Cardinal Scola Exchanges Views With a Muslim Leader

April 2007By Tom Bethell

Tom Bethell is a Contributing Editor of the NOR and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery, 2005).

I tend to avoid interfaith dialogues. But I made an exception when I heard that Cardinal Scola was participating in what was billed as a "Distinguished Dialogue." It would be held on January 17, at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. Angelo Cardinal Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, would exchange views with Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, the Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, Calif., and the past President of the Islamic Society of America. (Venice, for some reason, has a patriarch rather than an archbishop.)

Their topic: "The Primordial Relationship between God and the Human Person in Catholicism and Islam."

Was there not a certain inequality of rank? The Patriarch of Venice debating an Islamic leader from Orange County? It's a pretty good rule of thumb that he who seeks a debate is the weaker party ("Can't we talk?"). The other, in such cases, may have no good reason to accept ("It would be of no benefit to me").

On the other hand, comparisons of weakness and strength are not easily made when contemporary Islam and Christianity are involved. Islam is a rising force in the world, while Christianity, in the West at least, seems to be in grave decline. Maybe the encounter would prove to be more evenly matched than the speakers' titles suggested.

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I believe 'aporetic' refers to the effect in Socratic dialogues of bringing the interlocutor, so to speak, off a secure way, into 'aporia'. Socrates brought people to aporia in order to challenge their intellectual security and, it can be said, smugness.

As for the disparity between much Islamic and Western rhetoric, I pass along an incident from my undergraduate years:

I was friends with a few Muslim classmates in a course on Islamic culture, and found myself now and then at meetings of their Islam campus group. On one occasion the imam was exhorting the young Muslims, separated by gender on each side of the room, to stop studying engineering, math, etc., and start studying humanities. Those who shape culture, he argued, win the society. Soon enough he began speaking of the eventual victory of Islam over all challengers, especially Israel and the Jews. The Prophet, he said, had assured the Dar al-Islam that someday they would "drive the Jews into the [Mediterranean] sea" and slaughter them at last. Immediately a WASPish young lady in the law school, a convert to Islam, fully garbed in a black burqa, replied, diffidently, "But by that the Prophet PBUH was speaking metaphorically... right... a cultural victory over non-Muslims?" Without a pause the imam replied, "Oh, no, he meant it quite literally: We will drive the Jews into the waters and massacre them." His eyes then averted to mine and I simply returned his gaze, having learned plenty for the night. At least, I suppose, he was honest!
Posted by: eb de sales
April 12, 2007 05:59 AM EDT
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