September 20, 2006
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at his former university, and during the course of his talk he made reference to an obscure conversation between a Byzantine Christian Emperor and a man described as "an educated Persian."
The emperor in question, Manuel II Paleologos, noted:
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
In the week since Pope Benedict made reference to Manuel II's comment, Muslims have rioted, burned at least seven churches, murdered a nun, and one Muslim leader has even called for the Pope himself to be executed for insulting Islam. Muslim extremists have committed acts of senseless violence in trying to argue that they are a "religion of peace," and seem quite oblivious to the fact that their behavior only reinforces observations made centuries before.
The Pope has issued non-apology apologies thus far, diplomatically stating to Muslims and other critics essentially that, "I'm sorry you aren't smart enough to understand what I meant."
The Pope spoke on the subject again today:
Pope Benedict XVI has said he has "deep respect" for Islam and hopes that his recent remarks that sparked anger from Muslims lead to dialogue among religions.
The pope on Wednesday acknowledged his remarks were open to misinterpretation, but insisted he had not intended to endorse a negative view of Islam.
"I hope that in several occasions during the visit ... my deep respect for great religions, in particular for Muslims -- who worship the one God and with whom we are engaged in defending and promoting together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for all men -- has emerged clearly," Benedict said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.
"I trust that after the initial reaction, my words at the university of Regensburg can constitute an impulse and encouragement toward positive, even self-critical dialogue both among religions and between modern reason and Christian faith," the pope told thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square. Security in the square had been stepped up.
As others have noted, I doubt very seriously that the Pope chose to use this rather obscure text accidentally, or without understanding on some level that it might sow the seeds of discord in a world Muslim community, that frankly, seems to need very little instigation to become outraged. Other Catholic luminaries, including the current Archbishop of Sydney and the former Archbishop of Canterbury have supported the thrust of the Pope's comments.
I'm now starting to wonder if this is part of a designed attempt to lead Islam—particularly the often silent voices that claim to be the "moderate Muslim" supermajority—to look within itself and confront the extremists and fundamentalist sects within it. It seems quite possible that the Pope is very sincere in his respect for Islam as a fellow Abrahamic faith. His choice of words last week may have been chosen as a catalyst, and his stated desire for "promoting together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for all men," is precisely the goal of the Church.
It would be very encouraging if moderate Muslims seize upon this opportunity to look inward, become introspective, and determine that the terror of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups are not compatible with a "religion of peace." The Pope seems to have created a situation where moderate Muslims can take back their faith from the warlords who have twisted the word of God to meet their own very human desires for empire.
Domineering political forces within Islam are forcing the religion towards a tipping point where the faith will either have to fully embrace a violent Jihad against the rest of the world, or fight an internal Jihad to bring back peace to the religion of peace.
It seems odd and at the same time encouraging that a Catholic Pope seems to be offering moderate Muslims a chance to affect their own Reformation. I hope they are wise enough to capitalize on that possibility. The alternative—the increasing isolation, radicalization and militarization of Islam—promises a dire future for the world at large and Islam in particular if the current trend is not reversed.