A Brand of Islam That Became an Ideology

According to Orthodox Theologian Olivier Clément

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ROME, SEPT. 6, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Orthodox philosopher and theologian Olivier Clément thinks Muslim fundamentalism was, until last September, an underestimated force.

“Each one can think what he likes, but the Islam of yore is no longer what stands behind al-Qaida,” Clément told an interviewer. “There is a very modern, modernized Islam which uses in a very refined way the techniques and methods of modernity to the point of becoming increasingly a sort of totalitarian ideology.”

Q: The Sept. 11 anniversary calls for reflection on what has happened; … to forget it would be like ignoring the risk of new tragedies. Yet, is the transition of Islam from a religion to an ideology a fact?

Clément: For a certain kind of Islam, yes. I speak of the one that has embraced the worst aspects of modernity. Our responsibility as Westerners is to be concerned about the transformation and the problems connected with it, addressing them not only in a defensive way as, for example, [journalist-author] Mrs. Oriana Fallaci suggests, but with a positive approach.

Q: What do you suggest in practice?

Clément: Over the last two centuries, Muslim peoples have shared a difficult destiny. We must rethink the world economy, to allow the Arab and Muslim populations, in general, access to more-just conditions of life. The question of justice is fundamental.

Q: But, will we not end by accusing the United States of being responsible, directly or indirectly, for all the great injustices of the planet?

Clément: It should not be said, as some of the extreme left do, that the whole fault is that of the Americans. It is simplistic to think this, although there might be some truth in it. Whoever sows winds, gathers tempests.

Sept. 11 has unveiled the tragic force that acts at the world level, is able to use modern techniques, and knows how to create a terrorist aggression. Thus fear spreads around the world.

Q: With what instruments can fear be controlled or overcome in the long term?

Clément: In the first place, by recovering spiritual values. Through a return to morality in public and private conduct of the economy, politics and international relations, man will be able to oppose the terrorist plan. I would dare say that what is lacking is holiness.

Q: A very exacting word which, placed alongside the talk about values, calls on religions, whether they like it or not, to render account …

Clément: I would like to see an intelligent holiness in action when it comes to interpreting the extreme complexity of the current problems under the social, economic, cultural and religious aspects.

Q: It’s no small thing. It is a challenge for all — Christians and Muslims, believers and nonbelievers. There will be a constant need for an attitude of discernment.

Clément: Above all, a creative capacity will be necessary, an inventive effort. Beware of being paralyzed by fear. We must beware of being flattened, of taking refuge in the past and in certainties that later abandon us. This is also the task of religions: not to divide the world between the good and the evil with a myopic point of view.

The appeals of a man like John Paul II become important; he criticizes the evils of Western civilization and, at the same time, tries to show everyone, including the Muslims, what it has that is positive. And, when he speaks to Islam’s representatives, he succeeds in touching their sensitivity.

What is needed in the West is people who can do the same. In reality, they exist. Let’s not forget that the meeting-clash with the modern West has ended by disorganizing Islam and its culture.

Q: Do you mean we must ask Islam for forgiveness?

Clément: No. We must condemn al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. But the paradox is that both are a deformed mirror of aspects of our scientific and technological civilization. They represent a successful effort, in the Muslim world, to be able to seize it and dominate it for ends that are certainly detestable.

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