Friday, June 09, 2006

On Cardinal Pell’s Islam Sources

Neo-Conservatives and their fellow travellers will tell you that terrorism and violence is an inherently Islamic phenomenon, one that finds its basis in the religious texts and laws of the faith of 1.2 billion Muslims.

The May 2006 edition of the allegedly conservative magazine Quadrant includes three articles on “The Challenge of Islam”. One is the text of Cardinal Pell’s address to a group of Catholic businessmen in the United States in February.

Pell claims that his “sixty or seventy pages” of reading the Qur’an led him to an unidentified number of “invocations to violence”. He doesn’t advise if he read the Qur’an in its original Arabic or whether he used a translation. Presuming the latter to be the case, Pell also doesn’t advise on which translation he uses.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that this prominent Catholic theologian is satisfied with reliance upon the most rudimentary research which represents an insult to both his congregation and to his own obvious mastery of theology. Despite having access to numerous works on Islamic theology and history authored by prominent Christian scholars (such as Karen Armstrong), Pell chooses to use the works of journalists and propagandists such as Paul Stenhouse and Daniel Pipes.

Stenhouse has himself authored a piece in the March 2006 edition of Quadrant. He claimed that Islam only sees the world in a bipolar fashion, divided along the lines of Dar al-Harb (the abode of war) and Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam). His entire article is based on the work of one Maliki jurist (as quoted by Bernard Lewis) and 2 20th century journalists (Abul A'la Maududi and Syed Qutb).

Stenhouse was called to appear for the controversial Catch The Fire Ministries Inc and Pastors Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scott in the prosecution brought by the Islamic Council of Victoria pursuant to the Racial & Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic). . He was to appear as an expert witness for the Ministries. His qualifications and alleged expertise were subject to the usual examination by the Court. According to supporters of the defendants, Justice Higgins ruled that Dr Stenhouse's evidence "would not be allowed".

Cardinal Pell also uses the work of Bat Ye'or, especially Ye'or's concept of "dhimmitude" used to describe the status of non-Muslims under a theoretical Islamic state. Ye-or is also author of the "Eurabia" thesis, according to which Europe and the Arab world are involved in creating an anti-American alliance that will lead to Europe eventually being transformed into an "Islamic state".

Ye'or is a close colleague of Robert Spencer, the author of the Jihad Watch website and hardly a site one would refer to if seeking to make an earnest inquiry about Muslim opinion and Islamic theology.

Spencer explains the purpose of the site as being: “Because the West is facing a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by the Western media, to destroy the West and bring it forcibly into the Islamic world - and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach. That effort goes under the general rubric of jihad.”

Spencer’s vision involves imposing the most fringe ane extreme views on mainstream Muslims. He projects an image of Islam as being inherently against the West and its allegedly Judeo-Christian roots. His site gives the following assessment of the role of violence in Islam:

“Violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history … a major element of the motivation of jihad warriors worldwide today. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, with all its assumptions about unbelievers‚ lack of human rights and dignity, is available today as a justification for anyone with the will and the means to bring it to life.”

For Spencer, this reality of “violent jihad” in the theology of 1.2 billion Muslims represents “the true nature of the present global conflict”. It is a phenomenon that affects how all Muslims behave in their approach to non-Muslims.

The titles of Spencer’s books say it all. One is entitled Onward Muslim Soldiers – How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West. Another is The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. A third is entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Its cover provides themes hardly conducive to constructive dialogue:

“Islam teaches that Muslims must wage war to impose Islamic law on non-Muslim states.”

“American Muslim groups are engaged in a huge cover-up of Islamic doctrines and history.”

“Muslim persecution of Christians has continued for 13 centuries and still goes on.”

Two of Spencer’s monologues are entitled The Islamic Disinformation Lobby and Islam vs. Christianity.

This conspiratorial nature of Spencer’s message is clear. Muslims are not to be trusted when speaking about themselves, their faith and their culture. Muslims are inherently violent, psychopathic and dangerous. Islam is at war with the West. Islam is the enemy.

Spencer’s work represents the worst excesses of conspiracy propaganda. His message echoes the messages used by German writers (including German Catholic writers) to describe Judaism and the Jews during the 1920’s and 30’s.

Cardinal Pell claims that his recent remarks represent an attempt to genuinely understand the role of violence and terrorism (if any) in Muslim cultures. But by relying on the works of amateurs with axes to grind, Cardinal Pell is exposing himself and the Catholic Church to ridicule.

Any serious theologian would at least seek to understand the sources of the faith s/he studies. Cardinal Pell clearly hasn’t done this. His failure reflects more on what might be described as chronic intellectual laziness than on the faith of 1.2 billion people.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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