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The Stupidity of Dialogue With Islam By: Serge Trifkovic
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 30, 2002


(One in a series of excerpts adapted by Robert Locke from Dr. Serge Trifkovic's new book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically-Incorrect Guide to Islam)

Of all major religions, Islam is the least amenable to dialogue with other faiths. Among non-Muslims it seeks converts or obedient subjects, not partners in a dialogue. Nevertheless, among some misguided Western social conservatives there exists an a priori desire to forge an alliance of believers against the moral and spiritual decay of a sinful world an "ecumenical jihad," a war of all religions against unbelief:

"If we will work and fight and love in action side by side with our Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox and Jewish and Muslim neighbors, we will come to perceive something we did not understand before… If we did not balk at having Stalin’s followers as our allies against Hitler, we should not balk at having Muhammad’s followers as our allies against Stalin."

The historical analogy here overlooks one thing: Stalin’s anti-Nazism did not make him cease being a villain equal to Hitler. A political marriage of convenience to fight Marxism during the Cold War is one thing, but seeking common ground with Islam for an ecumenical jihad is one of the dumbest ideas in decades.

The same fantasy drives President Bush’s advisor on Islam, a professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, David Forte. He speaks no Arabic and readily admits that he merely "dabbles" in Islamic jurisprudence. Nevertheless, his conviction that Islamic terrorists and Muslim aggressors are by definition heretics and not "real" Muslims has been fully internalized by George W. Bush whose speeches seem to pluck whole phrases from Forte’s writings.

Professor Forte also subscribes to the theory of "ecumenical jihad," which is admittedly very different in intent from the usual liberal Islamophilia, but perhaps even more pernicious in its consequences:

"Forte doesn’t just want to redeem Islam from its critics. As a Catholic conservative who serves on a Vatican task force on strengthening family, he wants to redeem religious orthodoxy itself—or, at least, cleanse it of the extremist stain. "Nothing this evil could be religious," he is fond of saying. It’s a bromide that jibes perfectly with Bush’s own unabashed fondness for religiosity of all stripes."

In other words, we have today a sick alliance between the multicultural relativists of the Left, for whom nothing non-Western can be evil, and the noisy but ultimately soft religiosity of the Right, for whom nothing religious can be evil.

Forte wrote in his 1999 book on Islamic law that "though radicals often create an effigy of the West as a ‘devil,’ their real animus is against traditional Islam." Today’s extremists, he claims, are a theologically marginal tradition "that Islam early on rejected as opposed to the universal message of its Prophet." In a remarkable twist of reality Forte accuses the secularized media establishment of negative stereotyping of Islam because it is a religion:

"When they talk about Islam, they talk about jihad. They patronizingly assume that violence is an essential part of Islam."

This view, however erroneous, boils down to the conviction that believers, no matter their denomination, are better people than nonbelievers, and that a religious outlook — any religious outlook — is preferable to the nihilistic wastelands of postmodern secularism. Frankly, there is a certain rude logic to this, which just goes to show how dangerous this secularism is because it makes any alternative seem better than itself.

But such assertions cannot change reality. A problem does exist. Islam is not only a religious doctrine, it is also a self-contained world outlook, and a way of life that claims the primary allegiance of all those calling themselves "Muslim." There is "Christianity," and there used to be "Christendom," but in Islam such distinction is impossible. To whatever political entity a Muslim believer may belong – to the Arab world of North Africa and the Middle East, to the nation-states of Iran or Central Asia, to the hybrid entities of Pakistan and Indonesia, to the international protectorates of Bosnia and Kosovo, or to the post-modern, post-nationalist liberal democracies of the West – he is first and foremost the citizen of Islam, and belongs morally, spiritually, and intellectually, and in principle totally, to the World of Belief of which Muhammad is the Prophet, and Mecca is the capital. This is not, of course, true for every Muslim but it is true of every true Muslim: it is the central worldly demand of Islam.

Some post-Christian promoters of "Ecumenical Jihad" readily sacrifice the doctrine of Grace, Incarnation, and Trinity on the altar of and open-ended inter-faith dialogue that should finally lead to ultimate deist unity, "a genuine religious pluralism," in which "Islam is recognized as a different but equally valid response to God, created by a different revelatory moment, namely Mohammad’s reception of the Koran." By giving up any pretense of doctrinal conviction and rootedness in their presumed tradition, these people cease to represent anything at all. By still pretending to be Christian they encourage their Muslim interlocutors in the belief that there is no need to engage in any "dialogue"—odious from the Islamic theological standpoint anyway—since such evident lack of faith and conviction on the "Christian" side encourages them to expect imminent and speedy embrace of Allah and his prophet as the only logical outcome. What "dialogue" there is therefore starts on the Muslim side with the assumption that a clear and frank re-statement of Islamic dogma will prompt others to see the light.

An example of the Muslim attitude to inter-faith dialogue was provided by the 1980 conference of the Society for the Study of Theology in Oxford. The delegates were told that one Abdus-Samad Sharafuddin of King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, while unable to attend in person, requested the organizers to distribute his paper entitled About the Myth of God Incarnate - An Impartial Survey of its Main Topics. The author explained that his work was of monumental importance, as "it shatters age-long darkness like a bolt from the blue; like a rational, God-sent lightning it strikes the London horizon to explode an age-long blunder in Christian thought." (The notion that Islam has a wonderfully clear simplicity compared to the cluttered complexity of Christianity is not new. It has been answered decades ago by C.S. Lewis:

"If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.")

Sharafuddin started his study by declaring that the Christian worship of Jesus as Lord is an act of open idolatry: Christ conceived as God Incarnate is a symbol of the rejection of the worship of one God. He concluded it by explaining that the true understanding of Jesus is given in the Koranic verse: "The Messiah, Son of Mary, was nothing but a messenger. Messengers have passed away before him." The concept of Trinity was "refuted" with another Koranic quote.

The proponents of an "Ecumenical Jihad," from President George W. Bush and Professor Forte to a Christian conservative like Peter Kreeft, share two fallacies. Their faulty understanding of Islamic theology leads them to imagine that "Allah" is more or less interchangeable with "God" of other monotheists. (Please see my article "Do Moslems, Christians and Jews Believe in the Same God?" on this question.) Their incomplete understanding of the phenomenon of secular globalization leads them to seek an equally monolithic counterweight on the side of faith.

In reality, the only resistance possible is not by blurring the boundaries of old identities, but by the reaffirmation of those identities. Islam is a natural ally of globalization, as it desires world government and rejoices in the liquidation of the traditional nationhoods of the West. It can only cheer at the spectacle of a mighty post-human cultural Leviathan that is devouring the remnants of Christendom and paving the way for a faith as yet unrelativized, untouched by self-doubt, immune to critical pondering of its assumptions. Perhaps when Bill Gates arrives in Mecca on his first hajj, they will understand.


Serge Trifkovic received his PhD from the University of Southampton in England and pursued postdoctoral research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His past journalistic outlets have included the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, CNN International, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is foreign affairs editor of Chronicles.


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