Monday, August 29, 2005

Benedict XVI & Muslims

David Quinn, in a column in last week's Sunday Independent, claims the Pope doesn't believe that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Quinn's focus is the Pope's recent meeting with Muslims in Germany where he spoke about terrorism and his views on Turkey's bid to join the EU. Quinn also mentions a 1996 book where the Pope expressed doubts about Islam living with democracy.
Eight years ago, in the book Salt of the Earth he expanded at some length on why Islam, unless it changes radically, in reality becoming something other than Islam, will always have difficulty co-existing peacefully with democracy.

He pointed out that Islam has no concept whatsoever of Church/State separation. Christianity has always accepted that certain things belong to Caesar, and certain other things belong to God, even if Church and State have often fought bitterly over the exact lines of demarcation.

But Islam thinks everything belongs to God, that nothing belongs to Caesar, and that the law must reflect this in its totality.
I suppose this isn't news and I know there are a lot of people who believe this as well. I have friends here who were anti-war for a host of reasons, partly because they believe that Muslims – in Europe (where they'll become violent in response to decisions they don't like) and in the Middle East (where despotism is 'natural') – are incapable of being democrats.

I guess what surprises me about the Pope's view is that Catholics were once similarly considered incapable of being democrats. Unthinking loyalty to the Pope was all they could manage.

I reject all of this. Sure they may be elements of Islam that conflict with democracy, but there are elements of Catholicism that conflict with democracy too. People cope. I just don't accept that Muslims would be any different with regards to (a) wanting a say over how they are governed and (b) wanting some basic guarantees on human rights, etc. Sure, some of those rights may be a little different than those we insist on in the post-Christian west, but so what?

Everything I've seen in the Iraq debate convinces me that Muslims can do democracy, but they might have difficulty with the cobbled together Arab states they've been bequeathed. These problems are not much different than those that have arisen in Europe once or twice in the past.