From 9/11 to 9/12…and beyond.
The seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crashed airliner in Shanksville, Pa., brought renewed focus on relations between Islam and the West. But today, Friday, Sept. 12, marks two years since ”9/12,” the date when Pope Benedict XVI gave a controversial lecture in Germany that cited critical remarks about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam and sparked a violent reaction in many Muslim communities. (Read the full text here.)
That event was in some respects just as pivotal since it put the focus on a religious conflict, not just a “clash of civilizations” (whether that indeed is the case). Yet in contrast with America’s post-9/11 strategy, there has been some important progress in relation between Rome and Islam. As I wrote in a column for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey on Sunday:
The date 9/12, like 9/11, became a symbol of a chasm of anger so wide it looked as though it could never be bridged
Two years later, there are signs of progress and even hopes for a rapprochement that could foster wider harmony between Islam and the West.
In July, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah sponsored an international conference on religious liberty. It had to be held in Spain, as Saudi Arabia would not permit interfaith discussions, but it did emerge from a landmark meeting in Mecca in early June at which Islamic scholars affirmed the need and willingness to engage in dialogue with other religions. And it followed Abdullah’s meeting at the Vatican a few months before that — the first reigning Saudi monarch to hold talks with a Roman pontiff.
These developments came on the heels of Benedict’s own rehabilitation visit to Turkey a few months after Regensburg and the announcement that in November, the pope plans to host the first meeting of a new Catholic-Muslim forum, the fruit of a letter sent to Benedict after Regensburg by 138 Muslim scholars who wanted to use the crisis to create an avenue of dialogue rather than recrimination.
But while this represents progress, it’s hardly an end to this chapter in relations between the church and Islam.
In fact, there are many challenges ahead and one, may be addressed during the papal visit to Paris and Lourdes that begins today (see Father Imbelli below). The flip side of the secularism coin (which was central to the Regensberg address on faith and reason) is recovering Europe’s “Christian identity” (an unfortunate phrase, in the American context, at least). The impulse for that, however, is as much a defense against Islam as an embrace of the faith.
Whatever the case, the November conference at the Vatican with Muslim leaders who launched this dialogue should be interesting, as it is taking as its starting place the shared (we trust) teaching of “Love thy neighbor.”