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On Ignorance of Islam…and the Bogey Man

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 20, 2012

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran had this to say in a recent interview on the Al Jazeera television network:

We succeeded in avoiding the clash of civilizations; let us avoid the clash of ignorance'…. There is fear of Islam, but it is due to ignorance…. When you speak to these people—I have spoken to so many of these ‘right wing’ groups—you realize they have never opened a Koran and never met a Muslim.

Okay, I get it. Cardinal Tauran is the head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. It his job to give as much ground as he possibly can, in the hope of encouraging a similar conciliatory spirit on the other side. This, presumably, necessitates the denigration of those who can be most easily marginalized in the Western camp, namely the “right wing”. After all, somebody has to be thrown under the bus to prove one’s seriousness. It cannot be anybody on the Islamic side, and it cannot be the Church. This isn’t fair, but it is business as usual.

Still, one has to wonder how useful such pretenses really are. I can’t speak for the European ‘right wing’ any more than I can speak for the bogey man, but it seems to me self-evident worldwide that there is great fear of Islam in the West not so much from ignorance of Islamic beliefs as from observation of Islamic political behavior. Islam is a theocratic religion, and these theocracies more often than not marginalize and actively persecute those who refuse to say they are true believers. Moreover, Islam is currently inextricably linked to terrorism, something which Western morality, whether secular or Christian, condemns. Even a sadly broken and post-Christian West can see that this presents a problem, and they do not need to open a Koran to figure it out.

For their part, the Islamic peoples see the West as a sort of human cesspool which ardently desires the moral degradation of everyone with whom it comes in contact. Muslims may erroneously see this hedonism as a Christian thing, which is most unfortunate, but they certainly see it as a Western thing, and in their shrewder moments they may realize that the commitment to hedonism changes surprisingly little from the left to the right wings. But even if we focus exclusively on good Christians in the West, we find a strong theory of the separation of spiritual and political authority, and a reasonable openness to divergent viewpoints in the civil order within the limits of the natural law. Such a theory threatens Islamic polity as it is most often understood and, more importantly, as it is most often implemented.

Now when reasonable men of varying religious beliefs seek to explore peacefully their respective understandings of the dignity of the human person and the requirements of a just social order, this is always a good thing. Pope Benedict has himself challenged the Islamic world to engage in such a dialogue, though with only marginal success. But this does not mean that the general state of affairs is based on ignorance. It may be a greater ignorance, after all, to pretend that the respective worldviews of the two civilizational parties are not deeply at odds, preferring rather to focus on a handful of intellectuals who, as a rule, do not represent the more significant movements which drive policy.

It may also be, of course, that many Muslims who migrate to the West prefer to live in a secular (or, better, a natural law) state, and do not yearn for Muslim theocracy. Or it may be that in the end it will be only the dominant secular hedonists who cannot tolerate a significant Islamic presence, for the same reasons that they cannot tolerate a significant Christian presence. Time will tell, and Christian relations with Islam are obviously important. Indeed, I would explore every possibility in a spirit of Christian love and hope. But in the meantime it is disingenuous to pretend that our mutual fears are based on ignorance.

The point, of course, is that we have not avoided, and cannot avoid, the “clash of civilizations”. This being so, it is an even greater pity that there is no longer a reasonably Christian civilization to be involved in the clash, for then some progress might actually be made. Then it might not be necessary for the West to demand that Islam make itself acceptable by finding its inner hedonism. Meanwhile, even Cardinal Tauran must have trouble pretending the clash of civilizations has been avoided, as if ample grounds for concern are not everywhere apparent—even, doubtless, to the European ‘left wing’. One hopes, at least, that the Cardinal refuses to deviate from his script only because he is pretending. Ignorance of this magnitude would be difficult to imagine.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Jan. 26, 2017 8:46 AM ET USA

    I made a mistake when I wrote that Rodriguez never existed and there was no apostasy. "Silence" is in fact based on historical events ( I hope, though, that one day someone will make a film about the life and sufferings of a Japanese Jesuit who did not commit apostasy, St. Paul Miki. That might be better cinema. Miki was nailed to a cross and - according to the reading in the Liturgy of the Hours - died proclaiming "there is no way to be saved except the Christian way."

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Jan. 25, 2017 8:35 PM ET USA

    Yes,I thought Silence was thought-provoking. I then read the book by Endo Shusaku to see how the movie ending differed from the book. It is fiction,of course,but the 2 documents at the end of the book were not. It struck me that although Christians were hunted down and tortured ruthlessly,some people always took the risk of possessing an icon of their faith. Christianity could never be completely eradicated,Japan was not a swamp where Christianity could not grow.

  • Posted by: Thomas V. Mirus - Jan. 25, 2017 5:37 PM ET USA

    Though it's also worth noting that most of those later delegations later revoked their apostasy, saying that they had only been forced to it under torture, and there was even an unconfirmed rumor that Ferreira himself had recanted before he died.

  • Posted by: Thomas V. Mirus - Jan. 25, 2017 5:36 PM ET USA

    rjbennett1294: My review doesn't say anything either way about the historical nature of the story, but in fact, though it is fiction, it is based on real history and real specific individuals. Ferreira was a real missionary who apostatized. More than one delegation of missionaries was sent to Japan in the aftermath of Ferreira's apostasy and they all apostatized; the character Rodrigues is based on one Giuseppe Chiara. For these and more details you may read the translator's preface to the novel

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Jan. 25, 2017 9:48 AM ET USA

    It is remarkable that this review appears to treat the film and the novel as historical fact. The account is fiction. Rodriguez never existed. There was no apostasy.

  • Posted by: cieslajohn7542 - Jan. 25, 2017 8:59 AM ET USA

    A well written essay, Thomas. I have seen "Silence" and could not agree with you more!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 21, 2012 1:49 PM ET USA

    I wonder how much experience the good cardinal has as an apologist trench fighter. I used to be one. I am also so far to the right that I recognized in 2004 the Obama's Marxist/Leninist tendencies. Every time I quoted the Koran either face to face or online, my Muslim opponents would deny the quote because it did not originate in the Koran. When I showed them the Koran, they told me that it was not a Koran, but merely a corrupt translation. They informed me that all translations are corrupt.

  • Posted by: v.nagle - Mar. 21, 2012 3:23 AM ET USA

    As a long time resident of a Middle Eastern country, an Arabic speaker and a student of Islam, I think that the cardinal may be making a common confusion: it would make more sense to me if he were to say that there is no reason to fear Muslims. But the fact is that Islam can very easily be and very often is and has been interpreted in a way that one can only call 'threatening' to non-Muslim populations.

  • Posted by: Defender - Mar. 20, 2012 11:52 PM ET USA

    In 846, Rome was sacked by 11,000 Muslims, who desecrated the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul. St.Francis understood that the Fifth Crusade was part of an ongoing just war in response to Muslim invasions of Christian lands. So, my dear cardinal, I think we can safely say that there has been a Christian-Muslim "thing" going on for a long time and a clash of ignorance is not what's wrong. Has anyone looked out the gates of Vienna lately?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Mar. 20, 2012 7:42 PM ET USA

    Anyone that did happen to open up a Koran would find their worst fears about Islam confirmed. The Koran mocks the Trinity as a pagan fable; denies the Divinity of Christ; places both Christians and Jews in hell; and exhorts Muslims to humiliate, enslave and kill those who will not peacefully convert. Muslim history, current events and the Koran all show that many of our fears are justified. Are there peaceful Muslims? Certainly. Is Islam actually a religion of peace? Certainly not.

  • Posted by: impossible - Mar. 20, 2012 7:32 PM ET USA

    Whether human or ostrich, what does one see with his head buried in the sand? An honest balanced evaluation of the Crusades cannot be gleaned from inherently anti-Catholic sources. Some of us, depending upon age, might well have the opportunity to die for our faith - not just the unbloody sacrifice of living in our present and descending culture, but actually losing our heads.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 20, 2012 6:32 PM ET USA

    It is interesting to read newspaper articles from Europe in the 80's along this genre. Amazing! Now Europe is having to deal with Shari'a law in common courts, surveillance of Arabic communities that harbor (and in some cases-encourage) the terrorist side of Islam. I wonder how the writer above will feel like when his wife and daughter are required to be second-class citizens when Islam becomes the dominant religion.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 20, 2012 6:17 PM ET USA

    To have "world peace" as a god is not a good idea....

  • Posted by: Barbnet - Mar. 20, 2012 5:52 PM ET USA

    "but it seems to me self-evident worldwide that there is great fear of Islam in the West not so much from ignorance of Islamic beliefs as from observation of Islamic political behavior." The problem is westerners use logic: we follow Islamic political behavior which is probably as totalitarian as the other 20th century political totalitarianims. Unfortunately, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran is now adopting the classic dhimmi posture: please don't behead me yet.

  • Posted by: mgreen32234 - Mar. 20, 2012 5:38 PM ET USA

    I looked at the video on youtube: I could only stay with it a few minutes before I reached my discouragement threshold. Apart from the scary quotes in the print story though, I wonder how much was about the dynamic between the interviewer and the Cardinal. Was I right to see careful dodging and weaving with a deliberate occasional duck from the Cardinal? Is this any worse than if a Cardinal were to appear on the White House channel? Ended feeling less angry at the Cardinal than when I started

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 20, 2012 12:00 PM ET USA

    We just don't learn, even after centuries...; The "us" against "them" attitude DOES NOT WORK; militarily or theologically... Most would agree that for the most part the Crusades were a miserable failure. So now we will do the same thing intellectualy? The seraphic father got it right..., Francis and his followers WENT to the Muslims, with love in their hearts and ready to die. We look forward to Easter..., but Lent is still here.