Peace Through Strength In The Muslim World

Against the Grain has one of his tour de force round-ups on that Muslim letter to Christian leaders. There's so much, it took two posts: part one; part two. I read the whole letter this morning and it's beautiful, and one must say, it's very hopeful that 138 Muslim leaders of all stripes signed onto it. Fr. Samir Khamil Samir, SJ, however (whose analysis explains some things people like myself who don't know much about Muslim culture might not understand), gets to the heart of the matter. Basically the letter shows from texts from the Koran, The Old Testament & Gospels that Christians, Muslims & Jews are united in their commitment to love of God and love of neighbor, and suggests that God may have permitted --or created-- the three great religions so they could vie with one another in good works. Great, but:

At a certain point the letter asks Christians to “consider Muslims not as being against them, but with them, on the condition that Christians do not declare war”. Here perhaps they are alluding to the problems in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan…..but there it is not Christians as such who are committed to war.

The Americans in Iraq (if it is this to which the letter refers) are not in Iraq as Christians who oppress Muslims: neither the Muslim nor the Christian element has any relevance here. It is rather a political issue between the United States and the Middle Eastern States. And even if we know that the president of the United States is a Christian and that he is led by his faith, it can be in no way claimed that this is a war of Christians against Muslims.

This is an important point because Muslims tend to see the West as a Christian power, without ever realising the point to which the West has been secularised and far from Christian ethics. This line of thought strengthens the theory of a clash of cultures (or religions), right at a time when steps are being taken to fight such a theory!

Which brings me to a question Fr. Samil does not raise. To what extent do we owe this letter --which I take as meaningful and a sign of progress-- precisely to the Iraq war, since Muslims don't make the distinction we do between faith and politics? Remember John Allen's column about Muslim-Christian dialogue in Nigeria?

It's been the experience of the Nigerian Christians that they had to fight before the Muslims would listen: many locals say that dialogue may never have begun if Nigerian Christians hadn't learned to stand up for themselves. That is, they believe the Muslims might never have come to the table if they hadn't been forced to do so by a growing Christian capacity to answer Muslim-initiated violence blow-for-blow.
It's a position endorsed almost unanimously by our Nigerian Catholic hosts, who have repeatedly told me this week that Christians in the country "aren't folding our hands anymore." Much to my surprise, even Imam Isah told me that in the beginning, Christians were seen as largely defenseless, and thus not taken seriously by some Muslims.
The frightening implication seems to be that retaliatory violence on the Christian side may have been necessary to balance the scales.
"Only when we started reacting did the Muslims see a need for dialogue," said Dogo, the general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the north. "They saw our people have resolve, and that's when the decision was made to form a consultative forum of religious leaders."
What the lesson of Nigeria may thus suggest is that a stiffening of the spine on the Christian side may be necessary to set the table for future breakthroughs.
So, while the letter is ostensibly a response to Benedict XVI's Regensberg lecture, and I take nothing away from the Pope --I think his "hard line" (really just a hard question) provoked this response, I wonder if we don't have to see Benedict & Bush as a tag team in favor of Muslim moderation, as Reagan and JP the Great overcame Soviet Communism.

It's not directly related, but on the topic of Bush as Peacemaker, I stumbled across this the other day.

If we're talking about only civilians and political prisoners, the toll for Saddam's 23 years in power was at least 300,000 people murdered; that's 13,043 per year; 1,086 per month; or 36 per day.

At that rate, if AFP's estimate is the correct one, for an Iraqi civilian, it's safer to be in the middle of a hot war under American rule today, than "at peace" under Saddam. And of course, Saddam's 300,000 political murders are a number apart from the 500,000 or so Iraqi soldiers he sent to their deaths in his bizarre invasions of Iran and Kuwait. And the hundreds or thousands of murders around the world that he caused as a financier of terrorism.
The author asks:
I've heard from so many sober voices that launching the Iraq war was a terrible thing to do: from the loony-Left of, the plain-vanilla Left of television and news magazines, the quaint Left represented by certain Vatican spokesmen, and the triumphant gloom of the far Right. No doubt it feels righteous to protest a war, since wars involve so much unjust killing.

But what about Saddam's war, which was waged every day and in all directions? Were the lives he mercilessly took without significance? Are the lives Saddam would have taken, if not for America's intervention, without value?

Moralists and politicians should remember that there are many kinds of violence. One of them is failing to defend the innocent.