Clash Of Civilizations

Pope Benedict XVILast Thursday the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci died after a long battle with breast cancer. After a long and successful career, her writings turned toward harsh criticism of Islam after the September 11, 2001 attacks. She has famously stated that Muslims "multiply like rats" and "the children of Allah spend their time with their bottoms in the air, praying five times a day.” Although she was critical of the Catholic Church for being weak in confronting the Muslim world, she had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI after which she praised him for his stronger stance against Islam:

“I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true,” Fallaci told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.

That was before Pope Benedict XVI waded into the intersection of religion and politics last week with his speech at the University of Regensburg.

In his speech the Pope quoted the Byzantine emperor Manual II Paleologus’s critique of Islam and its prophet Mohammed:

The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. [Emphasis added by me.]

The Pope went on to say:

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

In response to the uproar that was caused by the Pope’s speech, the Vatican initially suggested that the Pope’s speech had been misunderstood and that the Holy Father was criticizing violent jihad and extremism and not Islam itself. Today the Pope released a statement saying that he was "deeply sorry" for the reaction to his speech. His statement fell short of the apology demanded by Muslim leaders and in classic macaca-esque style he apologized for how his speech was perceived rather than the content of his speech:

At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.

These in fact were a quotation from a Medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.

Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.

However, I suspect most Muslims would be very reluctant to engage in dialogue after the Pope chose to say, though through indirection, that Islam’s prophet only brought things "evil and inhuman" into this world. The Pope’s choice of words and his use of the quotation was not a critique only of violent jihad, but a criticism of Islam itself.

The impact of the Pope’s words will be felt much more broadly in the Muslim world than the manufactured furor over the Danish cartoons. Certainly the extremists in the Muslim world will take this opportunity to practice violence (in that they need very little excuse), but more importantly these words will have impact on the moderate and majority Muslim population. After the papacy of Pope John Paul II, during which he made great strides in bridging the gaps between the world’s peoples, the Church under Pope Benedict XVI had already begun to pull back from such reconciliation. Pope John Paul II, who was the first Pope to set foot within a mosque, was revered and respected in the Muslim world as a man of God. Pope Benedict XVI was already viewed with suspicion in the Muslim world, even before Tuesday’s speech, after he removed Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald from his post that promoted dialogue with other religions:

One of the first signs of a toughening of the Vatican’s stance came with the removal from office of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald.

The British-born cleric ran a Vatican department that promoted dialogue with other religions. A distinguished scholar on Arab affairs, he was an acknowledged expert on the Islamic world.

The decision by Benedict XVI to remove him from his post, and send him to Egypt as papal nuncio, was widely seen as a demotion.

Some wondered about the wisdom of the move.

The Pope’s speech last Tuesday only served to confirm for Muslims concerns about the direction of his papacy. 

If the Pope had left out the reference to Mohammed and Islam at the beginning of his speech, his later call for dialogue and his position against violent spread of religion would have been warmly welcomed by the majority of Muslims. However, he chose for his own reasons to include criticism of Islam and its prophet.

Over the last century Islam has already been under attack from within by Islamism. Islamism is a political ideology that seeks to transform Islam into a political system from a religion. In that Islam the religion is quite distinct from Islamism. The rise of extremism in the Islamic world in the 20th century is intertwined with the rise of Islamism and in many instances the two are indistinguishable. On September 11, 2001, extremism (and Islamism) broadened its attack on Islam and brought it to America’s shores. After 9/11, there was a natural ally waiting to join forces with the United States in combating extremism and Islamism – that ally was the majority of the Muslim world. However, as we all now painfully know, the last five years have brought division where there could have been alliance.

Into this cauldron of division the Pope has now thrown in his hat. Already the extremists in the Muslim world are using his words to justify further violence and further destabilization of the Muslim world. In the West and in the United States, the far right is already using the Pope’s speech as approval, if not religious sanction, of a violent approach to confronting Islam. Neo-conservatives have been using "Islamo-fascist" as a synonym for "Islam" for quite some time – now they will find new life and a wider audience.

The Vatican is trying mightily to lower the temperature of this crisis. The Muslim leaders should also try to do the same. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, demands from prominent Muslim leaders that the Pope apologize are counterproductive and add fuel to an already volatile situation. I hope these leaders will come to their senses and join the Vatican in calming the waters. The Pope has expressed himself in his speech and the message has been heard. The Vatican, since then, has stated that the official position of the Church regarding Islam has not changed in spite of the Pope’s speech. Muslim leaders need to take the Vatican at its word. The alternative is to let the Islamists and neo-conservatives fight to the death at our expense.

 [Cross posted at Taylor Marsh]


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22 Responses to Clash Of Civilizations

  1. heathlander says:

    Mash – firstly, obviously I agree with you that what the Pope said was irresponsible and actually quite disgraceful. But it does slightly disturb me that bloggers such as yourself have chosen to focus on condemning his remarks.

    Me personally, in the light of the violent and absolutely inexcusable reaction to those remarks, would first emphasise the Pope’s right to say what he did, then condemn the violent protests and only then condemn the Pope’s remarks.

  2. Mash says:

    Jamie, I tried to do all of it in my post. I do not at all dispute his right to say what he said. I hope I did not imply otherwise. When the Danish cartoon controversy came up, I defended the right of the newspaper to publish.

    However, there are a number of issues here of concern. I think it is not an accident that this Pope spoke those words. That is in fact the main news story everywhere, not just the blogs. As for the violence, I have always said, and continue to say, that these extremists will take any opportunity to kill people and try to cause trouble. You could sneeze and extremists in the Muslim world would burn something down.

    Frankly, as you probably know, I am no fan of Saudi Arabia, where by the way, you are barred from practicing any religion but Islam. So, criticism of the Pope coming from people who do not themselves practice any iota of tolerance does not particularly ring authentic. I have plenty to say about Muslim extremists in other posts.

    However, this post was specific to the Pope’s speech and its impact on moderate Muslims. This will have impact unfortunately.

  3. Ingrid says:

    Someone’s right to speak whatever he has to say is paramount in the West. In the Pope’s case, it was not perhaps a matter of ‘what was he thinking’, but more a ‘what and with whom is he in cahoots’? Pope’s speak carefully and realize full well how their words reverberate all over the world, not just their Catholic flock. So not only do we see people referring back to their fundamental nature in the West (neocons and their actions), but consequently more in the East (Islam) and now in the Catholic Church? It makes me wonder indeed. This was no accidental ‘I did not mean to offend you’ utterance. :), at least he wasn’t speaking ‘infallible’!!

  4. heathlander says:

    Yes, and of course I agree with everything you wrote. It’s just that in a lot of the liberal and Left-y coverage of it I’ve noticed this trend ni focusing totally on the fact that the Pope shouldn’t have said it and not condemning the voilent protests. So for example, on Newsnight on Friday we had Inayat Bungawala, who is important because he is a member of the Muslim Council for Britain and was a convenor on a government task force to tackle home grown radicalisation, failing even to condemn the violence.

    So yes – just checkin, is all…:)

  5. Mash says:

    Jamie, you are right. That is part of the problem. Muslim leaders help condone the violence by their very silence. As I mentioned in the post, demanding an apology from the Pope is very damaging. It keeps the story alive and only helps the extremists. Responsible leaders should immediately condemn the violence and help lower the temperature. The fact that they don’t speaks volumes about their own sense of tolerance.

    I think we have to ask ourselves whether we want to live together or whether we want to fight each other. If the answer is the latter, then we have not particularly evolved as a species.

  6. Taysiir says:

    “Once you said something, you can’t swallow it back”.

    “Mash you freaking ******” Lets just imagine I said that, and later apologize, you will still remember what I told you before somehow. A responsible person, as the Pope, shouldn’t be saying these kind of thing, and later apologize …

  7. Robbie says:

    The Pope was out of line. As a person in authority (he’s the uber Catholic), he has the extra responsibility of choosing his words carefully. There was absolutely no reason at all to include those words about Mohammed in his speech the other day unless he wanted to make a point, and that he did at the expense of Muslims.

    It’s been two days and he’s finally apologized for his “mistake”, but it was no mistake. He knew what he was doing, but didn’t think about the ramifications of his actions before uttering those references.

    No wonder I’m a recovering Roman Catholic.

  8. odanny says:

    Totally irresponsible on the part of the Pope. Living through WWII in Germany as a young teen he knows firsthand what prejudice and hatred can bring, and he should be acutely aware of how something like that would be received, obviously he meant to provoke Muslims with his choice of words.

    After our Dear Leader started his Crusade in Iraq we now have the worlds most exalted Christian comparing Mohammed to being evil, no wonder the Muslim world is resentful and distrustful of the West.

  9. zazou says:

    While I agree that the Pope can say anything he wants, I still strongly feel that this was a highly irresponsible statement to make. By doing so, he has undone much of the good outreach started by John XXIII and carried forward by John Paul II. We are not in the time of the crusades and the Ottomans are not at the gates of Vienna.

    That said, the Muslim violent reaction is uncalled for- especially of the Churches in the Occupied Territories, whose congreation is Arab and often members of Fatah and other resistance groups.

    The Pope is only making things worse by creating a Catholic version of George Bush.I very much miss JOhn XXIII

  10. Miraj says:

    “these extremists will take any opportunity to kill people and try to cause trouble. You could sneeze and extremists in the Muslim world would burn something down.”

    It is so true. Those extremists are making our lives here in Iraq like hell and first thing came to my mind when hearing about Pope’s speech is our Christian community. They are so peaceful and the best people here in Iraq yet they are now even in more danger than they are already in. It was irresponsible with all due respect.

  11. Pingback: Polimom Says » Al Qaeda: Holy War or Bust!

  12. Zafa says:

    Tolerance towards Muslim faith is diminishing rapidly in the west – and I blame those neurotic idiots who applaud those who explode themselves in crowded market place – then revolt against Pope for speaking against violence.
    Not making excuse for pope, but how can I criticize pope when I can’t even agree with the clerics of my own faith.


  13. odanny says:

    Wingnuts don’t need anymore “moral authority” to give them the greenlight to make the “Islamofascism” crusade any more spirited and derogatory than it already is, already wingnuts are going after those calling for more tolerance from the Pope.

    I wonder if now some leading Muslim critic will make similar pronouncement, acting like a clarion call to arms for wingnuts everywhere (“You see! I told you it was WWIII, didn’t you hear Mullah Mulder in Sphincterstan call the Pope a %^&*$”?)

  14. Mash says:

    Wingnuts and Muslim extremists actually have a lot in common. They are both intolerant and want to destroy the other with violence.

    Odanny, I have no doubt that some Muslim clerics will spew hate now at the pope. This thing is getting out of control. In countries like Saudi Arabia, the years of intolerance for other faiths is now showing its true colors. I find it laughable when any Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia talks about there being “no compulsion in religion”. Do they even realize how intolerent their own country is?

    Seeing churches burned in Palestine was just maddening. It was at least heartening to hear Haniya call for calm and point out that a lot of Palestinians are Christians.

    The pope waded into this with open eyes. Any one with an ounce of thought would realize that the majority of Muslims would be offended by his remarks. But being offended is one thing, going on violent rampages is quite another. These extremists have been given support by the dictators and tyrants in these Muslim countries – its high time this issue was addressed. I wonder if George W realizes that his buddies in the Muslim world are the very people who are inciting and nurturing these extremists?

  15. James says:

    As Mash knows, I am an atheist as well. However, I cannot agree with what she claims.

    Any logical atheist realizes that theistic belief is here and it is here to stay.

    Be it:xianity, islam, buddhism, hinduism, etc, man’s practiced, latent desire to form some sort of belief system is something that does bring many people a sense of comfort and belonging.

    I do not think it makes them silly or irrational. For the most part, most theists are decent people, who think their beliefs guide them in this ever-changing earth.

    As an atheist, I am all for freedom of religion, just as one should respect my freedom from it.

    Keep it in your:church, temples, etc. Not in our schools, government and political process.

  16. Mark says:

    Muslims need to get a grip. Seems like anything and everything makes these people angry these days. Is the West supposed to walk around on egg shells trying not to anger the muslim street? We have a thing called free speech here in the West. Everyone and everything is open to criticism. If muslims don’t like this, don’t come here. It’s that simple. Believe me, you won’t be missed.

    Before the pope’s comments, it was the Danish cartoons. Before and during the Danish cartoons, it was the Iraq war. Before the Iraq war it was military presence in Saudi Arabia requested by Saudi Arabia because of their belligerent Iraqi neighbor (Sadam Hussein), before that it was monetary support for Israel (even though support was given to other Arab states as well). And before that, who knows. Even if all these things were removed, the the muslims would resume their jihad somewhere else, Chechnya, Sudan, Indonesia, China. It is the spread of Islam by demographics. First, muslims move into a country, live off that countries freedoms and privileges like parasites, then attempt to break away in a separatist movement.

    Also, why is it acceptable for prominent muslim leaders to call the US the “Great Satan”, call for holy war (jihad) against the West seemingly on a daily basis, and basically incite hatred among the muslim population against the infidels?

    The pope does not need to apologize. If the Muslim population isn’t smart enough to understand what he said, or they listen to their imams who are telling them that he insulted Islam, then I say let them live in ignorance.

  17. Mash says:

    Mark, thanks for sharing your hate. Now, tell me, where would you like us American citizens, who happen to be Muslim, to go? Does Gitmo sound good to you? Perhaps you would like those pesky Hispanics to also leave along with us Muslims. That way you and your pure blooded brethren can all hold hands in your ethnically pure Reich and sing “Morons uber Alles”.

    As for the pope, I think it is quite clear that he insulted Islam. Or maybe, I am not “smart enough” to realize that his words had a different meaning that only morons like you understand.

  18. kactuz says:

    The Pope was too kind. There is no need for an apology, because Muslims have proved that what he said about Islam was true. In fact, maybe next time Muslims take to the streets they should carry signs saying “The Pope is right – We are violent”.

    This infidel has no respect for a people that can only blame others for their problems. Yes Christianity has a history of violence and yes the Catholic church is responsible for many evils. I think even the Pope will admit that.

    Now lets talk about Islam. Lets talk about the wars of jihad, the conquests, and the attacks on infidels – or better, lets talk about Mohammed. According to the hadaiths, this man killed, tortured, enslaved, plundered and encouraged rape. Hey, dont blame me, blame Buhkari, Tabari, Muslims and others friends and followers of the prophet that wrote the “most reliable” (strongest) sources that are accepted by all Muslims.

    Until Muslims admit these things and until the condemn these actions by their dear prophet and until they apologize – forget any dialogue. If Muslims don’t respect others and dont behave in a civilized manner, this old man sees no reason to respect them, their religion or their prophet. If they don’t allow freedom of expression and religion, that is to their shame. If they mistreat women and other minoties, that is pathetic also. Until they fix their broken societies and treat others as they want to be treated, I kindly ask them to shut the f**k up.

    I have nothing to say to people who cannot be honest.

    J. Kactuz

    PS: Sorry for the tone of this, but I am sick of hearing Muslims either cry or promise violence when anybody says something they don’t like. Grow up!

  19. Mash says:

    J. Kactuz, I think your “respect” is not that important to me. I am not sure any Muslim would give a rat’s ass about what you think about Islam. I am pretty sure Muslims can figure out their religion without your help. Keep reading the filth and hate that is out their on some Internet sites and keep patting yourself on the back for being “civilized.”

    I think you forgot to add that we Muslims also like to suck the blood out of newborn babies.

  20. Miraj says:

    Mash, do not waist your energy:)
    As a Muslim I condemn all the violence done by Muslims including their shameful way to show their protest against such insults like the one by the Pope.

    I agree Muslims in General have a whole history of mischief but I have always believed that the affect of Mental or Psychological terrorism is way bigger than the physical terrorism for the first one is the cause for the second one.
    At the end what ever the Muslims will do it will be wrong no matter what the provocative actions were or who started them.

  21. Aunty Ism says:

    In my usual habit of jumping in the pool after everyone else is at the bbq, may I just add a bit to the discussion. The Pope is an intelligent man, one could even say cunning, as are his advisors. He could not rise to his present level without gritty wit. Wisdom, however, is more subtle.

    Now, who benefits if Muslims, Christians, and Jews all hate each other? War sells. It buys. It controls. It is the health of The State (I forget who originally said that last bit…some ancient man somewhere).

    If we are all fighting each other, we lose control.

  22. sonia says:

    Popes and Mullahs all seem to be up to the same thing. Best to allow them to say what they like and not be too bothered about it all.

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