Benedict XVI in damage control, but has a decade-old history of anti-Islam bias Print E-mail
Pakistan -- Saturday, September 23, 2006, Shaaban 29, 1427 A.H.

Pope Benedict’s anti-Islam bias dates back to at least 1997

By Kaleem Omar

In an exercise that smacked of an attempt at damage-control, Pope Benedict XVI said during his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday that he has “deep respect” for Islam and hopes that his recent remarks that sparked anger from Muslims “lead to dialogue among religions.”

Insulting a religion is hardly the way to go about initiating a dialogue among religions.

If the pope has “respect” for Islam, as he now claims, he certainly had a strange way of showing it in his lecture at the University of Regensburg in his native Germany last week when he cited outrageously anti-Islamic remarks contained in a medieval Byzantine text, including the false contention that Islam “commands to spread by the sword the faith.”

In fact, there is no such “command.” On the contrary, Islam says that there is “no compulsion in religion.”

The pope said on Wednesday that his use of medieval quotes portraying a “violent” Islam did not reflect his own views and were “misunderstood.”

But if those quotes did not reflect his own views, why did the pope include the quotes in his lecture? What did he think would be the reaction of Muslims to his use of the quotes? He should have known that the reaction would only be anger.

Even many sympathetic Christian observers say the pope was “clumsy” to quote 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus saying that everything that Islam brought was “evil.”

“Clumsy” is putting it mildly. In fact, the pope’s use of the quotes was nothing short of outrageous. As a former theology professor and as the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, the pope should have known better than to say what he did.

At his weekly audience in the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope invited his listeners to re-read the text of his lecture.

“For the careful reader of my text it is clear that I in no way wanted to make mine the negative words pronounced by the medieval emperor and their polemical content does not reflect my personal conviction.”

But if that’s the case, why did the pope chose to use the outrageous quotes in his lecture? He should have known that it would infuriate the Muslim world.

The pope now says, “My intention was very different. I wanted to explain that religion and violence do not go together but religion and reason do.”

The question, however, is: why did the pope chose to illustrate this point by using quotes that insulted Islam? Could the reason be that the pope has long had a bias against Islam and that his lecture reflected this bias?

In fact, his anti-Islam bias goes back at least to 1997. Benedict, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told an interviewer in 1997 that Islam “is organised in a way that is opposed to our modern ideas about society.”

He went on to contend in that interview that discourse with Islam was “difficult” because there was no unanimously accepted mediator.

“I think the first thing we must recognise is that Islam is not a uniform thing,” he said. “In fact, there is no single authority for all Muslims, and so for this reason, dialogue with Islam is always dialogue with certain groups,” he said.

But Christianity isn’t a uniform thing either. It is divided into Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, and numerous other sects.

Also, if “there is no single authority for all Muslims,” there is no single authority for Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or other religions. So why did Benedict, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, single out Muslims? It could only have been because of his anti-Islam bias.

In recent years, the pope reiterated his doubts about Islam’s compatibility with Western-style modernity. According to an account of a seminar he held in September 2005 after becoming pope, Benedict told theology students that “Islam can adapt to democracy only if the Koran is radically interpreted.” Benedict has voiced complaints that church calls for tolerance and the latitude for freedom of worship in the West “haven’t been reciprocated by governments and religious leaders in Muslim states.”

In February 2006, the pope addressed Muslim Morocco’s ambassador to the Vatican, asking for “respect for the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely chosen religion is truly assured in all societies.”

In fact, history shows that Muslim societies and nations have traditionally been much more tolerant of other faiths than Christian nations. Unlike many Roman Catholic nations, there have never been any inquisitions in Muslim nations against people of other faiths.

To cite only one example, when Roman Catholic Spain launched an inquisition against the Jews, forcing many of them to flee the country, they found refuge in Muslim nations and continued to live there in peace and safety for hundreds of years.

As a teenager in Nazi Germany, Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth. What does he have to say now about Hitler’s persecution of Jews?

Benedict’s suggestion that Western culture, based on Christian values, differs markedly from Islam underlay his controversial opposition to Turkey’s admission to the European Union. In August 2004, he told France’s Le Figaro magazine that Muslim Turkey should be excluded because “Europe is a cultural continent, not a geographical one.”

The pope’s outrageous use of anti-Islam quotes in his lecture delivered in Germany last week ignited angry Muslim protests worldwide, with demands for an unqualified apology coming from Muslim nations across the globe.

Following the furore, the pope said in a statement read out by a Vatican spokesman on Sunday that the pope was “deeply sorry” that Muslims had taken offence at his remarks.

However, there was nothing in the statement about the pope being sorry for having made the remarks in the first place.

Muslims in Turkey, Iraq and Palestine demanded on Tuesday that the pope make a clear apology for his remarks on Islam, instead of saying only that he was “deeply sorry” that Muslims had taken offence.

In Turkey, protestors said that Benedict must make full amends before a planned November trip to the country that would be his papacy’s first visit to a Muslim nation.

“Either apologise, or do not come,” read a banner carried by a group of Turkish demonstrators from a religious workers’ union, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.

The Turkish protestors on Tuesday demanded that the Justice Ministry arrest the pope upon his arrival in Turkey, where he should be tried on charges of insulting Islam and causing hatred based on religious differences, local media reported.

Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of Turkey’s The New Anatolian newspaper, said in a commentary that the pope must reach out to Muslims before visiting Turkey, AP reported.

“How can the pope make amends and convince the masses with religious sensitivities in Turkey that he is not an enemy of Islam and that he wants to forge an atmosphere of co-existence?” Cevik wrote. “If he fails to do this, it will be very hard for the Turkish people to give him a warm welcome.”

In Turkey, said an AP report, the pope’s remarks strengthened the widespread view that he is hostile to the country’s campaign for membership in the European Union.

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government accused the pope after his latest remarks of trying to revive the Crusades, and called on him to offer a sincere and personal apology.

Iraq’s parliament also rejected Benedict’s explanation of his remarks, saying it was insufficiently clear.

In a statement read at a press conference in Baghdad on Tuesday, Iraqi lawmakers said, “The parliament demands the pope take practical steps to restore respect to the Islamic world and its religion, and a clear-cut apology for what he said.”

Mohammed Hussein, the Mufti of Jerusalem (occupied al-Quds), the top Muslim clergyman in Palestine similarly demanded that Benedict offer a “clear apology.”

Holding the pope responsible for the outpouring of Muslim anger, Hussein told reporters: “So far, we consider the apology of the Vatican Pope insufficient. We firmly ask the Vatican Pope to offer a personal, public and clear apology to the 1.5 billion Muslims of the world.”

As if to add fuel to the flames of Muslim anger over the pope’s remarks, Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, in a lecture titled “The Cross and the Crescent: The clash of faiths in an Age of Secularism” delivered this week at Newbold College in Britain’s Berkshire County, has defended the pope’s speech and has issued his own challenge to the Muslim world, which he claimed had developed a “deep-seated Westophobia” in recent times.

In fact, it is the West that has developed a deep-seated Islamophobia.