Tuesday, September 19, 2006


B. Raman of the South Asia Analysis group writes on the lack of wisdom the Pope demonstrated with his recent remarks on Islam. His cautionary analysis is measured and timely. Following is an exercpt:

"The fresh Muslim anger has been caused by the opening para of a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on September 12, 2006, when he read out a prepared speech on "Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections" at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he was previously a professor of theology. What has shocked the Muslims is his quotation of a remark reportedly made by a Byzantine Emperor in 1391 during a conversation with an unnamed Persian scholar. That remark sought to give the impression that the Byzantine Emperor tended to identify Islam with violence. The Pope's reference to that remark, which was totally unnecessary in his speech, has been interpreted by Muslim religious leaders as indicating that the Pope too agreed with the negative manner in which the former Emperor projected Islam.

While Vatican spokesmen and the Pope himself have denied that the Pope's use of the quotation indicated that he agreed with it, this has not carried conviction with the agitating leaders of the Muslim communities. They legitimately ask: If the Pope did not agree with the quotation, what was the need for citing it? Or, why he did not make it clear in the speech itself that he did not agree with it. The present denials of the Vatican and the Pope are seen by the Muslims as an afterthought in view of the Muslim anger.

At a time when there was already a worrisome divide between the Muslims and the non-Muslims and there was a likelihood of the revival of the feelings of hurt in the Muslim communities over the Danishh cartoons, it was totally unwise on the part of the Pope and his speech-writers in the Vatican to have shown insensitivity to the feelings of Muslims by including this quotation in his speech.

President Bush and many other Western leaders also often make negative remarks about Islam, but their remarks do not evoke the same kind of anger because they are political leaders. Their remarks are ignored by the Muslim leaders. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and an important religious leader. His remarks, when negative, acquire a kind of significance which the remarks of political leaders do not have. They are, often incorrectly, seen as representing the views of the Christian religion as a whole---or at least of the Catholic Church.

It is not in the interest of any religious community or the international community as a whole that the existing divide between different communities be further widened. Concerted attempts should be made by leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities to put this incident behind us and to prevent any attempts by Al Qaeda, the IIF and other extremist or terrorist elements to exploit this incident for their own nefarious purposes."

Wise words indeed...It is a pity our home grown Cardinal could not provide sensible leadership on this subject. Religious prejudice, not unlike racial prejudice, precludes the possibility of a paradigm that celebrates the universality of the human experience.

To be expected, the PM has responded with his typically disingenuous line on Islam.

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