Sunday, September 17, 2006




President Bush has been speaking of a "clash for civilisation", while Neocon commentators and politicians in the US, including the vice-president, have talked of a "clash of civilisations".

Bush has repeatedly denied the 'War On Terror' is a war against Islam, while some Muslims believe now more than ever that, with massacres of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, that the 'War On Muslims' has well and truly begun.

For those who only heard a few words of Pope Benedict's XVI's lengthy lecture in Bavaria, it appeared the leader of one of the Big Four world religions was making "anti-Islamic comments".
The Pope in fact quoted a 700 year old text during the lecture, last Tuesday, and now protestors are gathering in Muslim-dominated cities around the world.

Churches in Gaza and the West Bank have been firebombed, a nun in Somalia has been gunned down after a fiery call for revenge by Mogadishu clerics, world leaders are beginning to call for calm, and a growing number of Muslim leaders are demanding the Pope apologise.

Pope Benedict was quoting the work of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who wrote of jihad (holy war) :
"Show me just what Mohamed 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 lecture was more than two days before the above quote started to gain half the world's attention as a quote from the Pope himself, not a quote of a quote.

The BBC posted an online story on September 12, and the news featured prominent on BBC International TV.

The first reports featured the quote, a round-up of initial anger from Muslim leaders when the comments started to be published in newspapers, and
this report reported that showed officials were well aware of the violence to come if they didn't confiscat newspapers across Kashmir.

Most mainstream news is simply One Good Quote news. Two minute grabs of a story, with little context, and usually no perspective.

The quote of the quote was about all that was noticed, even though the Pope also said
this :
"The emperor (Palaeologus), after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.

Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God,' he says, 'is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature."
And this :
The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application... Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

Did the story grow out of all proportions to the early reaction in Muslim countries?

Looking through Google News arcchives, you can trace the spread of the story. The more it featured prominently in the media of a country, the bigger the reaction, protests and acts of violence also grew.

The first apology and clarification came from the Vatican within 24 hours of the story appearing on the BBC.

From the UK Observer :

The Vatican yesterday sought to quell the storm engulfing Pope Benedict XVI by claiming that the pontiff 'sincerely regrets' quoting remarks that Islam was 'evil and inhuman'.

In a conciliatory statement, the Vatican's 'prime minister' said the Pope was sorry his comments had offended Muslims around the world.

'The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers,' Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, one of Pope Benedict's closest associates, said.

The Pope regarded Muslims with 'esteem', the cardinal went on. But there was no hint yesterday that the Pope intended to retract his remarks.

The clarification didn't appear to be enough to kill off a round of protests in at least a dozen countries and burnings of effigies of the Pope.

From the
UK Independent :

The Pope is "extremely upset" that his comments on Islam and jihad have upset Muslims, the Vatican said yesterday. It was not, however, the personal apology many Muslims wanted from Pope Benedict XVI.

Protests continued around the world, with some leaders accusing him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades.

The government of Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Vatican, and an important papal trip to Turkey appeared in danger of cancellation...

The anger and disgust remains evident in Arab cities across the world tonight, and most particularly in Arab newspaper editorials, like this one :
".,,,the pope’s comments may lead to war...that we, Muslims and Christians alike, are trying to prevent through dialogue between East and West."

UPDATE : Pope Benedict appeared on Sunday to apologise, on camera, for the misquoted quote of a quote.

The Pope chose to apologise for
the reactions to the words he spoke. He did not apologise for using the quote :

"...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.

Ironically enough, the Pope used his lecture in Bavaria to refute any association between the pursit of violence and religion.

Part of the worldwide reaction to the Pope's words were those calling for the Pope to acknowledgement his own church's savage history of blodshed and repression, and molestation,, including the 13th and 14th century history of brutality, savage torture and executions, to those who were not 'true believers'. Or at least, not true believers enough.

Like most religions, Christianity's history is soaked with war and violence. As is Islam's.

On TV, a man shouts on a news story something like, "Christianity is more violent than Islam. Hitler was a Christian."

A true tallying up of the body count fallout from the religious-based, or inspired, wars and conflicts of the past two thousand years would be too shocking a project to complete.

Pope Benedict's speech should have reached the world's attention regardless of the storm over the quote of a quote.

One of the key themes of the speech was how scientific anlysis and deconstruction of the key poles of Christian faith had damaged the beliefs of many. He called for a return to thinking of God in a way that only true faith makes can make sense of, or indeed over-rides the reality of the natural world.

The Pope was telling the world's Christians that they had to ignore that which called into question their faith; that in order for Christianity to survive it had to get away from the historical reality of Jesus, and back to the more mystical beliefs about their icon.

Russia's Putin has called for the world's religious leaders "to show responibility and restraint" when discussing aspects of other religion.

The New York Times Editorial : The Pope Must Apologise

But Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Says The Pope's Apology Is Sufficient

What The Pope Said - The Controversial Speech In Full