At first, I rejoiced at the news that two Catholic Universities in Belgium, those in Leuven and Louvain, will offer imam-training courses. How wonderful, I thought, that imams will be trained to be good Catholics.
My joy was premature. It turned out the two universities will train imams to be, well, good imams. Now, I’ve heard of ecumenism, but this goes too far even for my wokish liberalism.
One would think that Catholic universities would have a Catholic, or at least broadly Christian, slant to their curricula. Or perhaps Belgian academics confuse Belgium with 12th century Spain, where the three Abrahamic religions managed to get along, after a fashion.
One can just see the Jew Maimonides (aka Rambam) getting together with the Muslim Ibn Rushd (aka Averroes) and their Christian Cordoban neighbours to discuss the fine points of Aristotelian scholasticism.
The atmosphere was friendly, apart from Maimonides occasionally taking exception to the others’ chanting “Rambam, thank you ma’am”, and both him and the Christians holding Averroes personally responsible for the infidel tax they had to pay in Al-Andalus.
However, since then too much water has flowed under the bridge, and too much blood into the gutter, to make such academic fellowship a natural fit. Too many chaps indoctrinated by imams have had fun with AKs and suicide belts in Belgium and elsewhere for such cooperation to thrive.
Koen Geens, Belgium’s justice minister, defended the programme with rather specious arguments. “We are building a Belgian training program for ministers in the Islamic faith in order to reduce foreign influence,” he said. “It’s important that we know what they are studying.”
He may have a point in that it’s better for imams to matriculate at Catholic universities than at ISIS. Yet one doesn’t preclude the other, and Mr Geens will have no control over his students’ extracurricular education.
By day they may get credits for learning about Anselm, Averroes and Maimonides, while by night they may still be cramming for advanced degrees in The Meaning of Jihad, Bomb Making and The 72 Virgins in Heaven (Allah knows, finding as many in Belgium would be a losing proposition, this side of kindergartens).
Moreover, upon graduation they’ll be paid by the government, which is what Belgium does for ministers of all faiths if educated at accredited universities. So will they then be teaching Anselm, Averroes and Maimonides or some of those other courses I mentioned?
The Catholic University of Leuven and the Catholic University of Louvain are located in the same city, called differently by the Flemings and the Walloons. Hence the two universities used to be one.
However, acting in the spirit of unity fostered by the EU, they split up and are now located some 18 miles apart. But not to worry: the EU might have failed to keep two parts of a small country together, but we know it’ll succeed in homogenising, say, Bulgaria and Holland or Finland and Greece.
I can’t help wondering how the two universities will reconcile their ecumenical ambitions with their Catholicism. But not to worry: their allegiance to it isn’t as fervent as their commitment to multi-culti virtue.
A couple of years ago, the Catholic University of Louvain suspended a professor for his opposition to abortion. The administration closed ranks behind a ‘right to choose’.
“The Catholic University of Louvain recalls that, in the spirit of the law decriminalising abortion passed in 1990, it respects the autonomy of women to make this choice…,” ran the official statement.
The woke liberal in me rejoices. Yet the pedant in me can’t quite square the circle here. For abortion explicitly contradicts Catholic doctrine, even if secular doctrine sees nothing wrong with it.
One would hope that in case of a conflict between the two, a university calling itself Catholic would refrain from making anti-Catholic statements and punishing its professors for making devout ones.
Yet this hope is bound to be forlorn: Catholicism isn’t what it used to be. Then again, what is?