By Piero Gheddo
10 Feb, 2015
In the past few months, Islamic terrorism has become front-page news as a serious danger for Europe and Italy. Many are wondering what to do. Others focus on laws to cope with the serious situation. Yet, calls for greater vigilance and firmness have led nowhere. Our rich and secularised democratic world is ill prepared to deal with it. Western and Islamic peoples do not understand each other. There is a gulf between our desire to live in peace and terrorists' violence.
Following the Twin Towers on 9/11 (2001) in New York, recent history showed that the wars against Islamic extremism (in Afghanistan and Iraq, and today against the Caliphate) not only have not solved the problem of terrorism, but have worsened the situation. "Holy war" and "martyrdom for Islam" have become popular in many countries. We cannot wage war to defeat 1.4 billion people who live with conviction their religion and religious culture. So, what are we to do?
Speaking in January before the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (PISAI), Pope Francis stressed the significance of dialogue with Muslims. in fact, "Perhaps there has never been a greater need" for this, he said, among other things, "since the most effective antidote to violence is teaching the discovery and acceptance of difference as richness and fruitfulness."
This requires an attitude of "listening" that helps understand the values of others, as well as an "adequate education so that, secure in one's identity, we can grow in mutual understanding." However, this also means "not falling into the trap of a conciliatory and ultimately empty syncretism that is the harbinger of a totalitarianism without values". The clash of two civilisations that do not understand each other does not have as its fundamental motivation politics or economics, but religion. This is why.
First, in the West, the ideal is the "freedom" of man, even from the laws of God who created the world and humanity. We live in a virtually atheistic society and Islamic peoples see the Christian West as an enemy, a danger to their faith! They are drawn to the modern world, but they also fear it! Our life offends them. They do not want to live in an increasingly inhumane world like ours, rich but arid and empty inside, about which we complain too.
This is the refrain heard in mosques and in the Muslim press. Believers in the Qur'an have the mission to bring God to the atheist and emasculated West. Such ideas, which are inculcated from an early age in schools, are part of their faith and their culture. It is true that only a minority practices Islamic terrorism, but millions of Muslims share that ideology.
Speaking to the European Parliament after the Twin Towers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "The West must defend our values . . . We have created a soulless civilization. Where can we find this soul unless we return to the Gospel which made the West great?"
In the current situation, which makes our society increasingly devoid of ideals, pessimistic and selfish, in crisis because we lack children (How many millions of abortions in the last thirty years?), we see Islam provoking us by every means, from population growth to terrorism, but also with "holy war" and "martyrdom for Islam", to lead us back to the stated purpose of faith in God, even if it is the God of the Qur'an, and not the God of the Gospel!
Typically, we in the West live as if God did not exist. However, to meet and engage in dialogue with Islam, we must return to God and the Ten Commandments, Jesus Christ and his Gospel, not only in our personal lives, but also in that of the family, society, education, mass media, etc. We must in other words rediscover our Christian identity. The alternative is war against Muslim peoples, which we would certainly lose in the long term for the simple reason that Muslims are young people, whereas we in the West are old people!
We have to have a more realistic view of Muslims and understand the huge responsibility we Western Christians have (now and in the past) in the rise and expansion of Islamic "terrorism". In a 1990 speech ("We and Islam"), Card Carlo M. Martini said, "What should we Christians think about Islam? What meaning can the rise of this religion have in God's plan, one that is close to Christianity and yet so combative, so capable of conquest, of making many converts in a weak Europe? In a Western world that is losing its sense of absolute values and is no longer able of attaching them to an overarching God, the witness of the primacy of God on all things, and of his need for justice, makes us understand the historic values that Islam has brought with itself and that it can still bear witness to our society."
The second point is that Islam does not define itself in terms of "human freedom" but in terms of "submission to God". Let me repeat: the God of the Qur'an is not that of the Gospel! It lives and proclaims the presence of God (Allah) in the life of every man, family and society. Faith is the greatest gift that God has given to man, which we have to preserve through prayer and respect for the commandments. Faith is not just a personal choice (as exasperated secularism and secularisation proclaim and impose); it is a sense of belonging to a community of believers and to all of humanity created by the same God.
Islam is a religion that comes, at least in part, from the same roots as Christianity, the God of Abraham, so that in its early days some Church Fathers called it "a Christian heresy." However, today it is certainly not a humanising religion. Islamic realities (violations of human and women's rights) offer a negative image. That is another matter even if states and each of us have a duty to defend ourselves and our people against external aggressions and invasions.
Let me repeat what I heard from many Christian bishops living in Islamic countries: even today, in God's plan, Islam has a role in human history, one that we do not know, but one that deserves respect and attention. For us Christians today, the challenge is meeting, not clashing with Muslim peoples; dialogue, not war; return to faith and life in Christ, not theoretical and practical atheism.