Beaded Curtain

Real Cultural Dialogue Must Come From Mutual Self-Criticism

Opinion | Margaret Childs | October 2006

Now we have a second Europe-Islam scandal. In the wake of Pope Benedict’s reference to a Byzantine emperor’s description of Islam as "evil and inhumane," the Roman Catholic Church is being accused of insulting the faith. The Pope’s apology of sorts and call for dialogue was not accepted as such, because it was understood as a call for respect for the West, and for Christianity.

Yes, respect is key in this issue. Is the Pope not treating Islam with dignity when he treats the faith and it’s community as peers w ho can be challenged and engaged? That is true respect.

But the dialogue the Pope requested – between Muslims and Christians – is not sufficient. What is necessary is a dialogue, an honest dialogue, between Muslims and Muslims. In each of the last two years on Ramadan, the most Holy day of the year, Sunni suicide bombers in Hilla and Baghdad killed over 50 worshippers. Yet there is barely a peep of protest in the Muslim world. Yet Danish cartoons and a papal speech lead to violent protests.

What if, on the other hand, Muslims butchering Muslims in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan could produce communal reaction. And if they don’t, what does Islam stand for today? It is not an insult to ask that question.

"What about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or Palestine?" a Muslim might say. "Let’s talk about your violence."

Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times suggested an answer: "Yes, let’s," he wrote. "But you’ll have to get in line behind us, because we’re constantly talking about where we’ve gone wrong." I agree. Without self-criticism we cannot have a useful dialogue. But neither can the Muslims.

Without an honest battle of ideas within Islam in which the moderates speak out and insist on political room, we find a curtain of rosaries and prayer beads, which could be as impenetrable as one of iron.

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