Making Islam “As Banal as Catholicism”

I was once in Istanbul speaking at a conference on “The Coming Dialogue of Civilizations.” The Turks know (or knew before recent re-Islamization) that if Samuel Huntington’s “clash” of civilizations arrives, they’ll be caught in the middle.

Because I had to visit other Turkish cities, I missed participating in a call-in (actually FAX-in) show arranged for the non-Turkish speakers. The FAX machine spat out the first viewer comment: “You are all infidels and shall die tonight.”

A conference colleague, a Brit with much experience in the Middle East, related this to me later. None of the panelists were surprised. They knew it was just the kind of thing that often happened in the region, even in Ataturk’s semi-secular Turkey.

Now, following our president’s moral guidance, I don’t want to blame “all Muslims for what members of other faiths do as well.” And, full disclosure, I did once get a physical threat, presumably from a liberal Christian, after an appearance on Bill Moyers’ television show – a professional hazard of punditry.

But I often think of that Turkish episode when something happens like the recent massacre in Paris. Commentary quickly divides into familiar camps. One goes into “it’s a small minority” and “religion of peace” mode. The other rightly accuses the first of lying, but tends to side with vague general indictments of Islam.

The truth is that there are many Muslims who abhor this kind of violence. I’ve met lots of them: in Washington, Turkey, and elsewhere. Some are quite vocal – on this and other occasions. The press doesn’t give them nearly enough attention.

But it’s also true that the “tiny minority,” which we keep repeating, to calm our fears and proclaim our own tolerance, means tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of potential terrorists, around the world. Remember those Middle Eastern kids dancing in the street after 9/11? And there’s a steady series of Muslim threats and intimidation, like my Turkish experience, in several Western countries now, which are rarely reported.

The threats are not surprising, since surveys show large swaths of Muslims back radical Islam, young Muslims in particular: 42 percent in France, 35 percent in Britain, and – even in America – 26 percent believe suicide bombings are justified. Let’s hope they mellow with age.

Meanwhile, you can repeat “tiny minority” and “religion of peace” all you like. (“This has nothing to do with Islam,” a colossal lie, is beneath serious notice.) The reality, for the foreseeable future, is we’re dealing – or in the case of our leaders, not dealing – with a reality that will continue, globally, to inspire violence.

Of commentary about the Paris massacre, there seems no end. It, too, is not very enlightening. Charlie Hebdo was more than “satirical.” It was radically anarchist, with more than a whiff of its own kind of authoritarianism, which often pairs up with anarchy.

Parisians gathered earlier this month in protest against terrorism.
Parisians gathered earlier this month in protest against terrorism.

It has a special animus against religion. As the editor once put it, its goal was to make Islam “just as banal as Catholicism.” In the dark night of anarchism, all religion is equally black.

Except it isn’t. And radical Muslims don’t fear mockery. It’s a sign of Charlie’s unseriousness that it thought its tomfoolery made any difference to militant Islam. CH was not some bold voice of dissent. It’s basically – even to French politicians (who do fear mockery) – harmless, since it’s the kind of thing adolescents of all ages lap up. And adults swiftly ignore.

Among its many vices and stupidities, CH’s staff did have one large virtue: they weren’t intimidated by radical Islam, even after they were fire-bombed in 2011. Unlike our media, they didn’t flinch under Islamist pressures, or pretend that they’re doing so out of sensitivity towards religion.

France is particularly conflicted about how to deal with Islam. For years, it indoctrinated children against “racism,” as if following Mohammed gives you a special DNA. Why? The only real answer is that it was easier for politicians to use a term widely accepted as a no-no rather than take the harder path of dealing with a religious problem. They’re changing their tune now.

Here’s a telling example.

The apartment building of a close friend in Paris was engulfed a few years ago by a Muslim riot. (These are more common than we hear. French supermarkets are sometimes sacked, but press self-censorship suppresses such news so as not to feed “Islamophobia.”) My friend, an orthodox Catholic of liberal political views (he worked several decades for a Catholic charity in Paris), felt conflicted, but couldn’t help condemning the riot. The police allowed shops to be looted, property destroyed, streets to be blocked, etc. His own children, who had attended French Catholic schools, told him he couldn’t say such things. It was “racist.”

He is not alone. France’s National Front, usually described as a “far-right” party, won 25 percent of the votes (the largest French bloc) in the most recent European elections. Not, in my view, because its sometimes ignoble views have suddenly become more popular. Like Charlie Hebdo, the NF is a sometimes distasteful truth-teller, but says openly things that many have concluded from daily experiences. Suppressing “Islamophobia” has, unfortunately for the French, made Muslims even more feared and unpopular.

Other reactions are possible, if not much practiced. A former student, who has lived and worked in Muslim countries, writes from Paris that she feels more vulnerable living now in France than ever before. And also this: “The response to this attack was so interesting. . . .the French Catholic priesthood has been the object of much poisonous lampooning by [Charlie Hebdo]. Much of it has been personal, tasteless, and downright trashy. . . .Tonight [a group of priests she was with] prayed for the victims and their families. These prayers were for the persecutors by the very same men who had been persecuted. I wonder how many mosques around the world would have done the same thing.”

Ah, that banality of Catholicism.

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Two things, I believe, distinguishes the moderates from the Jihadists.

    Fadela Amara, herself a Muslim, when she was French Secretary of State for Urban Policies described fundamentalism as something clung to through ignorance and isolation in ghetto communities that will vanish when they are given better opportunities of intellectual enlightenment and of acquiring elementary knowledge in history and the sciences.” Not many Polytechniciens, ENArchs or Sciences Po graduates embrace radical Islam.

    Similarly, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London observed that “The type of people who are likely to get involved in ISIS or get radicalised are the same sorts of people who are vulnerable to getting dragged into drug gangs or other types of criminal activity. They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem, who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong and feel like winners.” They are typically the products of the same social milieu as the Bloods and the Crips.

    When I hear of a Fellow of the Royal Society or the Académie française embracing radical Islam, then I will believe it is a theological problem.

    • RainingAgain

      I have my doubts about what you say because of the many reports of professionals such as doctors being involved in terrorism, for example in the jihadist attacks in the UK. Even if you are right it is little consolation, because there are increasing numbers of disaffected youth throughout all modern societies, offering endless reserves of jihadists. The problem, and it has always been there even if somewhat dormant until recently, is not Muslims but Islam. To be a devout Muslim is necessarily to be a jihadist, as far as I can see. I can see little prospect for the future but war, and much of it within our own western nations.

    • Richard A

      Our Fort Hood shooter was a trained clinical psychologist. But maybe you don’t think modern psychology is real science.

    • Mark Millward

      Michael, its painful to have to confront this difficult reality, but frankly you have your head in the sand over this one. Its a well documented fact that several of the 9/11 attackers came from affluent or middle class backgrounds (architecture graduate, ex soldier, a pilot and university student to name but four). Equally, as RainingAgain points out, several of the attacks carried out in the UK or foiled here have been perpetrated by middle class professionals – engineers and the like (2007 Glasgow Airport attack). The call to violent struggle for the faith (Islam) has a broad appeal to those adherents who want to supplant Western society with the socio-political-religious movement that is Islam. Cradle Muslims are hardly even expressing alienation – more often than not they do not want to participate in Western society directly (as in embracing Western values and lifestyle which mostly they utterly reject), they are more correctly described as moving from passive separation to active resistance. Muslim converts are almost certainly a different case and I believe its probably reasonable to describe them as experiencing alienation from the culture of their birth – which they are rejecting – to become Muslim.

      As Catholics we struggle to understand violent jihad – its not in the teachings we follow, nor in the lives of the Saints is it? Regrettably the same cannot be said of Islam. As Father Schall has observed, violent jihad is at least a plausible interpretation of some verses of the Koran and the Sura. As Robert Royal observes, this plausibility is sufficient to ensure that a few million highly motivated Muslims are on a collision course with infidels and apostate Muslims (who at least have the benefit of needing to make only a small correction within their existing cultural and religious milieu to fall in line with the jihadis).

      It look thoroughly theological to me!

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        As for embracing Western values and lifestyle, in France it was a Muslim woman, Rachida Dati, who, as Minister of Justice (garde des Sceaux defended the ban on the hijab: “the laïcité of state schools is not restricted, in the case of pupils, to respect for their freedom of conscience: it imposes a duty of restraint on pupils in their behaviour, since they find themselves in a place pertaining to the public sphere. Pupils’ freedom of conscience, which is an internal freedom, in no way gives them ‘the right to express and manifest their religious beliefs’ in educational institutions, for that involves external acts which improperly introduce religion into the public domain of the school.” She obviously believes in the values of the Republic.

        Similarly, the president of the Muslim women’s movement, « Ni Putes Ni Soumises » [Neither Sluts nor Door-mats] Sihem Habchi, in a forceful attack on “multiculturalism” has demanded “No more justifications of our oppression in the name of the right to be different and of respect toward those men who force us to bow our heads”

        Can you imagine educated and successful women like these espousing jihad? Under shari’a law, they would probably be stoned.

        • Mark Millward

          Great, laudable, liberal and to be encouraged but as far from the mainstream as its possible to imagine. If there are realistic prospects that these courageous women will win the argument with the jihadis then so much the better for us all. Realistically, 99% of the Ummah will regard them as apostates and no better than we infidels. What changes?

        • Thomas J. Hennigan

          The people have ZERO influence on the islamic schools of theology and jurisprudence all of which support jihad. The could be considered apostates and have thier heads cut off. In supposedly secular Turkey a scholar who promoted a moderate form of Islam was killed by vigilantes. In Iran the same thing happened.

  • K J George Karrikkoottathil

    Mr. Robert,
    The root cause of this is that there is no freedom as you and me enjoy in the US or in India for the fanatics or fundamentalists or jihadists in there countries of origin. So they try to express their anger or frustration in these typr of actions. Islam do not tell the faithfuls to integrate with the local population of their respective countries of residence. Then we have their illiteracy as amother reason for their behaviour or actions.This type of actions will continue for a long time and will stop itself when the young men will get educated and the Islamic scholars teach them to integrate with other people.

    • RainingAgain

      Illiterates cannot read the Koran. Literacy seems more likely to foster jihadism.

  • Mary Carlton-Jones

    Why does no one actually read the Koran? Their “holy” book expressley tells them to kill infidels. What part of that, do we not get? What part of the chants of ” first we kill the Saturday’s, then the Sunday’s!” do we not understand? Yes, there ARE muslims who do not prescribe barbarism. One generally can have a conversation or relationship or even sway an individual. But an inheritantly violent group or mob? We conservative Catholics have our “salad bar Catholics,” who by definition pick and choose what they like in our faith. They generally do not cut peoples’ heads off. A “salad bar Muslim” is perhaps similar, in maybe they don’t cut our heads off. Confusing youth not having jobs, is just another head in the sand moment, I’m afraid. Yes, perhaps PART of the equation, but a minor player. Integration, again a minor player, since the Koran does not allow, unless one is “infiltrating” the local non-muslim society.
    You seem to forget that Islam is on a 100, 500,1,000 year plan. We can’t even survive the day without question or changing direction. And here in lies a significant problem. We are all human and all sinners, but if you look at History, you know what is likely to come.

  • Tarzan

    We are Catholic. We believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who in the fullness of time became man. As a man, Jesus redeemed us from our sins and gave us the full revelation from the Father, everything we need to know for our salvation. As such, there is no further need of public revelation.

    Therefore, whether his message was for good or ill, any supposed revelation from Mohammed is unnecessary. I believe Islam is a heresy, and one that is based on a “might makes right” domination theory, where the strong oppress the weak, and they arbitrarily make up rules to suit them in the moment. These rules are often unreasonable, to which they respond “infidel” if you challenge them.

    It may be that not all muslims want to kill, but I believe that this benevolent desire on their part comes not from the tenets of Islam, but from the Holy Spirit working in them as human beings. We, as Christians, should be trying to enlighten these people to the truth of Jesus Christ, rather than let them stay in the darkness of Islam.

    I hold little hope for a moderation of Islam. What is needed is a conversion of many muslims to Christianity. Of course, this is easier said than done. I admit that I am afraid to go to the middle east to evangelize. I fear for my life. I don’t know the long range solution, but I do know the starting point.

    1. Pray to Our Lady. Pray the rosary and ask her intercession to help with the conversion of the muslim peoples.
    2. Live our faith ourselves. Even if we can’t be foreign missionaries, we can be examples. We need to attend mass weekly. I have been delinquent in attending adoration at our 24/7 chapel, but maybe I need to renew my commitment.

    I know it is a small start, but a start it is. Maybe this can be the mustard seed that the Holy Spirit can take and grow a large tree.

    May God bless us all!

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      Catholics should be mounting a cable channel beamed at the muslim world or the arab part of it in order to explain to muslims in arabic what their religion actually teaches and who Jesus really is and what he teaches, just like Coptic priest Fr. Zaccharia Boutros does.

  • givelifeachance2

    The Hebdo episode had more than a whiff of similarity to that crazy anti-Muslim video that was trotted out to obfuscate during the Benghazi debacle.

    Also: there is more than a whiff of truth to many of the Hebdo satirizations of Catholic clerics, unfortunately. While it may not be fair to the many continent priests, there ARE many homosexualists and fellow travelers among the clergy and it is having a ruinous effect on the Church both from within and without. Just one example is the mushroom cloud of Catholic annulment/divorce situations which could very well be traceable to the ineluctable oafishness of homosexual pastoring. One could argue that the priest thood of anyone who identifies as homosexual (even the supposedly chaste “New Homophiles”) is very well null and void itself.

  • Manfred

    “….CH’s staff…..didn’t flinch under Islamist pressure,..” Instead, the editor and eleven of his staff were killed along with two police officers. A kosher market was copy-cat attacked resulting in the deaths of four innocent Jewish shoppers. What a brilliant career move!
    Some facts: Most British Muslims come from Pakistan, India and the Middle East. They tend to assinilate, becoming, attorneys, accountants and physicians. The French Muslims, on the other hand, come from North Africa and sub-Sahara African. They do not assimilate but rather remain in enclaves which encircle almost every French city. 70 percent of persons in French prisons are reported to be Muslim. Does any of this sound familiar to the American experience?
    The people causing concerns in Europe are the cousins of those causing concerns in the U.S. Those who stumble spelling the word “jihad” often resort to “Hands up, don’t shoot”. They are simply anarchists drawn from the deep wells of misfits and general riff-raff which populate every country in the world. They became Islamists (?) as it gives some purpose to their lives.

  • JaneSeymour

    The mistake that most of us in the West make is this notion that Islam is a peaceful religion and jihadists are only radicals who are unhappy with the societies they live in or that they are enemies of western democracy. The truth however is that JIHAD is the root of Islam. Just study the history of Islam. How they have invaded country after country since their start in Arabia in the 7th century, and by what means they did it. It was by sword and violence that they conquered many countries and forced people to convert to Islam. Jihad was their first priority and still is. Islamic countries, officially or unofficially, eradicate people with other faiths than Islam in their countries. Christians have hard time to open churches in Muslim countries. So please stop portraying Islam what it is not. The best defence is returning to our Christian faith and claiming it, not by clinging to secular values.

  • Robert A Rowland

    There is only one God,and his name is not Allah,and there is no way to dialogue between good and evil. Only when the last Muslim dies or converts will there ever be peace in the world. Radical Islam is Islam.

    • Mary Carlton-Jones

      I always did find it (Islam) a Satanic cult. It always has been a battle between good and evil. The Truth is the truth and a lie is a lie. Our current societal mores will not label it as such – wouldn’t want to hurt anyones’ feelings, thus we are jeopardizing our children’s lives.

  • isaac heckler

    Gee, Dr Royal, hasn’t it been the present Pontifex saying ‘tiny minority’ and ‘religion of peace’ or ‘This has nothing to do with Islam’? For instance Evangelium Gaudium 253 says ” Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” And while flying back from Turkey, he said “All religions have these little groups” and “They (Muslims) say: ‘No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace’.” It supremely coy to write this sort of stuff yet not name the central Roman Catholic source of the very attitudes you vociferously condemn, going so far as to write they are “a colossal lie … beneath serious notice.”

    It’s more than past time to “Appeler un chat un chat” as Laure Mandeville, the U.S. bureau chief for the French newspaper Le Figaro, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 25th of this year. She wrote “If we say that the terrorists are not radical Islamists, we might as well say that truth is lie, that right is wrong, that black is white.” Or perhaps if the truth were told less coyly there’d be punishing push back from minions of Team Bergolio and fewer pundit appearances on EWTN?

  • bernard M. Collins

    Itwas October 8, 2002, in a Paris airport I was a waiting a connecting
    flight to the USA from Rome after a Canonization ceremony attended by
    hundreds of thousands. In my enthusiasm, I opened a conversation
    with a man of middle eastern appearance sitting next to me. I told
    him where I had just been. Soon I understood that he was a Moslem.
    Somehow the conversation made me comment that Catholics regard God as
    their Father and that we are his children. He abruptly stood up
    without warning and walked away. As he left, he said gruffly over
    his shoulder, “I have no Father but Adam.” He then added,
    “The problem with most men is they have not learned who their
    master is.” (He was not referring to the gentle “Master”
    of the Gospel.) I offer this conversation as representing the
    elemental distinction between Islam and the barely lingering yet
    still real Christian aspects of civilization in the West. Even if
    Moslems eschew violence, the difference between us is so profound it
    has to effect our ability to live together. A Loving Father Who is
    Goodness by nature is a totally different concept of God from a being
    who transcends good and evil. One is Love by nature and the other is
    a fiction. In my opinion, Ferdinand and Isabella were right when
    they expelled the last “Moor” from Spain in 1492. It was a
    clash of civilizations. Are we free Children of God or are we slaves
    of a fickle task master?

    • Thomas J. Hennigan

      I agree with you. There is an abysmal difference between the muslim conception of Allah and the Biblical God. How can anyone square the fact that the Qur´an says that Allah HATES non believers, i.e. non muslims. Statements found in Vatican II documents and Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium cannot be squared with this reality.
      The main problem is not the percentage of muslims who actually engage in or supprt jihad, but the fact that jihad is an essential part of Islam and is found in all three of its canonical texts, the Qurán, the Sira or Life of Mahommad and the Hadith. In reality the best muslim for the rest of us is the bad muslim who is not aware of what Islam actually teaches. Once he finds out, he could become very dangerous, if he takes it seriously. If the Church authorities, pope and bishops continue repeating the religion of peace mantra, belying reality, then they are going to lose some of their credibility with the ordinary Catholic who cannot swallow such a statement and see whaat appears every night in the news. In fact, there have been more than 25,000 mulsim fatal jihadi attacks since 09/11.

  • SnowCherryBlossoms

    I still can’t figure out why people continue to call Islam a religion? It acts, looks and responds like a hostile world dominating government. I’d say Islam has much more in common with the Nazis than any religion.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      It is a fascism, disguised as a religion; or a religion designed for a fascism, an empire building hermetically sealed evil of which it brings nothing new except death and destruction.

  • Thomas J. Hennigan

    Deadly sharia is real Islam and even in the UK 40% of muslims want sharia implemented there. There can be no real Islam without sharia, That is also proof of the fact that more than a religion Islam is a totalitarian political and social system, even more dangerous than Communism and Nazism. Besides, it has been around 1400 years and its victims are about 270 million according to some estimates.

    • Chris in Maryland

      Yes, I agree.

      One of the primary difference btw atrocities done by people from “Christian countries” and atrocities done by people from Moslem countries (no quotes – as these are theocracies) is this: when so-called “Christians” commit atrocities, everyone who knows what the Gospel says knows that such people are DISOBEYING the Gospel; when Muslims commit atrocities, everyone who has read the Koran knows that these Muslims are OBEYING the Koran.


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