Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Power or Faith

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday September 15, 2006 at 11:20 pm)

Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture this week on reason and faith had a barb in its tail. To introduce the problem of violence committed in the name of faith, he quoted a 14th century document, translated by Adel Theodore Khoury, a serious scholar of Christian/Muslim relations. In the document, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus contended that Islam added nothing positive to the faiths which had inspired it.

Naturally, this kicked off protests and the kind of spontaneous demonstrations which show precisely how poorly the general population of the Muslim world appreciates the Pope’s influence (and how much attention gets paid to his many speaking engagements) and how eager their leaders are to maintain unity through external threats:

“This is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures … they hate our religion,” Ismail Radwan, a local Hamas official, told the rally.

Which shows precisely how committed Mr. Radwan is to bringing the Pope’s words to his people. After all, what speech condemning violence in the name of religion isn’t a call for a crusade?

But it’s precisely this utterly unselfconscious approach to one’s own words that lies at the heart of the just condemnation of what the Pope said:

“One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the [British Muslim Council’s] secretary-general.

One can’t naively believe that the uncritical use of such remarks, however incidental, is acceptable — the more so because they were incidental. The use of that particular quotation was not crucial to the point, however much it was the quotation that set the Pope to thinking on the subject. Had he merely mentioned the document and left off there, it seems unlikely that any of the few hundred attending the lecture at the University of Regensburg would have bothered to look up the reference and consider the possibility of its being offensive. After all, it was likely the media coverage pointing out the potential problems with the speech which drew attention to it in the first place (no complaints were voiced until a full two days had passed, one day after the first stories appeared). It seems unlikely that Hamas officials and Iraqi Imams make a routine practice of scrutinizing encyclicals.

But Mr. Radwan’s response is hardly better. If he believes it, he hasn’t read the speech; and that bodes ill. If he doesn’t believe it, there’s a serious problem of unselfconscious misrepresentation — a disappointing sign of deceptive techniques for exploitation following so closely on promising undertakings in the genuine interest of the Palestinian people.

Still, the prize for self-interested disregard for inherent inconsistency must go to Iraqi Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi:

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood.”

And Sheik al-Ghazi proved to be closer to the pope he envisions than to love and brotherhood. After all, bigotry is bigotry, and “Zionist” as an epithet can only produce this kind of hypocrisy from those who value their own power over forgiveness, peace, and faith in the divine.

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