Author Q & A
I was drawn to the story because for me it represented a great adventure, one that was both spiritual and political. Through this story I wanted to understand how it is that religion can be a force for so much good and for so much evil in the world. Through the monks, I wanted to share in an expression of the Christian faith that I found very appealing — what I consider a real Christianity of truly universal, brotherly love, where it was lived, not preached, and where its practice by members of the Church was viewed simply as a sign of God’ s love for Muslims and for all people of good will. At the same time, I wanted to gain insights into the Muslim world and the religion of Islam, seen through the eyes of sympathetic Christians. Politically, I wanted to understand the violence occurring in Algeria, which appears to be a microcosm of the conflicts within in the larger Muslim world.
Also, I went to a boarding school where for six years I lived in conditions that today would be considered monastic. It was a good place for me to have spent those years and may explain my vague but long-standing interest in monks.
The story of the monks also demonstrates the need to maintain a very differentiated picture of Islam and of Muslims. There are as many different kinds of Muslims, just as there are different kinds of Christians. And to remember that violence does not just happen. It is a fever rooted in a sick, festering, societal situation that has been ignored. Islamic political violence is a form of desperation in the face of injustice or the hypocrisy of the governments, which have become insufferable to certain elements in society.
Sept.11 is also a reminder of what dangerous weapons holy scriptures are in the hands of those full of anger and hatred, and whose leaders manipulate scripture as an a la carte menu to serve political purposes. They can often skillfully convert the anger of the poorly instructed (in religion) into an expression of holy righteousness. St. Benedictine warns his monks of “the zeal of bitterness” that leads to Hell.