Civilizations in Conflict: Tension and Turmoil between the West and the Muslim World Have Always Existed, but Is a Catastrophic Global Conflict Inevitable?

By Grigg, William Norman | The New American, October 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

Civilizations in Conflict: Tension and Turmoil between the West and the Muslim World Have Always Existed, but Is a Catastrophic Global Conflict Inevitable?


Grigg, William Norman, The New American


"I was afraid," recalled Esther Najjar, an Arab Catholic from Gaza, to a wire-service reporter following an attack by Muslim radicals on several local churches. With mobs attacking five Christian churches--one of which was gutted --throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and angry demonstrations taking place near her neighborhood, Esther kept her two youngest daughters home from school.

The attacks followed a speech delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pontiff cited a Byzantine Emperor's negative assessment of the religious legacy left by Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic faith.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," wrote Emperor Manuel II Paleologus to an unidentified Persian scholar in the late 14th or early 15th century--a time when Constantinople was intermittently under siege by Turkish forces (and also being looked at with covetous intent by some Christian kingdoms, as well).

The apparent intent of Pope Benedict was to extol the virtues of what he called "the best of Greek thought"--with its focus on appealing to logic and reason--as a means of understanding transcendent truths about God, and of persuading others to believe.

Missing the Message

The address, delivered at a university where Benedict once taught, was both subtle and profound, littered with provocative and debatable assertions that the Pope hoped would be examined and debated as part of a respectful dialogue. Predictably enough, the machinery of the contemporary media was too coarsely attuned to pick up the subtleties of the Pope's speech, which was depicted--on the basis of brief portions of the quotes from Manuel II, orphaned from their context--as a broadside against Islam and its founder, Mohammed. The results were quite predictable.

Throughout the Muslim world, demonstrations quickly erupted. Maledictions were hurled at the Pope, who was burned in effigy in Pakistan and Iraq. Pakistan's legislature unanimously passed a measure condemning the Pope's speech. The murder of a nun in Somalia was suspected of being an act of retaliation against the Church by Islamic radicals in that country. The Pope himself was subject to several death threats, one of which was issued by Iraq's Mujahadin Shura Council, which declared: "We will destroy the cross ... then all that will be accepted will be conversion" or death.

Given what was perceived as a worldwide eruption of Islamist rage over a speech that was intended to be a respectful invitation to dialogue, many in the West have likely come to believe that the much-discussed "clash of civilizations" with the Muslim world is irrepressible.

According to Charles Featherstone, a one-time convert to Islam who is now studying to become a Christian pastor, that perception is wrong--perhaps tragically so.

Ideology, Not Religion

A U.S. Army veteran who is currently in a Masters of Divinity program at Chicago's Lutheran School of Theology, Featherstone has worked abroad in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Fluent in Arabic and exceptionally well versed in the religious and cultural history of the Dar-Al-Islam ("House of Islam"), Featherstone believes that while troubles and tensions between the West and Islam are inevitable, a disastrous global conflict need not be.

"Muslims are touchy and sensitive," Featherstone tells THE NEW AMERICAN. "Too touchy and sensitive. Even when I was a Muslim, I wanted to tell people to shut up and calm down. But a lot of Muslims will let this stuff simply slide--they expect it."

Why, then, are we treated to spectacles like the violent reaction to Pope Benedict's address, and the recent riots over cartoon caricatures of Mohammed? A large part of this is a result of perceptions engineered by the media, insists Featherstone, who studied journalism at San Francisco State. …

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