Uniting Against Islam?
Ross ruffles some feathers in his latest column:
[I]n making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam. Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.
Greenwald says Ross is "call[ing] for a Christian religious war -- certainly metaphorical and perhaps literal -- against Islam." He continues:
How ironic that someone who is virtually calling for a worldwide religious conflagration is simultaneously condemning his targets for lacking "Western reason." It's obviously true that some Islamic extremists are inherently incompatible "with the Western way of reason," but that's just as true of Christian extremists and Jewish extremists and a whole array of other kinds of extremists. [...] But the claim that Islam itself -- and the world's 1.5 billion Muslims -- cannot be accommodated by, or peacefully co-exist with, Western values or Christianity specifically is bigotry in its purest and most dangerous form. It's hard to imagine anything more inflammatory, hostile and outright threatening than a call for Christians of all denominations to unite behind the common cause of fighting against Islam as Christianity's most "enduring and impressive foe."
[T]here's a great deal of common ground between Douthat's perception of a grand conflict between Islam and Christianity and the tribalism of Pat Buchanan. Each is grounded in a hostility to cultural pluralism and fear of an encroaching, menacing other. The major difference being that while outright prejudice against black people is largely culturally taboo, prejudice against Muslims is so acceptable as to be found expressed openly in the op-ed pages of the New York Times.
I'm with Greenwald and Serwer about 80 percent. But they miss Ross's context: Islam currently is nowhere near the levels of openness and dialogue that have been achieved in the West within Christianity these past few decades. It isn't wrong to point this out or to see it as a very large obstacle to a civil modus operandi between Muslim citizens and the liberal Western state. In fact, to deny this is to betray those who really are working within Islam for some kind of reformation.
But Ross, of course, is also a believing Benedict-follower. So while he is not averse to engaging in Western debates about theology or secularism, his interest is primarily in the developing world, where the kind of faith he holds still retains luster and force. So his column is really both an example of classic zero-sum religious thinking, and an analysis of it. It's that line between believing and analyzing that Ross leaves somewhat vague. I don't blame him. This stuff is hard. And he has a new audience to reassure.