March 10, 2006


The gathering storm in the Middle East

There is a gathering storm in the Middle East that should be of grave concern to all people of good will, but particularly to those of us (Jews, Christians and Muslims) who worship the one true God and call Abraham our father in faith.

As evidenced by recent events in a region that has long been destabilized by violence and religious warfare, the deadly storm that is approaching pits a secularized Western world against a fundamentalist religious culture.

Neither understands the other. Neither is prepared to make the kinds of concessions that would make a true and lasting peace possible. If allowed to continue unchecked, what has until now been a series of relatively contained regional conflicts may soon erupt into a global event of deadly proportions.

Western culture has its roots in Greco-Roman philosophy and in Judeo-Christian theology. Although the direct influence of Judaism and Christianity has weakened considerably in our society, the basic orientation of the West remains intact. We are a reasonable people, committed to free expression and political compromise in the name of peace, which we see as the right-ordering of human relations to achieve the common good.

The fundamentalists who now hold sway in the Middle East base their world view on a radical interpretation of the Islamic way of life, a way that counsels total surrender to the will of Allah without prevarication or compromise. Radical interpretations of Islam distort its essentially peaceful character and its understanding of the loving God (Allah) who rules over all peoples and nations with justice tempered by mercy.

When secular humanism and radical fundamentalism meet head-on, the result is a clash of cultures whose outcome is chaos.

As the recent “cartoon controversy” shows beyond any doubt, the cynical and satiric atheism of the West is totally foreign to the absolute, uncompromising theism of the Middle East. In this kind of ideological conflict, no one compromises. No one surrenders. No one wins.

The solution (and the only hope) for lasting peace among the conflicted cultures of the West and the Middle East lies in a genuine recovery of our common humanity and of the spiritual roots we share as a result of our faith in the one true God.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The world in which we live is often marked by conflicts, violence and war, but it earnestly longs for peace, peace which is above all a gift from God, peace for which we must pray without ceasing. Yet peace is also a duty to which all peoples must be committed, especially those who profess to belong to religious traditions.”

As the pope pointed out, the spiritual traditions of the West and of the Middle East have much in common. There are also significant differences—and plenty of blame on all sides.

According to Pope Benedict, “It is true that the Muslim world is not totally mistaken when it reproaches the West of Christian tradition for moral decadence and the manipulation of human life … Islam has also had moments of great splendor and decadence in the course of its history.”

What is needed now is a clear focus on the religious heritage and basic human values that we share—in contrast to those things that divide us.

“A great deal of patience is needed,” the Holy Father said, “so that, in profound allegiance to revelation and the openness that this generates, we can leave it to the Lord to mark out the path for this dialogue.”

Let’s pray that the one God we worship will calm the storm and lead all the conflicted peoples of the world to a true and lasting peace.

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.) †


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