I am not quite sure how I got on the email list that sent me this notice. My bride had told me that she had heard of some sort of conference about Islam on the Al Kresta show on EWTN, but did not mention that it was to be a debate. And what a debate: some of the worst Islamophobes will be arguing with moderate Muslims. Given the context, the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace” should be seen a purely rhetorical one. One only needs to glance at the list of the Catholic “side” of the “debate” to see this:
*The Thomas More Law Center has defended Colonel Matthew Dooley, who taught, in a US military war college, that the West is at war with Islam and that such a war may require using nuclear weapons to annihilate Mecca and Medina. And it has defended American war criminals. Originally founded by pizza magnate Tom Monahan for the noble purpose of defending religious liberty and human life, it has devolved into a highly nationalistic and militaristic organization.
*Robert Spencer is the founder of Jihad Watch, which has for years spread fear and misunderstanding of Islam.
*Talk show host Al Kresta is famous for his Americanist and neocon leanings, and his choice of guests consistently reflects this.
What a far cry this is from the approach of the Church, which always seeks to emphasize what we have in common with Islam. Muslims, to be sure, are not our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are surely our cousins in Abraham. And contrast this combative approach with Pope Francis’ exhortation to build “bridges, not walls.”
Does Islam have a violent past? To be sure. Indeed, it is startling to see how quickly the Umma -the Islamic community – fell into civil war after the death of Muhammad. And Muhammad himself led armies into battle.
But it is also true that anything one may say against Islam in this regard could be said against Judaism as well; indeed, the Old Testament is more problematic than the Qur’an, claiming divinely ordered genocide, while the Islamic scriptures forbid killing civilians. Many Muslims have commented that modern “jihadism” is an aberration, that such things as attacking civilians and other Muslims, and suicide, are forbidden by the Qur’an.
To those who note modern Islamist violence as proof of the inherent iniquity of that faith one can point to the modern violent minority among the Jews. Albeit numerically smaller, militant Orthodox Jews are at least as large a percentage of the whole as their Muslim counterparts. And unfortunately, are disproportionately represented in Israel and the West Bank, where they do much mischief.
Jews and Muslims alike can find support for violence in their traditions. So can Christians, whose own history, in spite of the witness of Christ, is hardly free from violence. And if you think that is something from the past, just wait until the reality of the changed mores of modern western society really sets in; I predict that violent “Christianity” will be making a comeback. Indeed, one may ask what credentials these anti-Islamic zealots have for asking this question; one and all they have been zealous supporters of violence against Muslims, including the American invasion of Iraq, condemned by two subsequent popes. The real question might be “Is Right Wing Catholicism a Religion of Peace?”
I only hope that these moderate Muslims know that they are walking into an ambush, not a debate. The venue assures that the audience will be stacked with Islamophobes: it is sponsored by an affiliate of EWTN, the right wing Catholic media conglomerate.
The real scandal is that the Catholic bishop of Lansing is celebrating Mass afterwards, giving it the aura of Church approval. Though he is the ordinary of the diocese I grew up in, I know nothing of the man.
But he really should be ashamed. This is a battle, not a dialogue; in a dialogue there is no “vs”. This show, like so much of American Catholic “orthodoxy”, is far from reflecting the mind of the Catholic Church.