Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Message: The Messenger

In Defence of Pope Benedict XVI's defenders, it must be said that both arguments advanced on his behalf against the bitter accusations of Muslims worldwide are quite correct. He has proven time and again by his words and his actions that he respects and favours dialogue with Islam, opposing at the same time any plans to advance the agenda of any religion by use of violence and force of any description. At the same time, those who hold it was his obligation and duty as a world leader to criticize the violence inherent in the practise of Islam are correct also.

If not he, then who? The very essence of religion as a modifying force for good within the public sphere as I see it, is a faith-based contract between man and the all-powerful, omniscient guiding Spirit to do right, behave in a moral, socially ethical manner for the good of mankind and the favour of God. The Pope's role is that of God's spiritual emissary on earth. His is the duty to interpret God's will to his flock. Is there anyone who might argue that foremost among the imperatives of human behaviour according to Scriptures is the strict admonition to do no harm?

Harm can be interpreted in many ways, but in the larger picture it can certainly be construed that one is expected to behave in a manner consistent with universally-accepted mores, encompassing those vital essences relating to violence visited against another, lest that other or his/her relatives/companions do the same to you and yours. It goes without saying that no society can exist without prohibitions against violence. And violence can be extended logically to include crimes of thievery, greed, envy, social disruptions and slanderous attempts to encourage others to violence.

That behaviour that is seen to be in the best interests of the collective is seen also to be the template for a functional society. In the religious world there are those anointed by religious committees to represent God's will and to encourage acts of goodness and good will. In the temporal world the collective appoints representatives to act in the public weal. When either of these representatives ignore blatant acts of societal harm they effective relinquish the authority vested in them to chaos.

Authority seeks to maintain the established norm and expectations of a well-functioning religion or society. When discrete countries' rulers or bodies appointed to oversee society's well being become corrupt and seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the public, or when discrete countries begin to wage unfounded war or threaten the well-being of their neighbours, neighbouring countries' rulers, whether theistic, royal or elected step in as intermediaries not only in the interests of the affected country, but in the interests of established world order.

Given the ongoing events of the last decade and the increasing instances of violence across the globe with their genesis in Islamic dissafection with the place of Islam, and fanatical Islamists' oft-stated ambitions to spread their doctrine and establish once again a Caliphate, there is an obvious need for countries and religious leaders to speak out. Many religious leaders, adhering to the principles of reason have made attempts to work together in a harmonious relationship. This works well for moderates, not so well when one is dealing with fanatacism of any stripe.

Fanatics are so convinced of their unerring righteousness in the name of the all-powerful God they worship that the human emotions that make us humane and which most religions do their best to enhance, are replaced by a irrational sociopathic determination to succeed, regardless of the cost in human lives. Their vision of the will of their God is resolute and rigidly absolute. End of discussion.

The Islam that the world has been shown in the attacks on world centers resulting on countless human lives being wasted without a sign of remorse or conflicting emotions, is one utterly lacking those which religions normally attempt to impress upon their flocks. Reason. Compassion. Understanding. Empathy. Responsibility. Responsiveness. Respect.

Those attributes appear to be lacking, furthermore, in the bulk of the Muslim population, those whom we in the West like to consider moderate in nature. How else to explain the incendiary rage exhibited by great hordes of Muslims around the world when an incident as casually innocent as a score of cartoons some of which purported to poke fun at their Prophet elicited that response? Muslims demanded unequivocally that Muhammad and Allah be properly respected; they would brook no Western-style insults masquerading as freedom of speech.

When the Pope addressed an academic audience in Regensburg on September 12 to lecture on the responsibility of the church and religions in general to uphold the justness of peace among peoples, accepting the plurality of cultures and religions, he also said that reason has a place in the discussion. Reason dictates against the use of religion to foment violent behaviours in the interests of advancing any religion.

In quoting from a medieval text that was critical of Islamic history and its embrace of jihad, a merely incidental part of his lecture, the Pope infuriated and insulted Muslim piety. The result is an emotional furore rivalling that of the cartoons, with Muslim clerics and Muslim government leaders feeling free to insult and slander the personage of the Pope as Roman Catholicism's intermediary to the Christian God. Reason with these people? Go ahead, give it a try.

Read A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani if you would like to establish a personal understanding of Islam. It is replete with names and dates and events recounting the history of Islam. There is a surfeit of massacres, assassinations, subjugations, indignities visited upon Infidels, internecine warfare, more massacres, more assassinations. It is a never-ending cycle of insults, rages, murders singular and in wide sweeping conquests.

The Pope is attempting to convey the idea that faith is required of believers. But he is also conveying the fact that mankind's intellect should not be abandoned in favour of blind faith, and reason must be applied when dealing with one another.

How offensive is that?

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