Politics & Policy

The Wisdom of Benedict XVI

1391 and 2006.

Hearing pundits and spinmeisters opine that Benedict XVI had not mastered the skills of media management was a reminder that in the world of appearances, papier mâché figures usurp in surface what they lack in depth. Contrary to his detractors, the pope is dealing in the real world.

The leader of the world’s most ancient institution, one with an unbroken continuity that spans over two millennia, and a memory to match, took a stand with his report of the dialogue between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II and an “educated Persian” on he subject of Islam and jihad.

That dialogue occurred in year 1391. There is a context, which only ignoramuses could suspect the pope of not having taken into full account: in those years, the Ottoman Turks crushed and overran the Serbian kingdom, the Muslim warlord Tamerlane broke the back of the Persian empire and occupied it, the empire of Bulgaria was destroyed by the Ottomans and incorporated into their empire.

The Muslim jihad was threatening the whole of Christendom, and was devastating Muslim lands as well, such as the anciently civilized Persia. To broaden the perspective, add that in short order, the Islamicized Mongols were to besiege Moscow, crush a Hungarian-German army in Central Europe, occupy Bosnia, besiege, sack, and slaughter New Delhi, and take Syria — even before the 14the century expired.

Politics is theology diluted. The pope’s admonition to “be obedient to the truth” is the core of the civilization built by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. His mention of the Muslim doctrinaire of “Zahirism,” Ibn Hazm of Cordova (d. 1064) who, he recalls, went so far as to state “that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry,” ought to be taken seriously — Ibn Hazm, after all, was a noted theorist of jihad.

Contrary to the naïve souls of unbounded cleverness, the pope is not trying to be nice, or to “sell” his doctrine like a Madison Avenue salesman. The dialogue he reports on takes place “in the winter barracks near Ankara.” There is a war going on. It is not a war “on terror,” it is a war on jihad and an Islam that has, for all practical purposes, thrown its lot with the jihadis, or at least never clearly and practically distanced itself from jihad. The emperor wrote the dialogue “during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402.” Ideas have consequences. The denial of human reason and the denial of faith go hand in hand to promote inhumanity. The West cannot defend itself if it believes in nothing. “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature,” Benedict XVI reminds us — but what is Al Jazeera doing when it gleefully airs mass consumption snuff movies of jihadis beheading “infidels”? Jihad is the pathology of religion just as Nazism and Bolshevism were the pathologies of reason and modernity.

The irrational nihilism of modern jihad is what produces the torrents of blood spilled by the jihadis throughout the world. “We love death more than you love life,” they proudly proclaim. In promoting a culture of life, of faith and reason, the pope is boldly taking the moral and intellectual leadership that has been sorely missing in our response to the war declared on us on September 11.

– Laurent Murawiec is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., most recently the author of The Mind of Jihad.

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