Pell says Bush faces uphill battle

Cardinal George Pell has said the President George Bush's ambition to democratise the Middle East is risky because extremists are likely to be elected, and they will just change the rules.

Speaking in Rome to the National Catholic Reporter's John L Allen, he cited Iran and Palestine as examples.

"The President of Iran was voted in by the people, and Hamas was voted in by the people," he said.

"You can't guarantee that because you give everyone a vote you're going to get a reasonable regime," he continued. "If you could get democracy long enough, it would probably shake down to something reasonable. The problem is you're likely to get extremists in, and they'll just change the rules."

He believes that Islamic jihadists are currently battling it out with moderates within Islam with the future direction of the religion now up for grabs. He suggests that a victory for Islamic extremists might confirm that jihadism arises from an internal logic of Islam.

"To put it another way, can a good moderate Muslim be faithful to the Koran?" he asks. "I think it depends on who's going to win where, if there is going to be a struggle between the moderates and the extremists."

On the other hand, he also says that Islamic extremists "are more a function of the societies in which Christians and Muslims live rather than the religion itself."

"I'd also say that Islam is a much more war-like culture than Christianity," he said.

Cardinal Pell caused a stir last month when the Sydney archdiocese website published a speech he delivered on 4 February to the Legatus Summit, Florida, in which he said he is concerned about the Koran's frequent calls to violence.

"Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited," he said in the speech.

Asked by the National Catholic Reporter what he meant by the statement, he said: "I'd been thinking about the general historical and political record of Islam. Now you might say that for a lot of our history, we weren't particularly tolerant either. To that objection, I'd say, 'Show me where they're tolerant.'"

Asked whether he is concerned about Europe becoming an outpost of Islamic civilisation, Cardinal Pell said the dangers of Europeans becoming anti-Muslim extremists are far greater.

"The greater danger is that there would be a white fascist reaction [against Muslims]," he said. "I don't think Europe is going to go Muslim at all, but I would be frightened of the turmoil if things got out of hand."

John L. Allen: Cardinal Pell on Islam (National Catholic Reporter 2/6/06)

Pell affirms commitment to dialogue with Muslims (CathNews 8/5/06)
Pell says Catholics should read the Koran (CathNews 4/5/06)

Cardinal George Pell: Temper power with wisdom (Sunday Telegraph 4/6/06)

5 Jun 2006