Global Agenda: The return of religion

Looking back over the outgoing Jewish year, it is plain that the outstanding global events shared a common theme - they all involved radical Islam.

September 22, 2006 06:21
3 minute read.
Global Agenda: The return of religion

big three religions 88. (photo credit: )


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Looking back over the outgoing Jewish year, it is plain that the outstanding global events shared a common theme - they all involved radical Islam. These events were a) the publication of and (belated; the fuss started two months later) uproar over the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark; b) the Israeli campaign against Hizbullah; c) the protests following the Pope's reference to Muhammad and his legacy in a lecture last week. Of these, the last seems to me by far the most important, both in itself and because it confirms and extends the implications arising from the others. This conclusion is being borne out by the fallout from "the Pope incident" as expressed in every kind of communications medium - but most especially in the rapidly-growing blogosphere. Whereas the response of the West - primarily its secular majority but also its religious minority - to the cartoons was dominated by confusion, embarrassment and ultimately surrender, and whereas the response of the West to the second Lebanon war was, overwhelmingly, to blame Israel and the Jews for causing trouble, this time is very different. True, the initial, knee-jerk reaction of the supreme bastion of Western secular liberalism, the New York Times, was to blame the Pope and demand that the Vatican apologize to the Muslim world for the supposed insult delivered it. But over the following week that reaction has proven to be atypical. The NYT, at least, understood that the main theme of the offending speech was not a theological critique of Islam but rather a continuation of this Pope's main crusade during his career - namely, criticism of Western secular liberalism and the culture it has spawned. Whether the Pontiff, in the context of a broad-ranging analysis of the role of reason in faith, intentionally included the quote from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor to test what the Muslim response would be - as claimed by some commentators, themselves of a Byzantine bent - or whether this was a genuine demonstration of papal fallibility hardly matters anymore. The intensity of the response across the Muslim world tells its own story and reinforces the message from the earlier round of rage, inspired by the Muhammad cartoons. Ironically, the secular world - from neoliberals to Marxists to post-modernists - has been more shaken by the Muslim fury that followed "the Pope incident" than it was by the backlash to the Muhammad cartoons. They and other neutral parties - such as Jews, Protestants and even Hindus - to this clash between Roman Catholicism and Islam seem to grasp implicitly that this is not funny, nor is their traditional dislike of the Catholic Church an excuse for some schadenfreude. On the contrary: people finally realized that there is a global war going on after all, and that, despite all protestations to the contrary, it is about religion. Until this week, enormous efforts have been expended in "the West" - a very loose term that in this context includes Japan, Russia and probably even China - to deny that the world has a problem with the extremist versions of Islam, which now dominate the Muslim world and agenda. This epiphanic moment is only partially due to "the Pope incident" and is probably more the cumulative outcome of all the "incidents" over the last year and, indeed, decade. What has all this to do with the global economy? A great deal, actually. "The Pope incident" may prove to be the turning point for Europe, when it finally realizes that it has a choice between seeking to preserve the culture it developed over the last 1000-1500 years - which is, at root, a Christian culture - and between rolling over and dying under a Muslim demographic and cultural onslaught. If so, everything now taken for granted by economists - such as the primacy of mainstream socio-economic issues in the political life of the West and, especially, of European Union countries - goes out of the window. When you are fighting for your national, cultural - let alone spiritual - existence, inflation targets and debt: GDP ratios become less, dare one say, sacrosanct. As for the Israeli economy, the idea that we are in peril has reasserted itself powerfully these last two months and is beginning to impact economic and social policymaking. But if "the Pope incident" proves to be the precursor to an anti-Muslim backlash in Europe, the continent's Jews will surely revert to their historic role of being caught in the middle. Expect, therefore, to hear a lot more French in your neighborhood soon.

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