Rorate Caeli

The Real Root of Extremism
- by Vittorio Messori

The Real Root of Extremism
Vittorio Messori
Corriere della Sera
January 14, 2015

I have always appreciated the sincerity of Rabbi Giuseppe Laras (renowned in Italian Judaism not only for his culture but also for his religious sensitivity) when he voices his opinions. So, in yesterday’s article in this newspaper, he doesn’t hesitate from the start in affirming that “we are at war, we are just at the beginning and yet we don’t want to admit it.”

As a realist, I would be inclined to agree with him. The third world war (called “cold” but always a war) ended, because of the enemy’s collapse and deserting of the field, but after that there was the new Pearl Harbor on a September 11th morn in New York City. Here, let’s say it with the clarity of Laras – [we have] the fourth world war. The hypocrisy of the dominant ideology today - political correctness – has been attempting exorcisms and in order to tranquilize us they have built an ideal of “moderate Islamism” encouragingly increasing it by repeating the mantra of “dialogue”. Nevertheless, those who know the Koran, those who know history and the society that has given it form over a thousand and a half years, know that those Muslims we call “extremists” (to use our Western categories) are not wrong in shouting (Kalashnikov in hand) that a “moderate” Muslim is a bad Muslim. Or, at least, he is a coward and that Allah will punish him. How many among those who are scandalized by this have read, without mental censures, the Koran entirely and maybe also the monumental collections of hadith - the sayings attributed to the Prophet?

A French friend, a Catholic religious in Jerusalem and well-known biblical scholar, told me recently that in their convent, there was an old Muslim who had worked for them for a long, long time as a factotum. Honest, trustworthy and a hard worker, he had become part of the family and all the religious had great affection for him which was sincerely reciprocal. One Friday, the man came back from the mosque with a dejected air about him. The Superior of the House, after insisting, was finally able to make him talk. He said: “Today the Imam who conducts the prayers told us during the sermon that, on the day of the triumph of Allah and his Prophet, which will arrive soon, we will then rid this Holy City of Jews and Christians, and all of those infidels who don’t make a profession of faith at once will have to be killed. This is what the Koran wills and we are bound to obey it.” There was a pause, then: “But have no fear Father, you know that I love all of you. I know what to do if I have to kill you, I’ll find the way not to make you suffer.”

This anecdote, unfortunately, is authentic. As the questions both courteous and harsh from Giuseppe Laras are authentic, which I believe can be summed up like this: is it possible, for the Islamic world to accept that tolerance, that distinction between religion and politics, that equality among people of different religions, that refusal – without exceptions, of violence, in short - that reality if possible, on which to base a less inhuman world?

As we know, in 1948, the then few already independent Islamic States sitting at the newly-formed United Nations, refused to sign “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” affirming that they did not correspond to their view of the person and society. A society, among other things, where slavery was not officially abrogated, where polygamy was in force and still is, in which the woman is relegated to a role of submission, where the non-Muslim is an inferior citizen, subject to a heavy tax and a series of codified and public humiliations. Will it ever be possible to arrive at a modus vivendi or will the conflict have to continue and even become aggravated, since the fundamental values remain so diverse?

As you know, everything is possible, to God, to Yahweh or to Allah, according to the faiths, but from a simply human point of view, the objective does not seem achievable. In fact, Islam is divided to such a degree that there are massacres between Shiites’ and Sunnite or among other communities in bloody battle every day. Above all, there is no superior authority, which is able to take binding decisions for the faithful, like the pope for Catholicism. On the contrary, there isn’t even a clergy nor a religious hierarchy inside the communities. Everything is left simply to men with just a 1400 year old immutable book in their hands. The Ottoman Caliphate, abolished in 1924 by Kemal, was a sham at the service of the sultanate, and, in any case, his fading authority was not acknowledged beyond the borders of the Turkish Empire.

But even if it came back, what could a “pope of Mecca” do, not having the great, liberating resource like the one of Rome: that is, a Scripture which can be analyzed and studied in depth according to the times and situations without negating it, flexible without betraying it, Divine but entrusted to the reason of believers who must brave the centuries with it?

Christianity, first and foremost is much more than a book, it is an encounter among the living, among men and the living Christ, with the riches and flexibility that are born from life. The Koran, however, is not like that, rather, it’s the opposite, with its original text kept in Heaven next to Allah, eternal, unchangeable, dictated word for word to Muhammad, with its sentences being observed always and anyways in a literal fashion, with a rigidity that must challenge every culture - whatever the cost.

Is it possible to pull out a “ mildly moderate” Muslim from here?

If this is the situation, Rabbi Laras doesn’t hide his worry: “There is a temptation that can be outlined in both Christianity and European politics: i.e. leaving the Jews and the State of Israel alone to facilitate political, cultural and religious peace with the Muslim world.” For him, this would be a “disastrous policy” in which its ruinous effects for Christians were already visible. In fact, he says: “after almost all the Islamic countries were rid of “their” Jews, they focused with violence and massacres on the large Christian minority.” The Rabbi’s conviction, however, requires that a discussion be opened: the persecution of the baptized has causes, we believe, more complex than the venting on them by a violent religion in search of victims. It would be a very important discussion, and precisely for this unable to be addressed in such reduced spaces. For the time being it is sufficient to take Laras’ warning seriously: there is a war going on and it is not timely to hide behind western kindness towards the antagonists accompanied with stern Cassandra-like rebukes which are limited to certifying a dramatic reality.

[A Rorate translation by Contributor Francesca Romana.]