Saturday, September 16, 2006
The Controversy over Pope Benedict's Remarks on Islam
On the tangential matter that seems to be occupying everybody's attention, veteran Catholic reporter John Allen Jr. weighs in on Benedict' "jihad remark"
I have written before that Benedict XVI is not a PC pope. By that, I don't mean that he sets out to give offense; on the contrary, he's one of the most gracious figures ever to step on the world stage. Instead, he simply does not allow his thinking to be channeled by the taboos and fashions of ordinary public discourse.
For example, any PR consultant would have told the pope that if he wanted to make a point about the relationship between faith and reason, he shouldn't open up with a comparison between Islam and Christianity that would be widely understood as a criticism of Islam, suggesting that it's irrational and prone to violence. Yet that is precisely what Benedict did in his address to 1,500 students and faculty at the University of Regensburg on Wednesday, citing a 14th century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a learned Persian. . . .
It comes as no suprise that Benedict's remarks and citation of the quote has been met with furious and violent reaction -- first by Muslim protestors (proclaiming themselves at once the "religion of peace" and managing to fulfill all descriptions to the contrary) and the media, who are playing up the controversy for all that it's worth:
- American Papist has a Roundup of the Islamofascist rage against Pope Benedict's comments (Sept. 15, 2006).
- Milking the controversy, the pompous New York Times demands an apology. Amy Welborn ("More Pontificating") and Rod Dreher both respond ("The despicable New York Times" September 16, 2006).
- Muslim Leaders Assail Pope’s Speech on Islam, by Ian Fisher. New York Times September 14, 2006 -- on the Islamic reaction, including those from Ali Bardakoglu of the Turkish government's directorate of religious affairs ("I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam’s prophet. [Benedict] should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other.") and a demand for "all Arab and Islamic states to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican and expel those from the Vatican until the pope says he is sorry" by Haken al-Mutairi of Kuwait's Islamic Nation Party.
- "Pope enjoys private time after slamming Islam", - Agence France-Presse' choice of headline betrays their ignorance. Hat tip to Amy Welborn.
- Needed: A sense of irony and a clue - Amy Welborn notes that burning the Pope in effigy "is not an effective way to argue against someone who has questioned your religion's relationship to violence."
- The Pope’s speech: lending Islam a helping hand to avoid a downward spiral, by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ (AsiaNews.It Sept. 15, 2006):
It is necessary to keep in mind that what the Pope did was prepare and deliver a speech as an academic, a philosopher, a top theologian whose arguments and fine points may not be easily grasped.
The media—which should indulge in some self-criticism of its own—picked out those remarks from the speech that it could immediately use and superimposed them on the current international political context, on the ongoing confrontation between the West and the Muslim world, taking a step back into what Samuel Huntington called a ‘Clash of civilisations’. In reality, in his speech the Pope outlined a path that runs contrary to this view. The goal he has in mind is actually to engage others in a dialogue and of the most beautiful kind. . . .
Comments made by Western Muslims were superficial and fed the circus-like criticism. In a phone-in programme on al-Jazeera yesterday, many viewers called in to criticise the Pope but no one knew about what. These were just emotional outbursts in response to hearsay concerning the Pope talking about jihad and criticising Islam, when in fact all that is false. Let me say why. . . .
- Indian Catholic relays the complete text of the Vatican statement on Pope's remarks on Islam:
Concerning the reaction of Muslim leaders to certain passages of the Holy Father's address at the University of Regensburg, it should be noted that what the Holy Father has at heart -- and which emerges from an attentive reading of the text -- is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence.
It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful.
Quite the contrary, what emerges clearly from the Holy Father's discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid "the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom" (homily, Sept. 10). A just consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world.
And indeed, in concluding his address in Regensburg, Benedict XVI affirmed how "the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."
What is clear then, is the Holy Father's desire to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures, including, of course, Islam.
- From the Vatican website, additional comments from Cardinal Bertone. And from the American Papist:
Actually, I'm fairly impressed with Bertone's choice of words. It's no surprise, after all, that Pope Benedict would be "extremely upset" that "some portions of his speech were able to sound offensive" to Muslims - their response being, of course, completely unreasonable. I'd be upset too.
- From a Reuters report (Pope sorry his Islam speech found offensive, by Stephen Brown. Sept. 16, 2006), further notes on the Muslim reaction:
"How can (the Pope) imply that Muslims are the creators of terrorism in the world while it is the followers of Christianity who have aggressed against every country of the Islamic world?" prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh said. "Who attacked Afghanistan and who invaded Iraq?"
In Libya, the General Instance of Religious Affairs said the "insult ... pushes us back to the era of crusades against Muslims led by Western political and religious leaders".
Turkish paper Vatan quoted a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party saying Benedict "will go down in history in the same category as leaders like Hitler and Mussolini".
- Teófilo de Jesús (Vivificat) wonders where was the enlightened voice of Muslim protest when Ayman al Zawahiri and Adam Gadahn issued an "invitation to Islam", denigrating the Christian faith as a "hollow shell of a religion, whose followers cling to an empty faith and a false conviction of their inevitable salvation"?
- Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout History - PostWatch examines the reactions, and the comments of the Pope, in light of the history of Muslim-Christian relations.
- Two West Bank Churches Hit by Firebombs Over Pope Comments, reports Ali Daraghmeh
(AP) The Washington Post Sept. 16, 2006.
- Pope Rage on the Internet; church bombings in Gaza, another roundup of the Muslim reaction by Michelle Malkin.
- A hardline cleric linked to Somalia's powerful Islamist movement has called for Muslims to "hunt down" and kill Pope Benedict XVI, reports Agence France-Presse (The Age Sept. 17, 2006):
Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin urged Muslims to find the pontiff and punish him for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and Allah in a speech that he said was as offensive as author Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses.
We are awaiting Muslim repudiations of Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin, which we expect will be as furvent as their repudiation of Benedict XVI.
"We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion," he said in Friday evening prayers.
"Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim," Malin, a prominent cleric in the Somali capital, told worshippers at a mosque in southern Mogadishu.
- An apt assessment from Amy Welborn, who is tired of Muslim rage:
The Pope held up an interesting question for us to contemplate: Who is God? How can we talk about God? What does God's existence and nature then imply about the way human beings are to live together on this planet? When true reason is abandoned as an attribute and expression of God, what hope is there for dialogue and peace?
The "Muslim" response to the Pope ironically and unwittingly answers his question, don't you think?
- This hardly comes as a suprise: Israeli-US plot behind pope's remarks: Iran hardline press Agence-France Press:
Iranian hardline newspapers said there were signs of an Israeli-US plot behind remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that linked Islam to violence and created a wave of anger across the Muslim world.
Of course we know it's a Zionist conspiracy.
The daily Jomhuri Islami said Israel and the United States -- the Islamic republic's two arch-enemies -- could have dictated the comments to distract attention from the resistance of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to Israel's offensive on Lebanon.
- Reuters reports that The killing of an Italian Catholic nun in Mogadishu on Sunday may well be linked to anger among Muslims about Pope Benedict's recent remarks (Washington Post Sunday, September 17, 2006). (Extensive coverage on the murder of Sister Leonella Sgorbati by Michelle Malkin. And this just in Sister Leonella asked forgiveness for killers as she lay dying:
Sister Leonella, a nun who devoted her life to helping the sick in volatile regions of Africa, used to joke that there was a bullet with her name engraved on it in Somalia. When the bullet came, she used her last breaths to forgive those responsible.
"I forgive, I forgive," she whispered in her native Italian just before she died, the Rev. Maloba Wesonga told The Associated Press at the nun's memorial mass in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Monday.
- Amy Welborn provides a helpful roundup of coverage from all perspectives -- Opining and analyzing in the UK (from the UK Observer; the Guardian and the Telegraph); from the Italian Avvenire, of the Italian bishops' conference; Muslim editorials and opinions and an article from Der Spegiel:
The attacks against the Roman pontifex are especially grotesque. The harsh criticism, which often is accompanied by threats of violence, of Benedict’s speech in Regensburg is not only an attack on the head of the Catholic Church. The malicious misinterpretation of his words and the absurd suppositions of Islamic representatives are a head-on attack on free religious discourse. That more and more people in the Islamic world can be induced to follow these protests shows how much influence Islamic groups have gained there. The political intention is clear: A discussion between Christianity and Islam should only take place within the framework determined by political Islamism.
We can do without this. Whoever agrees to this kind of “dialogue” relinquishes his right to free opinion. . . .
- And from the Vatican today: Pope Benedict Apologizes in Person for Causing Muslims Offense, by Andrew Frye (Bloomberg.com):
Pope Benedict XVI apologized in person today for causing offense to Muslims with a university lecture last week implicitly linking Islam to violence.
But again, while the media is playing this up (and the New York Times might crow in victory), see the linguistic analysis of the phrasing of this "apology" from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf: Benedict did not grovel during his Angelus address:
``I am truly sorry for the reactions caused by a brief passage of my speech,'' the pope said from his Castel Gandolfo summer retreat in Italy. ``These were quotations from a medieval text that do not express in any way my personal opinion.''
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement saying the pope's apology is ``sufficient,'' Sky News reported. The head of the Cairo-based group, Mohammad Mahdi Akef, had previously said the pope ``aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world.''
. . . It is true that he distanced himself from that text. He said that Paleologus’s words were not his sentiments. You can say that this was an apology if you add all the elements together, but …. there it is. It won’t be enough, of course, for many (for the "thick"). It can be interpreted as an apology and, in a sense, it MUST be. There are in Islamic countries Christian communities in grave peril. Had the Pope not said something like this, those people would be in even greater danger. He had to apologize without apologizing while keeping his agenda on the table. . . .
The upshot of today’s address was: "Read the whole text and then let’s have a real discussion based on what I really said, not based on a brief citation I used in the speech."
- "Joee Blogs - a Catholic Londoner" got a rude suprise when he attended Sunday Mass at Westminster Cathedral:
Holy Mass on a Sunday is the very source and summit of the Catholic week, so my family decided this Sunday to make the trip to Westminster Cathedral together. As we came out about 100 Islamists were chanting slogans such as "Pope Benedict go to Hell" "Pope Benedict you will pay, the Muja Hadeen are coming your way" "Pope Benedict watch your back" and other hateful things. I'll post more pictures of it when I get more free time. It was a pretty nasty demonstration. . . .
- From The American Thinker, The Pope, Jihad, and “Dialogue” (Sept. 17, 2006) an excellent article by Dr. Andrew Bostom -- who, as author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus Books, 2005), probably knows a tad something about the history of Islamic expansion).
Bostom provides some rich and unsettling detail behind the now infamous exchange between "the late 14th century 'Dialogue Held With A Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Anakara of Galatia' between the Byzantine ruler Manuel II Paleologus, and a well-educated Muslim interlocutor." It's a must-read. And if that perks your interest, here is a RedState interview with the author.
- From the RatzingerForum (courtesy of Rcesq), an interview with emeritus theologian Adel-Theodore Khoury (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sept. 17, 2006), whose book the Pope cited in his Regensburg lecture. [Translated into English]:
Professor Khoury, what kind of day did you have yesterday?
The media called all day. Television was here. I've never experienced anything like this before.
Did you ever expect that your book would cause such an uproar?
An edition of Byzantine sources in French that appeared in 1966? Please.
Can you tell us something about the context of the quotation?
The Emperor and the Persion scholar met in a Muslim military camp outside Constantinople. There in an open atmosphere and highly polemically, they discussed each other's religion. Both sides presented critical formulations to the other side, neither spared the other. The Pope did not use this quotation, however, to say something about Islam. That was not his theme at all. He used it only as a bridge to his next thoughts. The crucial sentence appears somewhat later: not to act reasonably is against God's nature. He was concerned about the question of God's will. That is moreover also a significant topic of discussion in Islamic theology.
You are a scholar of Islam. Do you believe that this quotation correctly characterized Islam?
Once again: that was not what the Pope was talking about in this lecture. Otherwise, one would have to add a few more remarks, because the quotation does not present the thought of the Koran precisely. It is not about conversion by the sword, but rather about the conquest and rule by the sword with simultaneous religious tolerance, at least for religions of the Book. If the Pope had been concerned about Islam, he would have had to point out entirely different streams of thought, which also demonstrate the reasonableness of God's actions. Furthermore, you can find passages in the Koran where conversion by argument and just action is valued.
How do you explain the great rage in the Muslim world?
see it in the context of the great tensions of the present day. Every one is so sensitive that misunderstandings arise. Many wanted from the Pope some words of differentiation, a categorization, an: "I, Benedict XVI, do not see Islam in this way."
Would you have advised the Pope to make such a comment?
I might have. He could have clarified that he was referring only to a radical minority of Muslim, the Islamists prepared for violence. That is how the Turkish Hurriyet understood it, and I believe, correctly: Emperor Manuel's statement only applies to a minority of Muslims today.
- Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid gets it:
Have all leaders, religious and political, in the so-called Muslim World, become illiterate all of a sudden? Or are they intent on using every little opportunity that presents itself to prove in deed what they continue to deny in words, namely: that Islamic civilization and culture are dead, and that Muslims are adamant on continuing their head-long descent into barbarity?Ammar Abdulhamid lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. He left Damascus, Syria, due to his increasing and vocal criticism of the ruling regime and its president. Read his post. It's really too bad this couldn't come from, say, a blogger in the Middle East -- but clear-headed thinking nonetheless.
Labels: benedict, benedict roundup, islam
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