Pope’s comments – and president’s

September 15, 2006

The title for this piece was to be “Papal/Moslem brouhaha,” and it was to be dedicated solely to the Moslem frustration over pope’s use of the quote expressing Byzantine emperor’s Manuel II low opinion of originality of Koran’s message – the quote suggesting that the emperor considered Islam a thoroughly derivative creed, the only thing original about it being its method of proselytizing. But I did not turn off my radio as I started writing, and so I heard president Bush’s press conference in which he forcefully and repeatedly described the current conflict as the “great ideological battle of our time.”

That was a curious and highly ironic coincidence. Because the war we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan is anything but ideological: to fight an ideological battle is to try to refute the ideas that underpin and justify the opponent’s behavior, and we just don‘t do that. Our enemy is motivated by religion – and it is a no-no in our culture to be critical of another’s religion.

And we aren’t. We wage a regular war, trying to destroy the terrorists militarily and to isolate them diplomatically. Nothing at all is being said about their ideas, other than the bland, utterly meaningless, often-repeated mantra of terrorists “perverting religion.”

The pope’s remark, however, was far more along the lines of “ideological battle” than anything that ever came from the US administration and from our politically correct press. It was a head-on, blunt comment about the source of the terrorists’ motivations: religion. Neither profound nor enlightening, it was still a step in the right direction.

Because religion does underpin the terrorist action, and therefore it does need to be discussed – discussed without sentimentality, without fear of hurting the feelings. The terrorists do not take religion as we do in the West – as one’s private business, as one’s expression of identity. To them it represents the ultimate reality – and it is ok to debate and argue over what the reality is. Scientists do that when they examine the physical world we live in; philosophers disagree and argue about the bigger and broader issues of existence; and why should religion not be subject to the same procedure? Just because its founder claimed his words came directly from God?

But how are we to know this? In fact, we can’t – the problem of the third party stands in the way and denies as any ability to know whether the alleged “word of God” was the word of God indeed, whether the alleged “prophet” – Mohammed or anyone else – was a prophet indeed. In dealing with religious texts, we are dealing with the word of man; that God is behind them is merely alleged, and is highly uncertain – and there is absolutely no reason why we should not be critical of a mere man’s words.

As to the “indignation” that such approach may cause – should there be indignation that the moon is round? That the Earth moves around the Sun, not the other way around? No. God made the Moon round, and He made the Earth move the way it does – and He also made us unable to determine what is God’s word, and what isn’t. The “indignation” we witness is the mere rage of idol-worshippers – not to be condoned, not to be bowed to, not to be intimidated by.

President Bush was right to call this the “ideological struggle.” And let us wage it as such, let’s not shun from the battle of ideas, let’s engage in meaningful discussion of that which drives the terrorists into the bloody action: religion.

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