Pope Benedict seriously screws up

Out of context, here’s what Pope Benedict said:

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.

The context? He was quoting a 14th century Byzantine Emperor. According to media reports, he did not say whether he agreed or disagreed with the Emperor. But presumably there was some point to quoting that text: i.e., to assert that Muslims need to renounce any recourse to violence.

But really, the context is irrelevant. The Pope seriously screwed up by quoting this particular text.

Pope Benedict is dreaming in technicolor if he expects the Muslim “street” to strive for a sophisticated, nuanced interpretation of the quote, in context. And today’s apology will accomplish nothing: it is mere whistling into the wind.

The quote says that Islam — or at least, anything new about Islam — is only evil and inhuman. There isn’t a single good thing that can be said about it. And note the words, “such as”. Islam’s use of the sword isn’t the primary point of the text quoted: it is secondary, mentioned only to illustrate Islam’s alleged evil and inhumanity.

It’s a completely indefensible statement. The reaction to it was not only predictable but even sympathetic (so long as the reaction stops short of violence).

Pope Benedict has fuelled the perception that the “War On Terror” is really a dispute over religion.

He has undone the work of his predecessor in the office, who had begun to build bridges to Islam at a time when they are desperately needed. He has forfeited any (limited) moral influence he might have had over Muslims.

But what concerns me most is this: the West cannot afford major screw ups like this one. The solution to the current geopolitical crisis depends on a voluntary reform from within Islam. That is, moderates must become the dominant voice of Islam, instead of the radicals who currently seize the initiative.

Every time a Western leader like the Pope makes a mistake of this magnitude, he increases support for the radicals.

The Pope isn’t responsible if the next act of terrorism is a consequence of his speech — I want to be clear about that. But the speech is now part of the problem, and Pope Benedict has ceased to be part of the solution to Islamic terrorism.

copyright © 2006, Stephen


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