The President at the UN and the Pope in Trouble

The President went to the heart of the issue:

The President went to the heart of the issue:

Some have argued that the democratic changes we’re seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with. The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. And these conditions left a generation disillusioned, and made this region a breeding ground for extremism… everywhere (young people in repressive societies) turn, (they) hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and regain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom.

From this, the President concluded that the antidote to radicalism is freedom, openness and the ability to determine one’s own economic, political and religious future. We concur. The radicals actually concur as well, which is why they are so determined to wreck any possibility thereof.

The determination to rule dictatorially and suppress differing viewpoints is not so much a religious problem as an imperialist one. Radical Islamists dream of restoring the imperial empire – the Caliphate – much the way remnants of many defeated secular empires do. But whereas leftover communists and Nazis or Japanese imperialists are relegated to the fringes, Islamist imperialists are on the march.

In Balkan Ghosts, Robert Kaplan wrote about the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, noting that when groups assert that they are only interested in their “rightful territory,” they mean the territory they controlled at the height of their reach. This, he wrote, was a prescription for endless war because the largest Serbia that ever existed overlapped the largest Croatia that ever existed, which overlapped the largest Slovenia, Albania, Montenegro and so on. The point applies to spiritual as well as physical hegemony.

The territorial aspirations of Caliphate-centric Islam overlap the territorial province of the Catholic Church. In Africa, both are expanding into new ground, making more conflict inevitable as long as Islam insists upon exclusivity, or at least legal primacy – think of Sudan and the north-south Islamic-Christian split that produced decades of horrendous bloody warfare long before Darfur. The spiritual aspirations of radical Islam overlap the spiritual realm of the Catholic Church as well.

Without forgetting that the Catholic Church has a violent and imperialist past as well, including the Spanish Inquisition, the Vatican has forsaken its claim to territory and enforced spiritual exclusivity. Imperialist Islam has not.

President Bush was right that the turmoil in the Middle East was there and doing violence long before we were prepared to recognize it. The remedy is ever increasing doses of openness to the world and continuing self-confidence by those of us who believe in give-and-take in the political, social and spiritual worlds.