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(photo credit: AP)
The contentious remarks cited by Pope Benedict XVI about the linkage between Islam and violence were well prepared in advance and were directed at a European audience who view Islam as a growing threat, a Vatican expert said Monday.
"My impression is that the pope knows very well what he wants and speak out very clearly," said Dr. Itzhak Minerbi during a round-table discussion of Israeli academics at Hebrew University's Truman Center on the pontiff's recent theological address.
The event came as the pope told Muslim diplomats that the future depended on good relations between followers of both faiths, in his latest effort to quell anger over his recent remarks about Islam and violence.
Minerbi, a former Israeli ambassador to Belgium and a leading Israeli expert on Catholic-Jewish relations, noted that the pope has long-standing reservations about Islam dating back to his years as a cardinal, when he was a vociferous opponent of Turkey's entry into the European Union, saying its membership might be incompatible with European culture.
He opined that Pope Benedict XVI was taking a "completely different" political line vis a vis Islamic extremism compared to his predecessor, John Paul II, and had carried out nothing less than a reshuffling of Vatican foreign policy on this issue, even while maintaining an anti-Israel line on political issues.
Earlier this month, Benedict had angered Muslims around the world by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who had lambasted the Prophet Muhammad's teaching to spread the faith by violence. He subsequently expressed regret that Muslims took offense at his speech, stressing that he was misunderstood.
Minerbi argued that the pope had a fair assessment of the likely reaction to his speech, which he said was "moderate" compared to the wave of violence throughout the Muslim world last year following the publication of cartoons against Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.