SPIEGEL Interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper: "Islam is a Different Culture"
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Catholic Church's ecumenical representative, discusses the Vatican's relations with Muslims and the furor over the pope's recent remarks.
Cardinal Walter Kasper.
Kasper: Because the Christian faith constitutes a voluntary personal act, the pope has every right to address the justifiable concerns of the Enlightenment: the concept of universal human rights, religious freedom and the distinction between religion and politics. After all, the Catholic Church is a world church and more of a global player today than ever before.
SPIEGEL: Which means that conflicts with other religions are apparently inevitable.
Kasper: The conflict with Islam has, after all, existed throughout European history, which is what the pope was pointing out. The encounter with Islam now seems to be entering a new phase. Many have called it a 'clash of civilizations.' But this phrase must be handled with great care to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The alternative to conflict is called dialogue. This is the option the churches choose, and it's also what the pope favors. We want a peaceful difference of opinion, which, of course, is based on reciprocity. But one shouldn't harbor any illusions over the difficulties this involves.
SPIEGEL: Why is dialogue with Islam so difficult for the Catholic Church?
Kasper: There is no such thing as one Islam. The Koran is ambiguous and Islam is not a monolithic entity. The distinction between radical Islam and moderate Muslims is important, as are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, and between militant and mystical Islam. Islam in the Arab world coexists with Indonesian, Pakistani and Turkish Islam. There is limited solidarity, even within the Arab world. Muslims living among us (in Germany) haven't managed to build an organization that represents all Muslims. Such an organization could protect us against irrational fantasies driven by fear, fantasies that completely demonize Islam. But it is difficult, under the current circumstances, to find representative counterparts to talk with.
SPIEGEL: Do you think a dialogue on equal footing is possible?
Kasper: One cannot be naïve when engaging in this dialogue. Islam undoubtedly deserves respect. It has some things in common with Christianity, such as Abraham as a common progenitor, and the belief in only one God. But Islam developed in opposition to orthodox Christianity from the very start, and it considers itself superior to Christianity. So far, it has only been tolerant in places where it is in the minority. Where it is the majority religion, Islam does not recognize religious freedom, at least not as we understand it. Islam is a different culture. This doesn't mean that it's an inferior culture, but it is a culture that has yet to connect with the positive sides of our modern Western culture: religious freedom, human rights and equal rights for women. These shortcomings are one reason so many Muslims feel such frustration that often turns into hatred and violence against the West, which is despised as being godless and decadent. Suicide attacks are the actions of losers who have nothing left to lose. In this case, Islam serves as a mask, a cover for desperation and nihilism, but not for religion.
SPIEGEL: In which direction do you believe Islam is developing?
Kasper: One unanswered question is whether a Euro-Islam that combines Islam with democracy will be possible in the future. We mustn't confuse desire with reality. How should Europe behave? Europe sees itself as a liberal-minded society. It has no desire to be, nor can it be, a "Christian club. But Europe's experiment with multiculturalism, or the side-by-side existence of different cultures, has failed throughout the continent. Integration requires a minimum basis of shared values, that is, a culture of mutual tolerance and respect -- in other words, what constitutes the heart of European culture. This is why integration is not possible without excluding those who do not recognize this culture. Those who are unprepared to demonstrate tolerance cannot expect or even demand tolerance for themselves.
SPIEGEL: What kind of Europe does the church want?
Kasper: A Europe that qualifies its own values is not attractive in the eyes of Muslims. Europe must conduct itself as a strong partner, both intellectually and spiritually, and it must be convinced of its own advantages. This is the only way we will gain respect. Only a Europe that is conscious of its own values can be both an economically strong and a morally and intellectually respected partner, and thereby extend its hospitality to others. It's a cultural disgrace that we are forced to identify no-go areas for foreigners.
SPIEGEL: Is drawing references to the history of Christianity and Islam truly helpful in promoting dialogue?
Kasper: Christianity brought something new and revolutionary: freedom and unconditional dignity for each individual, regardless of his religion, culture or nationality. But the East and the West have parted ways since the Crusades. "Better the turbans of the Turks than the miters of the Romans," was once a saying in the East. The severing of ties with the East signified an intellectual impoverishment, which led to a crisis within the church in the late Middle Ages. It was one of the reasons for the Reformation in the 16th century. With its concept of "freedom of the Christian individual," the Reformation introduced an important intellectual and cultural force into European culture. But it also led to the fracturing of Western Christianity…
SPIEGEL: …and to religious wars.
Kasper: These religious wars showed that the Christian faith was no longer Europe's unifying force. A new common ground was needed, and it was found in reason, which is something that is shared by all of mankind. This was one of the roots of the Enlightenment and its concept of universal human rights. The scientific and societal achievements of the modern age are undisputable. But after the French Revolution, modernity increasingly emancipated itself from Christian roots, thereby becoming rootless itself. This special approach was short-lived. The "Sonderweg" ("special path," a theory that holds that Germany followed its own unique course through history, and that this inevitably led to the conditions that gave rise to Nazi Germany) didn't last long. The end of World War I also marked the end of bourgeois culture. An inner emptiness developed that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, paved the way for two ideologies that dragged Europe and the world into an abyss and plunged it into a catastrophe.
SPIEGEL: And the Church now has a solution for this intellectual hole?
Kasper: The fundamental issue, when it comes to Europe's future, will be whether and how we manage to transfer the ideals that once made Europe great -- especially its Christian roots -- into today's changed world. No one wants to return to the Middle Ages.
SPIEGEL: Is this the conclusion you draw from the Inquisition and the attempts to spread the faith by force?
Kasper: The distinction between the religious and secular orders is a fundamental aspect of Christianity today. This distinction is an innovation compared to Islam and Judaism, and it is an advantage that has helped shape Europe. It is also rooted in the words of Jesus Christ, who said: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's."
Interview conducted by Peter Wensierski and translated from German by Christopher Sultan.
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