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Regensburg Revisited: The Roots of Islamic Violence Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 01 October 2013

Sandro Magister recently commented on an article in L’Osservatore Romano regarding the failure of any significant Muslim response about the recent deadly attacks on Christians in Arab lands. But this “public silence of Muslim spiritual guides is not surprising. The same thing happens every time in any part of the world when an act of violence occurs from Muslim origins.” Muslim killing of Christians is evidently not a Muslim problem, or at least, not one that is freely discussed in public.

This silence cannot be explained solely by an “opportunistic calculus or by fear of reprisals.” In Egypt, both Muslim factions vying for power claim the right to use force and conceive political action as “jihad, as a holy war.” Thus, violence is legitimately used as a principle of action with religious sanction.

To understand the causes of this violence, the Vatican paper suggested, we need to return to Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address (2006). The violent reactions in the Muslim world that greeted this address were the “tragic confirmation” of the truth of his thesis. “Violence coming from faith is inevitably a product of the fragile bond between faith and reason in Muslim thought and its understanding of God.”

The violence that continually recurs in Muslim lands against both its own believers and those belonging to the “area of war,” that is, everyone else, has theological roots. “No pope prior to Benedict had the vision and courage to make such a clear judgment on Islam, nor to formulate with such rigor the difference between Islam and Christianity.”

Many, even within the Church, criticized Benedict. Yet when he went to Turkey later that year, he pointed out that Islam had to face the same problems that Christianity had already faced with the Enlightenment, namely, “human rights and a true liberty of faith and its practice.”

What was Benedict’s main point? He made it by recalling a medieval conversation between a Byzantine Emperor and a Persian gentleman. The basic question was whether, as Islam had done against the Christian lands of the Middle East, it was divinely permitted to spread the faith by violence. While some passages in the Koran say no; others say yes. When the affirmative ones are used, how can they be justified? They are justified by philosophy, or perhaps a lack of it. This justification is what is meant by the “intellectual origins” of Muslim violence. It is not that it was a mere aberration. It was conceived as following the will of Allah. 


      Young supporters of the Islamic Jihad (Gaza City, 2010)

How so? Christian revelation was addressed to reason, hence its attention to Plato and Aristotle. This direction meant that reason had its own autonomy. Something contrary to reason – like the idea that God approved violence in forcing conversion – could not be something God “revealed” over and above reason.

He, the Logos, was also responsible for everything in the world that was not God. This prohibition did not mean that force could not be used to protect oneself against unjust violence of others. It did mean that the use of raw force to expand one’s religion was not of God.

If this prohibition is so in reason, how was it that Muslim armies and individuals over the centuries, and even today, have found little difficulty in using it? The answer is philosophical. This philosophical justification appears in several forms in history. It is part of our national culture today in the form of relativism and multiculturalism. Basically, it means that nothing objective exists in things. Hence, nothing limits anything. We are “free” to do what we want. This position is generally called “voluntarism,” a dominant species of liberalism

In its Muslim form, it seems to be rooted in al-Ghazali and in Ibn Hazm, to whom Benedict referred. In Islam, the notion that God is limited by anything, even His own decrees or reason, is seen to be an insult to Allah. Allah can do the opposite of what he commands. He can call good evil and evil good. He is under no obligation to reveal truth to man. And if he does, he can change his mind and will the opposite later on. These positions are spelled out carefully in the Regensburg Lecture.

Thus, the philosophic root of violence means that such violence used to convert people is perfectly legitimate if Allah commands it, which he appears to do. To deny this possibility as “irrational” would be itself to blaspheme. We would claim that reason could limit the freedom of Allah to which we are to submit ourselves as the only reality to which we need to pay attention.

If Muslim leaders do not see fit to protest the widespread persecution of Christians and others in Muslim lands, it is because they lack a criterion within their religion by which they can judge something, said to be in revelation, to be in fact irrational. 

 
James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
 
 
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Comments (12)Add Comment
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written by Allen Roth, October 01, 2013
The Regensburg Address should be read and re-read and Father Schall is correct that Pope Benedict was courageous in taking on the deadly challenge of Islam inspired violence. While Pope Benedict explained the source and justification of violence against Christians by Muslims, I am still puzzled by the failure of the Church to condemn the murder of Christians by Muslims. Why is the Church silent? Why doesn't Pope Francis continue the work of Benedict and challenge the barbarians to cease their murderous ways? So many innocents are dying daily and the Church's silence is inexcusable.
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written by Howard Kainz, October 01, 2013
As Robert Reilly shows in his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, debates about the relation of faith and reason among Muslims in the eleventh century led to the divorce of faith and reason in Islam. Emina Melonic's column on this website, "A Call to Reason," Nov. 2, 2010, discusses the ongoing problem.
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written by kristen, October 01, 2013
No wonder us catholics don't even understand basic christianity.. our leaders can't even right something plainly enough for any of us to even understand, “Violence coming from faith is inevitably a product of the fragile bond between faith and reason in Muslim thought and its understanding of God.”

He should have just been straight forward and said the truth, that the islamic faith is rooted in violence because it is founded on a lie and keeps people from seeing and coming to the one truth, the one way and the one life.

If our catholic leaders were more straightforward in their rhetoric, we little guys wouldn't get so messed up and lost in our thinking. I wouldn't be surprised if a poll of catholics in the US would show that 99% of us wouldn't understand or agree with the phrase, "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life"... because it is never preached and never explained WHY we need a savior.

Just be straightforward. Stop being so "theological" that you confuse loyal catholics... to the point that they are not true believers because they don't really understand the faith even though they go through all of the rituals and traditions.
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written by Emina Melonic, October 01, 2013
So, the question is then, where do we go from here? I am not ready to offer intellectual arguments that agree or disagree with Fr. Schall (although, I will say that Robert Reilly's book offers cogent presentation of centuries of Islamic philosophy and theology). Although I am Muslim (Bosnian-American), I need to immerse myself more than what I already have in the studies of Islam from an intellectual perspective.
And to be quite honest, I am more interested in a larger picture: how can we find commonalities, how can we fight evil, and more than anything, how can we see the human dignity inherent in every human being in order to have a dialogue. If we do not begin with the recognition of the humanism of the other person, then thoughts and ideas as the primary mode of being will become empty words, repetitions that are jammed into our psyches and which do not include another side of a human being. And I do not think that dialogue (from either side) is possible until we have established that. And of course, I am willing to admit completely that if Muslims are not willing to do that, then they are wrong. In other words, if I was faced with a Muslim who is unwilling to admit the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorists, then I would not defend him because he is Muslim. I would point out the immorality of such blindness. I can only speak for myself, and be certain of what I can bring to the table. And so, I ask again, where do we go from here - both Christians and Muslims?
I should also add (and perhaps I have said this before in my past comments, or even in the columns I have written for TCT) that there has been an interior struggle for me - living in the United States, carrying my American citizenship with pride and gratitude, and someone who leans on the right politically and philosophically - to accept the constantly repeated line from the Right that Islam is a threat and that it must be eradicated. This is irrational. I've survived war, I was hunted to be killed because I am Muslim, my country endured genocide. I also did not grow up to be a hate filled Muslim; my experience of Islam was that of a compassionate, moral religion which affirmed that we should take care of the poor. And so, this is even more reason for me to have a dialogue, which is not entirely based on ideas and thoughts but also on unspoken commonalities of open hearts. And if the heart of our enemy (whoever he might be) is not open and refuses to be open, then we can at least say that we have tried. It's not a question of "optimism" - that is far too psychological and transient. It is a question of hope. (And one last small comment: thanks to prof. Kainz for mentioning my article!)
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written by William Manley, October 01, 2013
This is an enlightening essay, and your critique of the relationship between faith and reason in the Islamic belief system is quite insightful. I wonder if there are two other reasons why Muslim leaders have not spoken out against the use of violence within their religion: 1) they do not have a central, hierarchical authority (like the Papacy) to exert moral leadership in this area, and 2) the Islamic leaders are scared of having the violence directed at themselves.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 01, 2013
I join with Mr. Roth and Mr. Kainz.

The address is superb, and typical of Benedict: lucid, charitable and gutsy, and Fr. Schall's book containing it is splendid.

The address was an occasion for our local parish pastor, a Marianist, to shame himself and the whole parish by mocking and undermining Pope Benedict - at Mass of course. We left there forever, like many families, after a long series of unrelenting and brazen abuses of The Mass.

Now, across the street from Fordham U @ Lincoln Center, in St. Paul's RC Church, large-scale Islamic art work and quotes from the Koran are installed at the altar of the Virgin of the Annunciation, for The Church to execute Islamic propaganda...and guard against a prayer of the faithful that might lift a cry to save our Chrsitian brothers and sisters who are being raped, killed and persecuted by Moslems.

Our Church in America...is pitiful.
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written by Leonard Kramer, October 01, 2013
His book, the "Regensberg Address," was my first encounter with Fr. Schall and I found it intensely interesting. I have yet to completely understand the matter but it does seem that in my encounters with Muslims, that they do know who god is in the same way the Christian claims to "know" who Jesus is. Muslims have told me frankly, that Christianity is a "primitive" and "pagan" practice and the Muslim conception is sophisticated and intellectual. They have declared to me that the personality of god is "many things" - "merciful, benevolent and just." - I have asked Muslims, "Is it possible for god to lie?" or "Does god love all men?" Unlike the Christian, the answer from my Muslim friends is equivocal (or even dissembling). I think Fr. Schall's revelation to me is that God, in the Christian conception, really is not completely free - God is constrained by logic and reason and truth. It doesn't seem that Muslims share that idea and believe, rather, it a backward notion incorporated through Greek and pagan influence. I still do not understand the seeming affinity that modern secular culture seems to shares with the Islam. I wonder sometimes if Fr. Schall could write on that as well. Anyway, Thank you again Fr. Schall.
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written by schm0e, October 01, 2013
It's much simpler than all this. Islam has no moral authority by which to reject murder as a legitimate expression of religious fervor.

Christianity does. Christ said, unequivocally, "love your enemies" and then demonstrated it. The abolute moral authority that binds Christians was death suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 01, 2013
Leonard:

Benedict actauuly answers your question - as hinted at by schm0e: Since God is Love, and God is Rational (LOGOS), and he made us in his image, he leads his children in a rational way (The Mind of Christ), because that is the expression of his love. In Islam - God's Sovereignty is primary - his beneficence is secondary.

Scott Hahn tells a story of an exchange with an Islamic scholar that deals with an essential difference in how God is perceived btw Judeo-Christian versus Islamic ideology, that drives the point home. For Jews & Christians - God is Father - there is a familial relationship of love. For Moslems - God is not Father (i.e., not Love), he is only Sovereign (only Dominion). The Islamic man gave an example: he owns a dog...he is moving to a new apartment where dogs are not allowed...he said he will kill the dog...because after he has taken possession of the dog...no other man can have him...the dog is his slave. So is man to God...merely the slave of the Master.
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written by Just wondering, October 01, 2013
I was just wondering what level of barbarism has to happen for followers of Islam to question their so called religion and stand up for decency. I mean in a single week we had students slaughtered in their sleep in Nigeria, shoppers slaughtered in a mall in Kenya, and Christians slaughtered as they left mass in Pakistan. Their was no moral outrage from the Islamic world as there has not been for the 20,000 odd attacks perpetrated by Islam on innocents since 911. This problem is not going to go away because Islam is barbarous to its core--if I don't follow Mohammed I am to die at the hand of the jihadist.
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written by Rich in MN, October 01, 2013
May I offer one more possible consideration to William Manley's two excellent suggestions? I call it the "'Jungle' Effect" after Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, "The Jungle." As you may know, Sinclair wrote "The Jungle" to expose the terrible abuse of immigrants in the American workforce of his day. And what was its immediate effect? Reforms in food sanitation -- not in labor.
We humans are a very self-centered lot. Even those of us whose holy books contain parables like "The Good Samaritan" tend to have a very narrow and often trivial focus. We are more negatively affected by our favorite sports team losing than by some heinous evil happening in "Where-is-that-istan." During the 1980s, how many prayers were offered in America to stop the terrible war between Iran and Iraq? During the 1990s, how loud was the outcry over the machette killings of hundreds of thousands in Darfur? And these two tragedies are just the smallest tip of the iceberg. How many of us read Al Jazeera so that we might understand how the Middle East looks from a Middle Eastern perspective? The Imams may simply be as blind to our plight as we are to theirs.
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written by Leonard Kramer, October 01, 2013
@Rich in MN - Well I don't know about that. It seems there is plenty of adjuration - from all over the world - not just from our perspective in west - indeed even from you - over wars and atrocities. But there is a silence from Islam (not universal) but in the general sense to certain violence that is thought to please God. It cannot be just a blindness to a different perspective that causes the pious believer to to cry, "God is great!" when murdering infidels. In contrast, a Christian can only visualize the god in Jesus suffering over such an event.

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