German Cardinal interview in Spiegel: Islam is a different culture

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Catholic Church ecumenical representative had an interview with Spiegel magazine in Germany on the relation with Islam, and the Pope's recent speech where he quoted a medieval text that is offensive to Muslims.

There are several points in the article that are disturbingly inaccurate. Just today, I heard a person of authority making the comment : "Islam is different" like the cardinal did.

Here are the parts that are inaccurate and responses to them:

"Islam is a Different Culture"

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Catholic Church's ecumenical representative, discusses the Vatican's relations with Muslims and the furor over the pope's recent remarks.

SPIEGEL: Cardinal, are you surprised by the intense reaction of Muslims worldwide to the pope's speech in Regensburg?

Kasper: Because the Christian faith constitutes a voluntary personal act, the pope has every right to address the justifiable concerns of the Enlightenment: the concept of universal human rights, religious freedom and the distinction between religion and politics. After all, the Catholic Church is a world church and more of a global player today than ever before.

An official of the Catholic Church should know better than to lecture about human rights and religious freedom, and distinction between religion and politics. The reason is that these concepted were wrestled away from the church by Europe five centuries ago. The church used the Inquisition to suppress any practice of any other religion (be it Protestant, Islam or Judaism).

SPIEGEL: Why is dialogue with Islam so difficult for the Catholic Church?

Kasper: There is no such thing as one Islam. The Koran is ambiguous and Islam is not a monolithic entity. The distinction between radical Islam and moderate Muslims is important, as are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, and between militant and mystical Islam. Islam in the Arab world coexists with Indonesian, Pakistani and Turkish Islam. There is limited solidarity, even within the Arab world. Muslims living among us (in Germany) haven't managed to build an organization that represents all Muslims. Such an organization could protect us against irrational fantasies driven by fear, fantasies that completely demonize Islam. But it is difficult, under the current circumstances, to find representative counterparts to talk with.

He correctly realizes that Islam is not a centralized religion like the Catholic church, and that has benefits as well as drawbacks.

SPIEGEL: Do you think a dialogue on equal footing is possible?

Kasper: One cannot be naïve when engaging in this dialogue. Islam undoubtedly deserves respect. It has some things in common with Christianity, such as Abraham as a common progenitor, and the belief in only one God. But Islam developed in opposition to orthodox Christianity from the very start, and it considers itself superior to Christianity.

Every religion thinks of itself as unique and superior to others. Otherwise, there is no point in joining it and not the others.

So far, it has only been tolerant in places where it is in the minority. Where it is the majority religion, Islam does not recognize religious freedom, at least not as we understand it.


Witness all the Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, Zoroastrians and others living today in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and elsewhere. These are descendants of pre-Islamic communities who continue to exist after 14 centuries of Islam, or refugees from other parts of the world.

Where are the Jews and Muslims in Iberia and Sicily who were forced to convert or leave by the Catholic church and authorities?

Islam is a different culture. This doesn't mean that it's an inferior culture, but it is a culture that has yet to connect with the positive sides of our modern Western culture: religious freedom, human rights and equal rights for women. These shortcomings are one reason so many Muslims feel such frustration that often turns into hatred and violence against the West, which is despised as being godless and decadent. Suicide attacks are the actions of losers who have nothing left to lose. In this case, Islam serves as a mask, a cover for desperation and nihilism, but not for religion.

The "different" part here and its explanation is very telling of where the prejudice is.

As he concludes, hatred of the West, seeing it as decadent and godless, and suicide attacks are all results of political, social and economical problems local to Muslim countries. The prevalent dictatorship and monopoly of power, crackdown on those who request change, insecurity, and corruption are all the real factors. Coupled with Western meddling, proping up regimes, and the Middle East conflict, these factors now project on the West, but the problem is local first and foremost.

SPIEGEL: In which direction do you believe Islam is developing?

Kasper: One unanswered question is whether a Euro-Islam that combines Islam with democracy will be possible in the future. We mustn't confuse desire with reality. How should Europe behave? Europe sees itself as a liberal-minded society. It has no desire to be, nor can it be, a "Christian club. But Europe's experiment with multiculturalism, or the side-by-side existence of different cultures, has failed throughout the continent. Integration requires a minimum basis of shared values, that is, a culture of mutual tolerance and respect -- in other words, what constitutes the heart of European culture. This is why integration is not possible without excluding those who do not recognize this culture. Those who are unprepared to demonstrate tolerance cannot expect or even demand tolerance for themselves.

Contrast this with Muslim Spain (Andalus), and how several groups co-existed in what is now known as convivencia. The Muslims were Arabs (two main branches, northern from Syria and southern from Yemen), Berber, Slavs (Saqaliba صقالبة), Muwalads (Iberian converts مولدين). There were also the Jews and the native Christian population. All these existed for centuries together, with rare tensions.

Only after Ferdinand and Isabella (the Catholic monarchs) took over had the cleansing by conversion or exile eliminate the non-Catholics.

SPIEGEL: Is drawing references to the history of Christianity and Islam truly helpful in promoting dialogue?

Kasper: Christianity brought something new and revolutionary: freedom and unconditional dignity for each individual, regardless of his religion, culture or nationality. But the East and the West have parted ways since the Crusades. "Better the turbans of the Turks than the miters of the Romans," was once a saying in the East.

Another case of tolerating non-Muslims in Muslim land.

Let me also mention here that the Fourth Crusade was started by Western Christians (Catholics) against Eastern ones (Orthodox).

The severing of ties with the East signified an intellectual impoverishment, which led to a crisis within the church in the late Middle Ages. It was one of the reasons for the Reformation in the 16th century. With its concept of "freedom of the Christian individual," the Reformation introduced an important intellectual and cultural force into European culture. But it also led to the fracturing of Western Christianity...

The fracturing already happened in the 11th century without Muslim intervention due to politicsal as well as theological issues.

SPIEGEL: Is this the conclusion you draw from the Inquisition and the attempts to spread the faith by force?

Kasper: The distinction between the religious and secular orders is a fundamental aspect of Christianity today. This distinction is an innovation compared to Islam and Judaism, and it is an advantage that has helped shape Europe. It is also rooted in the words of Jesus Christ, who said: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's."

The New Testament gives a picture about Jews suffering under the yoke of the Romans and awaiting a Messiah to lead them against Rome. They called him the King of the Jews. When this did not happen, the message was spiritualized by some of his followers into allegories. Other Jews continued to resist, such as Bar Kochba and the siege of Masada.

Note that Jesus never established a "state" in his life, in contrast with Moses and Muhammad. When there is a state, there are needs for laws, courts, and even battles. In the absence of a state, it is easy to say obey the current authorities.

The Cardinal forgets the time when the church was as powerful as the kings of the time and there were even Papal states conducting wars against others, as well as using the excommunication weapon against monarchs that oppose it.

Later when Europe decided that separation of Church and state is best, it seems the church played along ...