Islam is the unexploded bomb of global politics. US foreign policy - the only foreign policy there is, for the United States is the only superpower - proceeds from the hope that a modern and democratic Islam will emerge from the ruins of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Through democratic institutions, Washington believes, the long-marginalized Shi'ites will adapt to religious pluralism. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's Islam, fixed in amber since the High Middle Ages, will metamorphose into something like American mainline Protestantism.
Alas, the available facts suggest that the opposite result will ensue: more freedom equals more fundamentalism. Not the secular Shi'ite parties but the pro-Iranian religious parties dominate the Iraqi polls. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood quadrupled its vote despite heavy-handed measures to intimidate its supporters; Hamas threatens to displace Fatah in the Palestinian elections this month; Hezbollah has become the strongest electoral as well as military force in Lebanon; and, most important of all, Mahmud Ahmadinejad crushed a more pragmatic opponent in last June's Iranian presidential elections.
Islam was founded as a theocracy, such that the Western innovation of church-state separation remains alien to its culture. Is it possible for Islam to reform? A negative answer implies that Ahmadinejad's January 5 call for world domination falls within the Islamic mainstream. He told an audience of religious students, "We must believe in the fact that Islam is not confined to geographical borders, ethnic groups and nations. It's a universal ideology that leads the world to justice. We don't shy away from declaring that Islam is ready to rule the world. We must prepare ourselves to rule the world." The previous day, the London Guardian leaked a European intelligence report detailing Iran's efforts to acquire technology required to build nuclear weapons. A very few writers, including this one, have rejected the possibility of Islamic reformation, to the stony contempt of universally accepted opinion.
Now Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, the provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, posted on the Asia Times Online forum by a sharp-eyed reader. For the pope to refute the fundamental premise of US policy is news of inestimable strategic importance, yet a Google News scan reveals that not a single media outlet has taken notice of what Fessio told interviewer Hugh Hewitt last week. No matter: still and small as Benedict's voice might be, it carries further than earthquake and whirlwind.
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