Monday, September 25, 2006

NewU: Marya Bangee: Pope Benedict's Comments Reinforce Black/White Views

To be discussed later as time permits. For now:

Link To Op-Ed

Pope Benedict’s Comments Reinforce Black/White Views
By Marya Bangee

Samuel Huntington’s theory that there is an imminent, and bloody, clash of civilizations between Islam and the West; the Danish cartoons that portrayed the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a terrorist; George Bush's recently-coined term “Islamo-facists”; and now the Pope quoting the old Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos from the time of the Crusades, all point to the growing trend of using absolute, religious rhetoric to define the relationship between Muslims and Western civilization.

Words such as “evil-doers” and “crusade” clearly evoke strong historical allusions, attempting to draw a parallel between a past of religious conflict and the present. It seems as if there is a concentrated agenda from some of the most powerful leaders of today to frame the current international conflict as a religious war. As a society that trumpets the values of speech and rational thinking, the dialogue that is framing our “war on terror” is surprisingly simplistic, erroneous, misleading and provocative.

What is wrong with these incidents? To start with, Huntington’s idea that there is an imminent clash between two vastly different civilizations fails to take into account a history where people of different faiths have lived in harmony for hundreds of years throughout the Middle East and in the West.

The Danish cartoons were drawn to provoke a reaction to an extremely sensitive issue for Muslims, to show that Muslims are not reasonable human beings; the media then used the extreme reactions of a few hundred to categorize the reactions of over one billion followers.

The president has repeatedly referenced religion when referring to the war on terror, calling it a “crusade” and appointing heads like General Boykin who believe Muslims worship Satan. All of these things help enforce what I would term “apocalyptic talk”—a showdown between two of the largest religions in the world.

Let’s consider Pope Benedict’s remarks. What I find most worrisome about his statements is that they reverse a long-standing policy of the Catholic Church to promote interfaith understanding between Muslims and Christians, as put down in the landmark “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church’s relations with non-Christians. It urges Muslims and Catholics to re-double their efforts to work more closely together on moral, social and civil rights issues.

This had led to an extremely beneficial relationship between the Catholic Church and Muslims all around the world, especially in the United States. With Pope Benedict’s words, this historical relationship is ignored in favor of an “us vs. them” outlook.

Talk of a clash is inherently dangerous because it simplifies both groups, making it much easier to see the other side as inhuman. Muslims cannot be seen as extremists burning churches—something the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) forbade.

Islam is a rich faith, with a proud history of accomplishment that encompasses a diverse group of ethnicities and practices. In the thousands of years of co-existence between Muslims and those of other faiths, Muslim-initiated terror has been extremely low when compared to terror by other religions. Even today, there is universal condemnation from mainstream Muslims of terrorism like that of Osama Bin Laden.

There is an underlying humanity and commonality that is forgotten when a culture of fear is introduced and manipulated, as is being done today. It is easy to fear what you do not understand; it is harder to reach out and try to understand it.

Cardinal Mahony of the Archdiocesan Catholic Center in Los Angeles calls the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict’s remarks a “teachable moment” which should be used to reaffirm our bonds of faith and friendship towards each other. Others will use this moment to further the idea of a religious war. As citizens of the human race, it is our duty to understand each other or else this moment will be exploited to unleash more murder and chaos.

Marya Bangee is a third-year sociology and English double-major.


The NewU did not point it out, so I will: Marya Bangee is the MSU's 2006-2007 External Public Relations person.

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