Is what divides Islam and the West a minor misunderstanding, or an incipient war of civilizations? One’s answer often depends on whether one sees Islam as a variant of Christianity or Judaism, or a pagan conqueror cult. Pat Robertson, the prominent American evangelical, claims, “The struggle is whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah God of the Bible is Supreme.”
President George W Bush and his advisors, by contrast, aver that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, an argument restated recently by Daniel Pipes, a neo-conservative Middle East analyst. “However hostile political relations may be, a common ‘children of Abraham’ bond does exist and its exploration can one day provide a basis for interfaith comity,” wrote Pipes.
No individual can speak for Christendom in such matters, but the most prominent voice belongs to the pope, the leader of the oldest and largest Christian denomination. Although Benedict XVI has expressed sympathy for Islam, he states quite plainly that the “martyr ideology” of Islamist terrorists amounts to an odious form of idol worship. Most Muslims, and emphatically the Muslim clergy, support this “martyr ideology”.
The pope made these comments at the anniversary celebrations of the Allies’ Normandy landing, at Caen Cathedral on December 6, 2004 , and included them in a German-language volume released last March , just as he was elected to the papacy. The title translates as “Values in Times of Upheaveal”. Had these remarks appeared in English, they no doubt would have stirred up controversy, but it is surprising that they were ignored in the world press.
Benedict argues that peace flows from the informed conscience, which in turn causes men to band together to share responsibility for justice. With the prostration of European Christianity, conscience turns into an instrument of secular ideology, whose cynicism and self-interest leads men to turn on their neighbors. Quite the opposite of a pacifist pladoyer (final speech) , Benedict’s book warns that the West must strengthen its own values in order to achieve peace:
The graves of World War II present us with a mandate. It is to strengthen the forces of the good, to support, work, live and suffer for those values and truths which God has established to hold the world together. God promised Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 just men were to be found there. We should make every effort to make sure that the 10 just men are not lacking who might save a city. As a practical matter, Benedict XVI stands closer to Robertson than to Bush. He did not say that Muslims worshipped idols, but he denounced the “martyr ideology of terrorists”, which “turns God into an idol by which man worships his own will”. Given that the great majority of Muslims, and particularly Muslim clerics, support suicide bombing, the pope in effect averred that idol-worshippers comprise the Islamic mainstream.