Rudnik > War of the Radicals

| May 13, 2015

Religious Reform and Civil Pluralism: Complementary Concepts in an Era of Discord


Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Recently an infamous arbiter of hatred, Pamela Geller, held a Muhammad cartoon drawing contest in a Dallas suburb. In fact, Geller virtually taunted any would-be extremists to try and wreak havoc on her shindig. Whilst Geller and her compatriots were holding their deeply Islamophobic soiree, two Muslims, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, assaulted the gathering with weapons. Not soon after, they were shot and killed by Geller’s hired muscle—to ensure she can propagate her hatred without fear of any sort of reprisal.

What’s been most interesting in the wake of the Garland shooting has been the peculiar response by the national media—left, right, and center. Most aren’t sure that Geller is the ideal poster girl for the high ideals of nonviolence and free speech. Moreover, none are coming to the defense of the armed attackers (and they shouldn’t). But what’s certain is that there’s quite an interesting dynamic at hand when the coverage of Fox News and MSNBC largely mirror each other. For the major American media conglomerates aren’t sure of who, and what, to stand up for: the bigoted, pseudo-activist in Geller or the Muslim community in the wake of two extremists so appallingly tainting the well of interfaith dialogue.

While pondering this quagmire of Geller and the Islamic fringe, I thought: why can’t the American media, and by extension the American public, have the intellectual breadth and moral courage to recognize that there are no innocent parties in the Garland shooting, rather, just bad apples?

Why can’t we unequivocally say that violence is not the solution to combating petulant hatred, while concomitantly recognizing that Geller also represents a peculiar firebrand of radicalism and racism?

Why can’t American liberals recognize that there are inherent, deep-seated issues in some corners of the Islamic world? And, why can’t American conservatives recognize that, despite Geller’s legal right to espouse her deeply-skewed ideologies, perhaps it’s both morally and intrinsically wrong to so visibly and consistently malign an entire ethnic group (Arabs) and an entire faith (Islam)?

I pondered these two competing concepts through the context of my own Catholic faith. Often hailed as among the most consequential religious events of the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II as it often referred to, fundamentally changed Catholicism. Prior to Vatican II, the Church was seen by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike as becoming far too hierarchal, far too traditional, and far too removed from the affairs of the day.

Among the most visible and contested practices of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church was that women veiled themselves before entering a Catholic church, clergy gave their sermons in Latin, and priests faced east toward the Lord (usually away from their congregations). After Vatican II, priests faced their congregations, they gave their sermons in the colloquial tongue of their parishes, and women no longer had to veil themselves in a church.

Vatican II is important for, in a phrase, it represents the modernization of the Catholic Church. From 1962 until 1965, the Catholic Church underwent a metamorphosis. Vatican II shows us that religions can, and must, evolve to tackle a changing social and cultural context. In the same way, Islam is, arguably, the most traditional faith in the world today. Some of its adherents seek a rigid, fundamentalist teaching of the Islamic faith. Perhaps the world’s oft-championed moderate Muslims should take note from the reforms of midcentury Catholics; tempering many of their practices, aligning them with the modern world in which they live, without diluting the crux of their beliefs.

And, to Ms. Geller. Vatican II opened the Catholic Church to the long road of pluralism. Reformers at midcentury recognized that a truly diverse and plural world was on the horizon. Interfaith dialogue, respect for other religious traditions, and moderated attitudes toward social and political secularization were central to Church reforms. The rigid, absolutist ideology of Geller fundamentally rejects the doctrines of pluralism and dialogue. Instead, Geller and company espouse a philosophy predicated on fanning the flames of distrust, hatred, and doublespeak under an intellectually bankrupt guise of “free speech.”

If midcentury Catholic officialdom can recognize the necessity and urgency of both reform and pluralism, then perhaps our warring radicals, the Islamists and the Islamophobics, can also.

This incessant conflict between the most ardent and radical defenders of Islam and the most ardent and radical attackers of Islam will likely continue for years, even decades. But that does not mean that we should tolerate either side of an insolvent debate. The Catholic Church was right a half-century ago. Our world, today, more than ever, desperately needs reform and pluralism; something that both Ms. Geller, and her enemies, both overtly misconstrue and tacitly reject.

rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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1 Comment on "Rudnik > War of the Radicals"

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  1. Gail Williams says:

    if they can stomp on our flag , behead Christians , etc. we can certainly draw cartoons of Muhammed . This is America, if they don’t like our freedoms, leave.