(Vatican Radio, August 22, 2014). The aggravation of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq in the name of the Islamic Caliphate has been accompanied by widely publicized and sensationalized incidents of extreme barbarity, such as the decapitation of a journalist from the United States. But there has also been a crescendo of violent acts in African countries such as Nigeria against those who are not recognized by Sharia law. The world is facing a dramatic expansion of extremist Islamic ideology. Fausta Speranza spoke about it with Egyptian Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, a professor of the history of Arab culture and Islamology at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.
Fr. Samir: Today the problem is political. The war in Syria, at the beginning, was a war of Syrians who were protesting against a dictatorial regime; but very quickly—just two months later—they were followed by persons from all over the Islamic world, and in particular from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to wage war because those in the government were Shiites and Alawites. The problem, therefore, is internal to Islam from the start, because it is an ever-recurring phenomenon, the dogmatic statement: “Anyone who does not belong to authentic Islam must be eliminated,” the kafir. “Kafir” was a word that applied to those who do not believe in God, but it was broadened; declaring someone else “kafir”—in Arabic they say “takfir”—is one of the plagues of modern Islam, namely, saying that someone else is not a genuine Muslim and must be eliminated.
Vatican Radio: But how do you explain this intensification of fundamentalism and of the extremism of this Islamic idea? Can we say that a failure of the educational process has led to this revival of violence and power-seeking?
Fr. Samir: Yes! Educational and political. The crisis is quite clear: there is poverty, there is ignorance… just as there is a crisis of civility in the West, which however assumes the form of neo-paganism…. but that is a different problem.
Vatican Radio: Maybe nowadays we are experiencing a low point of humanity: we really need a new humanism….
Fr. Samir: Yes, we have now reached the most ferocious brutality in the history of Islam. Never before have we witnessed this degree of barbarity. The question is: Is this Islam? Or is it an aberration? Certainly it originates in the Islamic tradition. But on the other hand, we certainly cannot say that this is Islam. In other words, it is a derivative of Islam: they hope to bring about the “caliphate”, [as in] the famous period from the turn of the tenth century to the thirteenth, and this is a mistake. Many Muslims say so; I repeat: their great thinkers are opposed to it. The tragedy is that Muslims do not dare engage in self-criticism: in other words, the people silently go along with it. I don’t see [anyone saying] what even the Vatican Commission for interreligious dialogue says in the document that it issued on Tuesday, August 12: These things are unacceptable! It is the clearest document that I know of; it does not use diplomatic expressions; it is very balanced but strong. And it says: How long are you going to remain silent? Let the imams speak up! And not only the imams: the crowd, the Muslim people go into the public squares when there is a minor political “cause” involving others, against others; but when it is about Islamic questions, they may think that something is not right, but they do not go into the streets over that.
Vatican Radio: What might be the way out of all this?
Fr. Samir: Some collaboration with the Western world; helping them to take a step toward a universalist vision. For example, what are the rights of a human being? If we could apply that vision in reality, that alone would be a miracle! I think that it can be done, but it will have to come about—to use a spiritual expression—by way of a conversion both in the West and in the Islamic world. In the West, so as to be less materialistic, because what drives the whole system are profits, power and control. A shared humanist vision—it will take us decades to get to that point….
Translated from Italian by Michael J. Miller
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