Everyone has been following the question of pope Benedict and his remarks about Islam quite closely. He has finally apologized, though perhaps not as enthusiastically as some might wish. I myself believe that the pope was not fair to Islam, though I believe in a more subtle way than the press may have suggested when it referred to his quotation of Manuel II out of context. I won't repeat arguments that I have already made on Jeff's and Prickliestpear's excellent blog posts on the subject, and for the most part I would like just to send people elsewhere to particularly good posts on this issue.
Crystal has taken the time to investigate that sad figure, Manuel II Paleologos, one of the last heirs to an empire that once stretched from Britain to Mesopotamia and in his time was reduced to a sliver of territory around Constantinople. Manuel was forced to play the charming and refined Greek supplicant in the courts of Western Europe, begging for aid to save his doomed city, aid that would never come and would be too late in any case.
Guillaume le Fou, in his comment on Jeff's blog, steered me to Juan Cole's post about the mistakes Benedict made in his discussion of Islam. It's good reading for those who continue to insist that Islam is by nature a violent religion. There are a couple of other points he makes in this and in another post that may be good to take into account. One is about how many in the West see Muslims as "thin-skinned":
Some commentators have complained about Muslim sensibilities in this regard. But in my view, this sensitivity is a feature of postcolonialism. Muslims were colonized by Western powers, often for centuries, and all that period they were told that their religion was inferior and barbaric. They are independent now, though often they have gained independence only a couple of generations (less if you consider neocolonialism). As independent, they are finally liberated to protest when Westerners put them down.Like with the protests against the Danish cartoons, people seem all-too-ready to both condemn protests they see as showing too much sensitivity and also group every reaction in the Muslim world into one pot. The press helps, of course, by reporting about peaceful, if passionate, demonstrations along with acts of vandalism against churches, threats by terrorist groups, commentaries by organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and statements by individuals, as if this entire reaction were orchestrated by one group with one goal in mind.
There is an analogy to African-Americans, who suffered hundreds of years of slavery and then a century of Jim Crow. They are understandably sensitive about white people putting them down, and every time one uses the "n" word, you can expect a strong reaction. In the remarks the pope quoted about Muhammad, he essentially did the equivalent of using the "n" word for Muslims. It is no mystery that people are protesting.
Of course, Muslim clerics should stress peace and understanding, and many do. Attacks on churches should always be condemned. The Turkish politician who compared Benedict to Hitler is either stupid or irresponsible (note that one politician said this, not Turkey as a country, though I have seen it stated otherwise on blogs). One insurgent group in Iraq, apparently lacking any sense of irony whatsoever, has threatened to attack the Vatican because Benedict may have suggested Islam was a violent religion. Still, why do people in the West refuse to see that many people in Muslim countries have felt used, bullied, and vilified by the West and that regardless of the fact that some Muslims may overreact to what they perceive as provocations, it is our responsibility to build bridges to the 900 million followers of Islam, not burn them. Those who feel we have the right to insult their faith because some of them may insult us are advocating schoolyard politics.
One mistake that Juan Cole made was to say that Benedict should refer to the Church's policy towards Islam as expressed in Nostra Aetate. The first Vatican response actually did quote the same sections that Cole referred to:
' The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ, "the way the truth, and the life" (John 14, 6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (4).
The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth (5), who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes great pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this Sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. '
Perhaps they should make it more clear.
I would like to refer my readers to one more blog. Check out "Charitable Hatred" and "The Pope on Islam" on Catholic Sensibility (I am not the Liam that usually comments on that blog, by the way). The best part is a response from Neil, the poster, to a comment on "Charitable Hatred:"
Regarding Pes' comment, I have read the Qu'ran, which is a very difficult book to interpret. We need to approach it with caution, remembering that some academics - after crude readings of the Book of Joshua, the sacrifice of Isaac, and the story of Cain and Abel - have been quick to label Christianity or all monotheisms as being violent.An intelligent and sensitive response from someone who obviously is not a Benedict-hater. I advise everyone to be careful about certain negative opinions about the Qu'ran that are floating around out there.
To suggest one approach to reading the Qu'ran, Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA would suggest that we must first recognize the context of the Qu'ran, which partially speaks of a time when Muslims in the city-state of Medina were enmeshed in unavoidable hostilities and outnumbered. As he writes, "You would probably expect to find the leader of the community pumping up the fervor so that every member of this community would join the battle and ensure the survival of the community." Consequently, the Qu'ran, written at a time before the UN or international law, at times sounds rather disturbing.
He also writes, "But in fact, I find the Muslim text—whether it is the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, or the texts of the jurists—often rising beyond these physical contingencies, and dreaming of the more humane, the more supernal, the more sublime, the more beautiful—for instance, the parts of the Islamic texts that emphasize no treachery in warfare outside of warfare."
The problem, he suggests, is when Muslims collapse texts describing "highly contingent realities" with texts "that express the subliminal, supernal reach," in a dangerous manner that might remind us of the small number of Christian Reconstructionists.
The more universal texts, however, ground Islam in witness to the God whose justice does not require the political success of his followers in such a way that they should feel compelled to use violence to "win" at any cost. And, so, there is thus ample theological justification for the words of Nostra Aetate, which stand firmly against any crude and wholesale demonization of Islam. Furthermore, we might suggest that the temptation to violence in Islam is actually similar to the temptation to violence in Christianity - the poisonous belief that God is a player in our world, requiring us to "win" for him, dependent on his followers' earthly power.
None of this is meant to excuse the denunications of the Holy Father that seem to keep coming from the Middle East. Perhaps part of the Pope's lecture was inadvisable (this is at least debatable), but the denunciations of him are inexcusable: they proceed from ignorance and have been very painful to read and see.
I hope and pray that this crisis will be put behind us and that sincere people of faith everywhere will work more to mend than to offend.
Really, I would like things to calm down so I can concentrate on why the Mets keep losing now that they're one game away from winning the NL East. It will happen. And Pedro will rise again!