POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Fifth Anniversary of 9/11

by David Trumbull

September 8, 2006

Last month, speaking of the terrorist plot thwarted by British officials, President Bush said: "...this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation." It was not the first time that the President publicly made the connection between Islam --or at least an element within Islam-- and the terrorists. Nevertheless, it was widely noticed and reported as a departure from the Administration's earlier insistence that, as President Bush stated on September 17, 2001, "Islam is Peace." Or as WRKO radio host Howie Carr puts it, "Eeslahm iz a releegion of peesss."

So is, or is not, Islam a religion of peace?

Not being an expert on Islam, I cannot say. Many essays in print or on the internet purport to answer by quoting Islamic texts ripped from both their context in the Qur'an and from living Muslim faith as practiced. Those essays cannot bring us to a satisfactory answer, for what emerges from such a process is likely to be a travesty of the Islamic faith. The Christian faith, likewise, can be, and has been, made to look ridiculous or abhorrent, merely by quoting our own authoritative texts. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote of this abuse of texts, comparing it to

[A] foreigner, who, after reading a commentary on the principles of English Law, does not get nearer to a real apprehension of them than to be led to accuse Englishmen of considering that the Queen is impeccable and infallible, and that the Parliament is omnipotent.

And so, how then shall we answer our question" Is Islam a religion of peace?" We don't, for it is the wrong question. Many Muslims claim it is a religion of peace. And I am content to take them at their word. Surely a Muslim practicing his faith knows that faith better than any outsider looking in.

Likewise, when the terrorists, who are all practicing Muslims, claim that Islam compels them to murder innocent civilian women and children, I must take them at their word too. For them Islam, the Islam that they practice, is a religion of almost unbelievable hatred and brutality.

For the terrorists, Islam is the reason for the terror. That is not saying that Islam is a violent faith or that Muslims in general agree with the definition of the demands of Islam as preached and practiced by the terrorists. It is a statement about the terrorists, not an accusation directed toward Islam. A corollary statement is that the reason, or at least the principle reason, for the terror, therefore, is not U.S. policy in the Near or Middle East.

It's often said that the first important thing is war is to recognize who the enemy is. Seventy years before that infamous September 11, the fifth anniversary of which we commiserate over on Monday, another great English Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc, warned us

Millions of modern people ...[in] Europe and America have forgotten all about Islam... It is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilization has had, and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it has been in the past.