pope was, does it really do any favours to show your displeasure at being accused of being a violent religion by killing nuns or calling for ‘a day of anger’? If the pope was feeling particularly rash he’d probably just go ‘see???? you nutters are proving me right!’.
What is clear is that there are a heck of a lot of Muslims who aren’t into violent retribution for nonsense talked by the pope. But the ones who do declare fatwas on people for trash-talking the Prophet or the Koran could clearly do with a reality check. Either that or just say ‘yes, we are indeed a violent religion – you, in the robes, outside, now!’
Every faith has its extremists – America has it’s gun-toting so-called-christian militia (otherwise know as the GOP), but they aren’t generally referred to in the press as ‘Christian extremists’ – same with the troubles in Northern Ireland. Our language is very different. Perhaps because the terms we use to describe the different levels of commitment to a religion don’t really work for Islam – moderate doesn’t seem to be a word that any muslims like, with its connotations of being watered down and less committed. Perhaps what we need to support are those muslim leaders who challenge muslims that it is more intrinsically muslim to be anti-war than it is to be pro-violence.
A very wise friend once commented that the problem with George Bush isn’t that he’s an evangelical christian, it’s that he’s not evangelical christian enough. The culture of right wing Evangelicalism in the US has very little to do with any Biblical notions of ‘christ-like’ behaviour. Blessed are the peace-makers? Is it possible to read the whole story of the bible and not come out with the conclusion that God is on the side of the poor? the marginal? Sure, it’s easy enough to proof-text any level of craziness, in the same way that Armando Ianucci can edit a Blair speech for Time Trumpet to make him look like he’s into all manner of surreal weirdness. But if you take the Bible seriously, it seems to me pretty clear that the calling on people who are inspired by Jesus is towards peace, reconciliation, justice, care for the poor, sick, disenfranchised. All very politically charged things. As Desmond Tutu once said ‘when people tell me religion and politics don’t mix, I have to wonder if they’re reading the same bible as me’, or words to that effect…
So in the same way that the deranged war-monger in the White House needs to be exposed not as a religious extremist, but as a having a violent, neo-imperial agenda utterly indefensible from the Bible, so it’d be great to see more public dialogue about the nature of ‘true’ Islam, rather than just some late night channel five discussion show chaired by Terry Christian (which was the last one I saw – truly dreadful).
For reference, my favourite book deconstructing the theology of the far right in the US is Ceasefire – Searching For Sanity In America’s Culture Wars by Tom Sine – it’s pre-Bush Jnr, but pre-empts it perfectly, and is still prescient. Would love to see Tom Sine update it, but he lost a hell of a lot of friends when he wrote it…by