When I proposed in my book The Enemy at Home (newly out in paperback) that America should ally with traditional Muslims to defeat the radical Muslims, some conservatives reacted with amazement. Where, these savants inquired, are the traditional Muslims? Clearly the exposure of some on the right to the Muslim world was limited to the viewing of clips of Bin Laden videos on the Fox News Channel.
Then last October a group of 138 Muslim scholars from diverse schools of thought wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict urging “mutual understanding” between Christianity and Islam. Titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” the letter notes that Muslims and Christians can find shared ground based on the dual commandments to love God and love our neighbor.
“As Muslims,” the letter goes, “we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them–so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them, and drive them out of their homes.” The letter was carefully worded so that it did not confuse clashes of interests with a war against the Muslim religion. In effect, the Muslim leaders were saying that their religious quarrel is only with atheists and other enemies of Islam.
Liberal Christians reacted to the letter with their usual abasement. Certainly some relief was in order, because Muslims who seek common cause with the West, or at least with the Christian West, are far preferable to those who seek to destroy us. Even so, why are liberal Christians so quick to prostrate themselves? “We want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in the war on terror) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbor…We ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”
The Vatican, accustomed to dealing with Muslim diplomatic initiatives for centuries, responded with much greater caution. While welcoming the initiative to dialog, the Vatican’s Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran stressed that genuine common ground requires reciprocity. So if Muslims want to have full rights of worship in Western countries, they should grant those same rights to Christians in Muslim countries. If Muslims have the freedom to build mosques in London and Chicago, Christians should be able to build churches in Islamabad and Amman.
One group of ignoramuses wants to wage an ideological war against Islam. Another group of sycophants wants to curry favor among Muslims, just so long as they abstain from bombing us. In between these two there is a sensible option: to negotiate respectfully but firmly with traditional Muslims, building on shared values but also insisting that justice and goodwill must come from both sides of the street.