muslim women 298 88.
(photo credit: AP)
It was not a slip of the tongue.
In his speech in Regensburg on September 12, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a long forgotten Byzantine emperor of 1391 who had said that what Muhammad had brought to the world was only evil and inhuman edicts, such as the command to spread his faith by the sword. The pope has also claimed that the god of the Muslims is both trascendental and unreasonable, while severely condemning jihad and the use of violence in the name of a faith, as such an action would be contrary to reason and to God's plan.
Honest observers cannot claim to have been surprised by those declarations even if some have doubts whether they are politically correct. In 2004, before his election to the seat of St. Peter, then Cardinal Ratzinger said in an interview to the Figaro that he was against the acceptance of Turkey into the European Union since it belongs to a continent which has always opposed Europe. Some believe that Ratzinger was elected pope because of his agenda and in order to take a strong stand in the face of Islam.
Pope Benedict XVI has indeed kept busy. In August 2005, during a speech in Koln, he addressed the leaders of the Muslim community and said: "Terrorism, of any kind, is a perverse act and cruel decision, which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of civil societies." In September 2005, he organized a two-day conference on Islam at Castel Gandolfo near Rome, for a "more robust approach" to Islam. In February 2006, the Council for the Interreligious Dialogue which dealt with Islam, was weakened and added to another department of the Curia, and its chief, Archbishop Fitzgerald was sent as nuncio to Cairo. In May 2006, the pope said he favoured the dialogue with Islam but on condition that it would be conducted on the basis of reciprocity.
European public opinion is split on the political acumen of this speech. Eugenio Scalfari, former editor of the leftist daily La Repubblica wrote that the pope had done nothing but "inflamed the protest and the hatred of Islam while uniting the fundamentalists with the moderate Muslims." Even worse, the pope expressed doubts regarding the transcendence of God and this was the gravest outcome of his speech, Scalfari added. The Suddeutsche Zeitung of Munich published a very critical article claiming that the theologian had been a bad counselor to the pope, or, in other words, criticizing the pope for ignoring the consequences of his speech.
An opposite view was taken by Nagdi Allam, born in Egypt, and today vice editor of the Corriere della Sera. He wrote that the root of evil was in the blind ideology of hatred by some Muslims, which was raping the faith. Muslim terrorists kill Muslims and think it is legitimate to plan the destruction of Israel. The West should stop considering itself the cause of everything. The problem is an internal Islamic problem since extremists have transformed the faith in God into an ideology which wants to impose a theocratic and totalitarian regime, he concluded.
Today, Europe in particular and the West in general lack a clear strategy for coping with the Muslims who live in their midst. Premier Romano Prodi and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's notion that the Palestinian problem is at the center of the crisis in the Middle East does not explain why recent terrorist acts have been carried out in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - all of them Muslim Arab countries.
One would hope that at the very least, the controversial stand taken by the pope would help the Europeans defend their identity. At the same time, such a clear condemnation of Muslim violence, could perhaps even bring an end to violence in the Middle East.
The author is a former Israeli envoy to the Vatican.