In an earlier post, I pointed to Benedict XVI's clear thinking on Islam and its relation to modernity, especially pluralism. There are signs that Benedict XVI intends to give consistent attention to the relationship between Islam and Christianity, including gently putting pressure on Islam to respect Christianity. Recently he has called for Muslim nations to show tolerance toward Christians. While the Pope's words would seem very gentle to American readers, they would not be heard as gentle words in nations that practice Islamic law.
In addition, (cont.)

Cardinel Pell, Archbishop of Sidney, perhaps emboldened by Benedict XVI, has raised hard questions that any Muslim (or Bush adminstration official) must answer who would maintain that Islam is compatible with modernity, toleration, and democracy. His remarks prompted controversy in Australia both in politics and within the Roman Catholic Church. However, Pell simply sets out some hard questions that are based on Islamic teaching. Pell asks

"Every great nation and religion has shadows and indeed crimes in their histories. This is certainly true of Catholicism and all Christian denominations. We should not airbrush these out of history, but confront them and then explain our present attitude to them.

These are also legitimate requests for our Islamic partners in dialogue. Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? Is the programme of military expansion (100 years after Muhammadís death Muslim armies reached Spain and India) to be resumed when possible?

Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Sharia law? Can we discuss Islamic history and even the hermeneutical problems around the origins of the Koran without threats of violence?

Obviously some of these questions about the future cannot be answered, but the issues should be discussed. Useful dialogue means that participants grapple with the truth and in this issue of Islam and the West the stakes are too high for fundamental misunderstandings."

(An Okie Gardener again) Archbishop Pell has shined a spotlight on certain troubling aspects of Islam. One such aspect is the commands to violence found in the Quran. It is abject intellectual dishonesty to claim that the teaching on jihad in the Quran is all about inner struggle; rather, jihad in the Quran usually refers to waging violent war.

The religious "pluralism" built into the Quran is quite limited. Jews and Christians are to be allowed to exist within the Realm of Submission as second-class citizens, not allowed to spread their faith, and to be made to feel "subdued" as the Quran states. Muslims traditionally handle contradictions within the Quran on the principle that the later supercedes the earlier, that is, they believe it was given over time to Mohammad and that later revelations can replace earlier ones. This is justified by an appeal to the absolute sovereignty of Allah, who is sovereign even over the Quranic revelation. Most of the Quranic verses that tolerate Christians and Jews are from earlier parts, those that advocate oppression are later. And, there is no place for anyone else (Hindu, Buddhist, athiest, etc) within the Realm of Submission, they are by definition in the Realm of War.

Within Islam there is little variation among organized sects regarding the imperative to create an Islamic society. Among the Sufi one can find some downplaying of external forms, that have allowed for some syncretization among some Sufis. However, some Sufis have been very intolerant, and, during the periodic Islamic revivals over history, "Kill the Sufis" has been a common refrain among Islamic "purifiers."

In addition to being intolerant toward non-Muslims, Muslims traditionally are intolerant toward variations within Islam. The tendency is to view one's own sect as "true Islam" and everything else as false and therefore not to be tolerated. Even a westernized Muslim like Yvonne Haddad who argues that oppression of women is an import into Islam from pre-Islamic Arabic culture, regards her version as "true Islam" and other opinions as "false Islam." Also, she cannot admit to herself or to anyone else that women are regarded as less than men in the Quran. Her reading of the Quran is very creative in order to make it mean what she must see there in order to regard herself as Muslim.

These hard facts must be met openly and honestly by everyone, including members of the Bush Administration. Does GWB believe that Democracy and Islam, as it has been, are compatible, or does he believe that introducing democracy will itself transform Islam into something else that is compatible with tolerance and human rights?