I have been involved for 25 years in fruitful conversation with Muslims, and I have read the Qur’an and a lot of literature about Islam. But I confess that Emperor Manuel II Paleologus (Paleologus meaning Old Word) was not on my mind before Pope Benedict XVI launched his entry into the newsrooms of the world.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability.
Mullahs in the corner of Pakistan where I live tend to be brilliant orators. They usually speak extemporaneously for an hour before Friday prayers. They can be persuasive, humorous, conciliatory, prayerful or bellicose. Frequently they break into song or weep for the sins of their tribe, and they hold their audiences spellbound, displaying a masterful use of repartee and the timing of a stand-up comic. They can move listeners from tears to laughter in the time it takes you to fold your turban.
In an unprecedented meeting with Muslim envoys on September 25, Pope Benedict XVI called for “authentic dialogue” between religions and cultures. He also said Christians and Muslims “must learn to work together” to safeguard the world “against all forms of intolerance” and “all manifestations of violence.”
The taxi drove past a mural of the American flag. There were skulls where the stars should have been and the words Death to America! scrawled across the stripes. It was the only such sign I’d seen in Iran, but at ten stories tall, it made a strong impression. Just then the taxi driver asked me, “Madam, you German?” “No,” I replied hesitantly.
Five years into the “war on terror,” are Americans any safer? Thankfully, there has been no major terrorist attack on American soil post-9/11, and that probably is not for terrorists’ lack of effort—as we were reminded by the plot, foiled in mid-August, to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic Ocean.
On a blustery Wednesday evening in central London, about a dozen people from different parts of the city made their way to St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They included an attorney from a large London law firm, a political lobbyist, a corporate consultant, a Muslim college chaplain, a university professor, a female rabbi and a research scientist.
A recent study by two Indiana academics suggests that Shari‘a law, the Islamic legal code often associated with strict rules, oppression of women and harsh punishments, has a softer side when it comes to the poor.