This extraordinary article explains exactly why it is unwise and ultimately self-defeating for Catholic leaders (and Christian leaders in general) to engage in “interfaith dialogue” with Muslim leaders without knowing much of anything about Islam, or, for that matter, about the goals for the dialogue of their Muslim counterparts. The author, William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for The Soul of The West, includes a succinct summary of the smear campaigns by Reza Aslan’s Aslan Media that got me canceled from a couple of Catholic events last year by bishops who did not trouble to inform themselves of all the facts of the case, and did not deign to allow me to defend myself from the charges. Kilpatrick shows how these incidents were part of a larger pattern of naive accommodation on the part of Catholic leaders that is ultimately not just self-defeating, but suicidal.
“Has the Church in the U.S. Succumbed to the Charms of Islam?,” by William Kilpatrick in New Oxford Review, January 2014:
…New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan paid a visit last summer to the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in Tompkinsville on Staten Island, where he met with a large group of Muslim leaders. As is often the case when Catholic prelates meet with Muslims, his theme was the common ground shared by the two faiths. Cardinal Dolan told his Islamic audience, “You love God, we love God, and he is the same God,” and he thanked them “for making me feel like a friend and a member of a family.” He went on to tell them how much they share in common with Catholics: “Your love of marriage and family, your love of children and babies, your love of freedom — religious freedom particularly — your defense of life, your desire for harmony and unity and your care for others, your care for God’s creation and your care for those who are in need.”
Perhaps this is true of the Muslims of Tompkinsville, but unfortunately the cardinal’s words will be taken as an endorsement of Islam in general. I say “unfortunately” because what he says about the common values and beliefs of Muslims and Catholics is highly misleading.
Two Fundamentally Distinct Faiths
Take the assertion that Muslims and Catholics love the same God. Of course, Cardinal Dolan’s statement can be justified in the broad sense: There is, after all, only one God. Whether prayer and worship are being offered to our Father in Heaven or to Allah or to the Great Spirit, there is only one God who is paying attention. But in that sense, anyone who offers up prayers is praying to the same God to whom Catholics pray.
Once we move from the general to the particular, the “same God” thesis begins to fall apart. In the New Testament, God presents Himself as a Trinity (Mt. 28:19); in the Koran, God explicitly denies being a Trinity (5:73). In the Gospels, God refers to Jesus as “my beloved Son” (Mt. 3:17); in the Koran, God curses Christians for calling Christ the Son of God (9:30). In the Christian account, God accepts His only Son’s sacrificial death on the cross; in the Muslim account, God declares reports of Christ’s crucifixion to be “a monstrous falsehood” (4:157). In light of these significant differences, it is difficult to see how the God of the Bible and the God of the Koran could be one and the same.
There are similar problems with Cardinal Dolan’s other assertions, such as, “Your love of marriage and the family.” Yes, Muslims can generally be counted on to love their families. But in many respects, the Catholic and Muslim views of marriage and family are worlds apart. To Catholics, marriage is a sacrament; to Muslims, it is a contract. Moreover, it is primarily a contract about sex and money. In fact, the Arabic language uses the same word, nikah, for both marriage and sexual intercourse. In Islam, marriage is an institution ordained to meet the sexual needs of men. Thus, a Muslim man can have two, three, or four wives at a time and as many different families. And four is not really an absolute limit because if a Muslim man gets tired of one of his wives, he need only say “I divorce you” three times and he is free to marry another. Although many Muslim men rise above their religion and stay faithful to one wife, the knowledge that one can be easily replaced creates an undercurrent of insecurity and instability that, in turn, leads to widespread family dysfunction in the Muslim world. In fact, a number of scholars contend that Islamic violence is in large part the result of Islamic family dynamics.
“Your love of children and babies.” Under Islamic law, women and children are little more than possessions of their husbands and fathers. Still, the bonds of natural affection often trump what Egyptian-born writer Nonie Darwish calls “the corrupting temptations” of Islam. Yet those religiously sanctioned temptations are ever present in the Muslim world. Take the matter of child marriage. Muhammad signed a marriage contract with Aisha when she was six years old, and consummated the marriage when she was nine. And Muhammad is considered by Muslims to be the most perfect human being who ever lived! The Koran says ninety-one times that all Muslims are supposed to pattern their lives after Muhammad. Thus, when Islamic societies strive to return to their Muhammaden roots, there is a corresponding demand for a lowering of the legal age of marriage. For example, Iranian lawmakers are now seeking to lower the age of marriage for girls to nine. Mohammad Ali Isfenani, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, called the current minimum age of thirteen “un-Islamic.”
Then, of course, there is the matter of honor killings. An increasing number of Muslim fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers feel so strongly about family honor that they are willing to murder any female relative who calls the family honor into question. Some commentators say this practice has nothing to do with Islam but is merely an unfortunate tribal custom. But the fact is that Muslims account for the vast majority of honor killings worldwide. This is because honor killings are protected under Islamic law. Perhaps the most authoritative guide to Islamic law is Reliance of the Traveler, a nine hundred-page manual that has been certified as reliable by Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Section O, which deals with “retaliations” (punishments) for killing a human being, explains that some killings are not subject to retaliation. For example, “not subject to retaliation” is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” In other words, parents or grandparents who kill their children or grandchildren should not be punished. And so, in many places in the Muslim world, the perpetrators of honor killings are not punished or else are let off with a light or suspended sentence.
“Your love of freedom — religious freedom particularly.” Religious freedom? But what about the freedom to change one’s religion? This would seem to be one of the most basic exercises of religious freedom. Yet there is near unanimity among Islamic scholars and jurists that male apostates from Islam should be killed. And the average Muslim in the street tends to agree. A 2010 Pew Forum survey of public opinion found that eighty-four percent of Egyptians agree that apostates should be killed. A Pew survey of Pakistanis revealed that seventy-eight percent favor death for those who leave Islam.
Freedom of religion would also seem to involve the freedom to criticize one’s religion. But, as is now becoming apparent, most Muslims worldwide have little or no freedom to criticize Islam due to its blasphemy laws. Moreover, unlike some other aspects of sharia law, blasphemy laws also apply to non-Muslims. Numerous Christians in Muslim lands have been jailed or killed for making an offhand remark about Muhammad or Islam. Nor does living in the West necessarily protect one from the reach of the blasphemy enforcers. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed in the streets of Amsterdam for making a film critical of Islam. In Denmark, writer Lars Hedegaard was nearly killed by a would-be assassin for “insulting Islam.” Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and his granddaughter were forced to take shelter in a safe room when an armed Muslim attempted to break into his house. Meanwhile, death fatwas have been issued against a Seattle cartoonist, a Los Angeles filmmaker, and a Florida pastor — all for violations of blasphemy laws.
It’s a good bet that Muslims in Tompkinsville don’t take the blasphemy laws as seriously as Muslims in Pakistan, but there are reasons to believe that not all American Muslims are as enthusiastic about religious liberty as Cardinal Dolan suggests. For example, a 2012 poll conducted by Wenzel Strategies found that fifty-eight percent of Muslim-American citizens believe that criticism of Islam or Muhammad should not be allowed under the U.S. Constitution. Forty-six percent said that Americans who criticize or parody Islam should face criminal charges, while one in eight respondents felt that such crimes merit the death penalty. Another forty-two percent said that Christians do not have the right to evangelize Muslims.
Pawns in the Great Chess Game
Cardinal Dolan realizes that the Catholic Church needs allies in the struggle to maintain religious liberty in the U.S., but it is doubtful that America’s imams will prove to be reliable allies. The “ecumenical jihad” approach — a strategy whereby Christians and Muslims are encouraged to join forces in a common struggle against secularism — might work with some issues and in some circumstances, but not with the issue of religious liberty. For a faithful Muslim, religious freedom largely means two things: freedom to practice sharia (thirty-two percent of those surveyed in the Wenzel poll believed that sharia should be the supreme law of the land in the U.S.) and freedom from criticism. Imams and Islamic activists undoubtedly realize that they are not the target of the Obama administration’s attack on religious freedom. In many different ways, the administration has shown a distinct bias against Catholics and in favor of Muslims. To the extent that Islamic leaders are interested in the issue of religious freedom, it is likely as leverage to silence the growing number of those who criticize Islam precisely for its suppression of freedom. An “alliance” with the Catholic hierarchy would, among other things, provide a degree of immunity from Catholic critics of Islam and, in fact, Muslim groups have already successfully prevailed upon members of the Catholic hierarchy to muzzle Catholics who speak out about the oppressive nature of Islam.
Islam’s representatives are willing to make alliances with Catholics, but not necessarily because they share the same values. Islamic leaders are just as likely to form alliances with secular leftists as with Catholic bishops. Again, this is not because they see eye-to-eye with the secular Left but because they see a political advantage. One of the major mistakes Christians make about Islam is to fail to understand its political nature. Unlike Christianity, subjugation of other religions and cultures is at its core. In this regard, it’s worth noting that the game of chess, which originated in India, was greatly improved upon once it reached Muslim lands. Strategy is an important concept in a warrior culture. Arguably, it is even more important to the twenty-first-century practitioners of stealth jihad — the process of spreading Islam by means of cultural rather than armed warfare. While bishops may regard their Muslim counterparts as “dialogue partners,” it is quite likely that not a few of their partners regard the bishops as pawns in the very serious game of Islamic expansion.
The most audacious recent move in this “great game” of strategy is the offer by Al-Azhar — Islam’s most important university — to renew relations with the Vatican. Relations were broken off when Pope Benedict XVI denounced the bombing of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. In an overture to Pope Francis, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said that relations could be resumed “if in one of his addresses he were to declare that Islam is a peaceful religion.” Quite clearly, the Grand Imam’s main interest in maintaining relations with the Vatican is to see how he can manipulate the Church in order to gain a strategic advantage. And he seems to have had some success. Pope Francis, in his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, asserted that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
“Sabotaging Its Miserable House”
We could examine more of Cardinal Dolan’s assertions about Islamic values — “your defense of life, your desire for harmony and unity,” etc. — but it’s more important to consider his appearance at the mosque in the larger context of long-term Islamist strategy. The strategy is essentially the same as the one that Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci recommended to communists in the 1930s — namely, the “long march through the institutions.” The Islamic version of the strategy was first outlined by Hasan al-Bana, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then developed by theorists such as Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Mawdudi. More recently, the strategy has been used to great effect by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in gradually transforming secularist Turkey into an Islamist society. The strategy includes the West as well. A secret twenty-page document written in 1991 by a member of the Board of Directors of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America and later obtained by the FBI, sets forth the group’s mission as “a grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers.”
“From within…by their hands.” The author seems to have a good grasp of the Western penchant for cooperating in its own undoing. The long march through the institutions doesn’t need to take that much time when the institutions are throwing open the doors and putting out the welcome mat. One of the institutions that the Muslim Brotherhood aims to influence and manipulate is the Catholic Church. Representatives of Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America have already managed to get themselves appointed as the bishops’ main dialogue partners in the U.S. Moreover, numerous Catholic colleges seem also to have succumbed to the charms of Islam. Some of the Islamic studies courses served up to Catholic students and seminarians might as well have “Made in Saudi Arabia” stamped on the front. In addition, Catholic high schools can generally be counted on to present a whitewashed picture of Islam.
It is difficult to see what benefits these faith alliances bring to Catholics, but they provide a number of benefits to Muslims. The benefit of having Catholic schools and colleges act as apologists for Islam is obvious and is, by the way, a favor that is not reciprocated in Islamic schools. A less obvious but equally important benefit is that the kind of endorsement provided by Cardinal Dolan and other Catholic leaders lends legitimacy to Islam. It makes Islam look like a member in good standing of the club of world religions and tends to confirm the thesis that all the butchery done in the name of Islam is the work of “fanatics.” Moreover, these alliances also serve to neutralize Islam’s Catholic critics.
A Case Study
The case of Robert Spencer, who has been described by Fr. C.J. McCloskey as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country” (National Catholic Register, July 6, 2013), is illustrative. Spencer was invited to give a talk to a Catholic men’s group in Worcester, Massachusetts, last spring; however, under pressure from Muslims, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester rescinded the invitation on the grounds that Spencer’s talk “would impact negatively on the Church’s increasingly constructive dialogue with Muslims.”
Last summer Spencer was scheduled to speak at a Catholic homeschool conference in Sacramento, California, sponsored by Kolbe Academy. For their pains, Kolbe Academy officials received a letter from Nathan Lean, editor-in-chief of Aslan Media, whose founder, Reza Aslan, is a Muslim critic of Christianity. The letter stated that the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League list Spencer as a “hate group leader” and that Spencer “regularly appears in public with members of the neo-Nazi street gang, the English Defence League….” Lean continued, “Why Kolbe Academy would knowingly host a man with these associations is unclear…. I have alerted several major civil rights organizations and watch groups about this and they have informed me that they are investigating the invitation…. Additionally, I have spoken with news media outlets both in the state of California and nationally…. They were unaware of this speaking engagement and many are interested in pursuing stories about it….”
In other words, “Nice little academy you have there. It would be a shame if something bad were to happen to it.” As Lean fully understands, it doesn’t matter that his portrayal of Spencer as a hater is false. What Catholic organization would want that kind of attention? As it turns out, Kolbe Academy stood firm. It was forced, however, to find a new location because, like the bishop of Worcester, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento denied permission for Spencer to speak on Church property. Spencer’s foes didn’t fully succeed in blocking him this time around, but the fact that they should have so much influence over diocesan matters is disturbing.
They tried again later last summer when Spencer accepted an invitation to debate Shadid Lewis of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the U.S. The event was hosted by Ave Maria Radio and held at Eastern Michigan University, so Spencer’s stalkers couldn’t very well pressure Church authorities to cancel the event. Nevertheless, they did their best to persuade Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, who celebrated Mass after the debate symposium, to disassociate himself from the event. Victor Begg of the Michigan Muslim Community Council asked why the bishop would appear at the symposium “knowing these people have an Islamophobic, bigoted agenda.” Likewise, Dawood Zwink, the group’s executive director, questioned why the debate organizers would choose such an “incendiary” figure as Spencer.
The Michigan Muslims failed to capture their opponent’s bishop, but that is no reason to celebrate. Other bishops and Catholic groups will take note of the controversy and think twice before inviting critics of Islamic supremacism to speak. Consequently, we can expect to see a series of similar moves by Islamic activists in the future. Their goal is to marginalize their opponents by removing them from play one by one. When the Muslim Brotherhood memorandum speaks of sabotaging Western civilization “by their hands,” this is the kind of tactic to which they are referring. They want to silence Spencer and other critics of Islam, and they want Catholics to do the silencing for them.
Some Catholics seem all too happy to comply. For example, in an article for the National Catholic Reporter that appeared shortly before the debate at Eastern Michigan, Michael Sean Winters wrote that Spencer should be barred from Catholic forums because his “vile anti-Muslim pronouncements certainly approach the level of bigotry we associate with Holocaust denial” (Aug. 8, 2013). Winters neglected to quote any of these “vile” pronouncements, but apparently fairness and accuracy don’t matter when you’re dealing with someone whose views are “morally repugnant.” In the course of his diatribe, Winters cautioned Bishop Boyea that he would be “well-advised to follow the example of his brother bishops and say that the Catholic Church simply cannot be associated with this vile anti-Muslim bigotry.”…
There is more. Read it all.