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"Sense and sensibility: the key to Catholic and Islamic co-existence in the future": speech to St Thomas More's forum, Canberra.

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Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Member for Sturt

Shadow Minister for Justice and Border Protection

Speech to St Thomas More’s Forum

Canberra, Wednesday August 6, 2008

“Sense and Sensibility: The Key to Catholic and Islamic Co-existence in the



Since September 11, 2001, the world has been in the grip of the so called “War

on Terror”. In declaring the war on terror in an address to the US Congress,

President George W Bush said that:

"The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack

Islam itself...Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every

government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,

but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of

global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

Billions of dollars have been spent and will be spent in this legitimate campaign

to defeat the purveyors of terror and the visiting of bloodshed and death against

civilians and innocents - for that is the stock in trade of terrorists.

We don’t need to doubt this - the evidence that St Thomas the Apostle required

is not something we are waiting to see and touch. The examples of the work of

Al Quaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf and others abound - the bombings

in New York, London, Madrid and Bali have touched the West in particular, but

we are only experiencing what Israel and some Islamic countries have been

experiencing for decades.


But while the forces of good might be able to check and reverse the gains of

terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere militarily, is a military

solution the long term solution to the motivation for a false war waged by

extremist Islamic organisations?

Tonight, I wish to explore the role that the Catholic Church and the Holy Father

might play in encouraging a long term solution to the foundations that breed

terrorism. The long term solution to countering extreme Islamists is the

encouragement of pluralism and through pluralism, democracy throughout the

Islamic world.

I have a particular interest in this subject. Quite obviously from the perspective

of any peace loving person, we all have an interest in stopping needless death

and bloodshed. But as Shadow Minister for Justice and Border Protection, I am

responsible for holding the Minister with authority over the Australian Federal

Police and the Australian Customs Service accountable.

Since the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and the

Bali Bombing in 2002, much of the growth in spending, staffing and operations

of the AFP has been devoted to fighting the war on terror. The work of

Customs and the Royal Australian Navy in the last ten years has been affected

by the work of people smugglers and the attempts to bring people to Australia

who have fled extremist Islamic regimes or countries that persecute religious


So there is a very practical reason to bring about solutions to the reasons that

allow fundamentalism to flourish - we would all rather our government agencies

devote their efforts to combating organised crime, or illicit drug running or

stopping illegal fishing rather than fighting the dangerous and more recent

crimes against the state and its people that are found in the activities of

terrorists and extremists.

The Church has a central role in helping to defeat radical Islam. By promoting

moderate Islamic leadership, through the promotion of dialogue, the Church can

play a key part in defeating extremism. The Church itself cannot have dialogue


with those that seek its (and the West’s) destruction, but by giving succour to

moderate Islamic leadership both religious and secular, the Church can help the

one force that can defeat extremism in the Islamic world long term - their own

moderate Islamic people from within the Islamic world.

The Church promotes inter-religious dialogue because it is part of her primary

task of evangelisation. This is never imposed but always proposed to the world.

In inter-religious dialogue it is by dialogue and proclamation that she prudently

sets a course for peacemaking. There can be no peace in the world until there

is peace between religions. The Church avoids all attempts toward relativism,

proselytism and syncretism.

The breeding ground for radicalism is found in poverty, displacement, exclusion

and ignorance. Radical leaders of all stripes find their most devoted adherents

amongst those that have nothing to lose. The long term solution to these

problems is economic, political and cultural.

The Church is a religious body that champions transcendent values found fully

in Jesus Christ. There are of course, cultural dimensions to this Good News

along with many other dimensions. These include promoting inter-religious

dialogue through changing perceptions, building awareness, understanding and

removing ignorance and doubts.

The openness of the Church to dialogue with the Muslim world might surprise

some modern day Catholics - the Crusades have been well and truly over for

centuries but to many Catholics that is the sum total of their knowledge of the

Church’s relationship with Islam.

There are scriptural foundations for dialogue between religions found in both the

Bible and the Koran.

At Galatians Chapter 3 Verse 28 it is stated : “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor

Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. And

in the Koran Chapter 3 Verses 113-114 the following passage is found: “For of

the People of the Book, there are the upright who recite God’s revelations


throughout the night, while prostrating themselves. They believe in God and the

Last Day, bid the right and forbid the wrong and hasten to do good deeds.

Those are among the righteous people. And whatever good they do, they will

not be denied it.”

The Second Vatican Council published the 1965 Declaration on the

Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). Nostra

Aetate conceived that other religions, including the teachings and practices of

Islam, could hope for eternal salvation. It states:

“She (the Church) looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct

and life, whose rules and teachings which, though differing in many

particulars from that what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often

reflect a ray of Truth which enlightens all men…The Church therefore

has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through

dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in

witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote

the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the

values in their society and culture.”

There were other statements concerning dialogue with Moslems and other

religions arising out of Vatican II - the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

(Lumen Gentium), the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes),

the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)

- all evinced a desire for dialogue and respect between the religions of the

world and Lumen Gentium specifically placed Moslems as the first of the non-Protestant religions.

This is of course not to say that the Church had abandoned the central thesis

that: “It is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the all-embracing

means of salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be found”.

His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, followed these worthy epostulations with the

establishment of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions (now called

the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue). There followed many


conferences and papers on interfaith dialogue over the ensuing twenty or so


But as with many things, it took the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II to crystallise

modern thinking on this growing dialogue.

In 1986 he had published his encyclical letter on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et


In it and later in Redemptoris Missio, while still asserting that salvation is offered

to all but can only be truly found through Christ, he emphasised that the Holy

Spirit is the unity that underpins all religions, and that there is only one Spirit

dwelling in “society and history, peoples, cultures and religions”.

Later still, in the 2000 Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of

Jesus Christ and the Church (Dominus Iesus) the Church heralded the capacity

and need for interfaith dialogue. It restated the precepts of Nostra Aetate

already quoted above and encouraged Catholics to engage in dialogue with

other religions.

While at times it may not seem like it, we have a willing partner in Islam.

According to moderate Muslims, the Koran specifically embraces pluralism at

Chapter 2 Verse 256: “There is no compulsion in religion”. Some Moslem

scholars say that God deliberately created pluralism and argue that fighting

others on the basis of their religious beliefs is not permitted by Islam.

They also point to a growing civil society in many Islamic countries in modern

history and the majority Muslim or even Islamic states that don’t persecute

minorities and live in peace with followers of many different religions. Indonesia

is a good example - while there are at times outbreaks of ethnic or religiously

based violence, by and large Indonesia operates successfully as a pluralistic,

democratic society with an overwhelmingly Moslem population. While in India,

where the population is majority Hindu, they too are able to manage a pluralistic

and healthy democracy encapsulating many minority religions (the largest being



There is no doubt that where pluralism takes root in any society an adherence

to democratic principles and respect for minorities is almost universally present.

According to John Esposito in his paper “Pluralism in Muslim-Christian


“Islam emphasises both the faith and deeds of the individual and the

community…Because God’s kingdom was to be based upon unity,

equality, justice and peace, Muhammed taught that anyone who worked

toward the establishment of a just society was considered to be in

submission to God’s will”.

Esposito points out that the advocates for interfaith dialogue in Moslem

communities use these teachings as a basis for a relationship with non-Muslim

religions based on social justice.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is well placed to explore the possibilities

for the Catholic Church to play a central role in defeating radical Islam by

supporting and building moderate Islam. In the same way as his predecessor

was the key inspirational figure for the Catholics of Eastern Europe in their

struggle and victory over Communism, Benedict XVI can play a similar role in

rejecting relativism but encouraging a pluralism in the Islamic world that rejects

extremist modes from within.

While he was a part of the work of Vatican II and (in the last twenty five years)

the work of Pope John Paul II, honing and kneeding Catholic faith and theology

and its centrality to the Church’s relationship with other religions, it is the

speech he gave at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in September

2006, so misinterpreted by the Moslem world, that ironically has given him an

opportunity to expand dialogue with Islam.

In that speech, His Holiness quoted some paragraphs from a medieval text,

being a dialogue between Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine Emperor with

“an educated Persian”. The remarks were accorded to the Pope and the import


of the speech entirely misinterpreted by most of the Moslem world and some

others. On the other hand Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany recognised

the aim of the speech as:

“an invitation to dialogue between religions and the Pope spoke

expressedly in favour of this dialogue.”

The Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, followed by

reaffirming the Pope’s full support for Nostra Aetate and his unequivocal favour

for inter-religious dialogue.

The Pope, in clarifying his speech, said:

“I wish to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries

to a few passages of my address…which were considered offensive to

the sensibility of Muslims…I hope that this serves to appease hearts and

clarify the true meaning of my words, which in its totality was and is an

invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.”

The speech and its resultant reaction has created a renewed impetus for

dialogue. Perhaps this was the Holy Spirit’s intention. In any event, much has

happened since that time that is encouraging.

Most recently, in June the Vatican Information Service released a communiqué

arising out of the meeting in March between delegations from the Pontifical

Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the representatives of the 138 Muslim

scholars who had written to the Pope in “A Common Word Between Us and

You” in October 2007. In it the scholars and the Church agreed to the

establishment of the “Catholic-Muslim Forum” which will meet for the first time in

Rome in November 2008. The theme will be “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”.

The letter from 138 Muslim scholars from moderate Islam across the Middle

East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America was driven by the Royal Academy

based in Jordan. It followed a similar letter written by thirty eight Muslim

scholars the year before (October 2006) and not long after the University of


Regensberg address which had been an attempt to respond to and build on the

controversy surrounding the misinterpretation of the Pope’s speech.

There are numerous examples locally of Australian Catholics and Muslims and

their resultant arms being involved in interfaith activities:

• The Australian Catholic University appointed a Chair of Islam and

Muslim-Christian Relations in November 2007. Dr Ismail Albayrak is the

first Fethullah Gulen Chair. Named for the Turkish born scholar granted

an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1998 to advance communication

between religions.

• In concert with the visit of His Holiness, Benedict XVI to Australia for

World Youth Day last month, Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney’s

south west billeted 350 pilgrims for their stay in a practical display of

interfaith dialogue.

• The Adelaide Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission

launched MOSAIC with the ‘Ayn Academy as recently as last month with

the stated aim of bringing together the goodness in different faiths in

order to achieve understanding in Australia. It has held a “Peace

Through Faith” forum and plans more such activities in the future.

All of these letters, meetings, conferences and movements point to one thing -

a shared desire to live together in peace and stability. But I hasten to add, it is

moderate Islam that is seeking such a dialogue. And they must find a willing

partner in the Church. Through dialogue, mutual respect and a propensity to

engage genuinely and satisfactorily we give them hope and can have hope

ourselves that radical Islam can be defeated. It is a shared desire to defeat

extremists from all sides that must guide such a discourse.

While the radicals on the Islamic side are well known to us - Osama Bin Laden

being the most prominent. Christian fundamentalists who denounce Islam as

violent or demonic or who insult the Prophet Muhammed as corrupt are not

representative of Church thinking on this subject. They assist those in radical

Islam who hope to convince their own adherents that they are in a titanic


struggle with the West and a global jihad against Christianity. Rising

“Islamaphobia” plays into their hands and feeds the radicalisation of their

populations. Instead we should encourage the actions of the Church and

practice ourselves an engagement with the Moslem world that promotes and

builds moderate Islam at the expense of extremism.

The Church has a key role to play in this most important endeavour. There is

much precedent for interfaith dialogue. Its success will be pivotal to the long

term defeat of the forces of radical Islam that seek to destroy our way of life and

our independent faith. By boosting what is moderate in Islam we fill a vacuum

that unfilled will be inimical to the future of our world.

For Catholics such as myself, it is important to note that this dialogue is being

undertaken from a position of theological certainty. Our current Pope leaves no

doubt about his view of the centrality of theology in the Church’s message.

My colleague, Tony Abbott writing in The Australian Magazine on 14 June 2008,

quoted the Pope from the 1960’s when he wrote:

“if the Church were to accommodate herself to the world in any way that

would entail a turning away from the Cross, this would not lead to a

renewal of the Church but only to her death.”

The Atlantic Monthly of January/February 2006 posited that:

“In his (the Pope’s) view, human society is always changing; civilisation

is entropically prone to decline. It is the task of theologians to make the

substance of the Catholic faith clear amid this continual change, not to

make it relevant to their place and time.”

It is this very certainty of the role of the Church and his role in it that places

Benedict XVI in a strong position for interfaith dialogue with moderate Islam.

Negotiation, discussion or dialogue is much harder when parties don’t know

what the other party means or the beliefs for which it stands. A woolly headed

approach to dialogue is bound to be unsuccessful, whereas an approach based


on mutual respect but also certainty of the central beliefs of the parties is much

more likely to yield positive results.

The Holy Father put it very well when he said:

“Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the

massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which,

recognising nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the

self with its desires.”

I am confident that the religious leaders of the Moslem world face the same

challenge and they too, look for answers as to how to meet the “dictatorship of