CNN reports that the Catholic Church is concerned about the sustainability of Christian communities (most of them not Catholic) in the Middle East. The fear is that Islamic fundamentalism poses a threat to their survival. What is interesting from the perspective of the American political/religious landscape is the reason given for this Islamic threat, and that is that “Oftentimes, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, principally because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics.”
Obviously, this is a concern that cannot be laid uniquely at Islam’s door. We have the same problem as in the Middle East. And while the Papacy is concerned that “with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, attacks against Christians are increasing almost everywhere,” it is Christianity that in the U.S. is on the offensive.
“The Muslim world’s reluctance to make the distinction between politics and religion is bringing great harm to the Church in the Middle East, because, realistically speaking, Muslim public opinion associates the Church with whatever political choices are made by the states in the West,” the Catholic Church said.
Is it any surprise, especially in the case of the United States, that Islamic states make this assumption? U.S. soldiers are proselytizing, handing out Bibles; President Bush called the war a crusade and one of his generals even characterized it was a war not against earthly enemies but against Satan himself.
And it is the United States that has been behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars were not begun or mainly prosecuted by the more secular states of the European Union.
Religion, our own Christians assure us, is very much a part of politics. And they intend to prove it in the upcoming elections, and again in 2012. They believe only Christians should hold office. Muslims have no place in American politics.
This trend of laying the blame at Islam’s door is both unwise and unjustified. There is plenty of blame to go around, and there is no doubt that American policy has bred a climate of fear and distrust, not only among Islamic nations but among America’s ostensible friends and allies. Nor has the Pope himself been without flame. It wasn’t long ago that he was quoting a Byzantine Emperor, who said “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
That was 2006. The Pope apologized, but he would not have said it in the first place if he had not meant it. He is already on record as saying that Christianity cannot be considered alongside other religions, as all other religions are by necessity false (given that Christianity alone is true). Such an attitude is not likely to endear him to Muslims; nor should it.
Clearly Christian communities in the Middle East are suffering as a result of rising Islamic fundamentalism but Islamic fundamentalism did not arise in a vacuum; nor has it prospered in a vacuum, and the United States must share blame, as must the Pope and Christianity as a whole, with its aggressive proselytizing.
The Synod aims to support “in particular those (Christians) who live in difficult situations because of violence, terrorism, emigration and discrimination,” Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said Friday. Who is going to help those Muslims who live under similar circumstances, while contending with Christian-based “violence, terrorism, emigration and discrimination?”
It is to be hoped that some good will come of the synod, but an argument based on false premises is unlikely to bear fruit. While the whole “blame Islam” approach is likely to play well to conservatives and ties into the Republican narrative in this country, it’s not in itself a cure but only another symptom of a larger problem, and that is religious fundamentalism itself, whether Protestant, Catholic, or some form of Islam.