Arshin Adib-Moghaddam explains how the recent remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI, linking Islam to violence, both show a lack of regard for the heightened sensitivity on both sides of the cognitive divide, as well as establish a new exclusionary discourse, simplifying and falsifying complex issues. Although the Pope claimed to be adhering to the standards of reason and scholarly discourse, his comments have not helped to render Islam in anyway more comprehensible or accessible, and have only ignored the complex multifarious and multi-dimensional imminence of Islam in international society. In Adib-Moghaddam‘s opinion, in order to truly establish a scholarly discourse based upon reason, we must be certain to avoid all religious and political bias, and take on the exploration of complex and unfamiliar territory in an open way.
FOR THOSE WHO HAVE CHOSEN THE CUMBERSOME task of explaining such seemingly facile and abstract entities such as Muslim and Islam the recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany in which he quoted a 14th century conversation between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and a Persian scholar during the siege of Constantinople is problematic; not only because it linked Islam to violence during a period of heightened sensitivity on both sides of the cognitive divide, but because of its methodical flaws.
True, there is no reason why a major religious leader should not provoke controversy on a subject area that has conquered such centrality in world politics. But in the current climate of increasing emotional incitement it is central that this is done in a manner that fits the standards the title of the pope’s lecture refers to: those of reason and scholarly discourse. By linking Islam to violence in a Unitarian, almost mono-causal way, the pope failed to adhere to these norms of appropriate behaviour.
Perhaps unconsciously, the pope has chosen a type of exclusionary discourse that does not lower the barriers in order to make Islams more accessible, comprehendible, analysable.
His choice of words does not engage or include Muslims. Rather to the contrary, it reifies the image of Islam as a place of minimum saturation, it reiterates the cliché that Islam is inherently violent, and, ironically, it gives implicit credence to the neo-fundamentalist myth that Islam demands perpetual and permanent holy war both within Muslim societies and against the enemy without. But rather than reifying the unity of categories such as Islam or Muslim, rather than enforcing their totalitarian claim, rather than ignoring their inner centrifugal and centripetal forces, rather than reducing their differences could one not investigate their dispersion, their multifarious presence, their multi-dimensional immanence in international society? Instead of finding reassurance in retroactive categories, instead of keeping the discourse within the certainties to which the media and elite is accustomed is it not worthwhile to explore the opportunity to enter unfamiliar territories?
I think that deciphering the grammar of international violence in the name of Islam requires inclusive dialogue that is a) politically disinterested, uncompromisingly avoiding adherence to institutional agendas, party manifestos and/or grand sociological reform processes and b) analytically secular, rigorously bracketing throughout any questions of the ultimate truth or other matters of religious interpretation.
Compromising one or the other is always for someone, always for the party, the church, the cleric, the terrorist movement or other entities with an exclusive claim to reality. Engendering reasoned discourse which works against nihilistic violence, in short, asks for societal emancipation from the agents of politics and organised religion, not encroachment by them.