• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Disaster Manuel

Few surprises on Radio 4’s 6pm news programme, as British Islamist Anjem Choudary explains why he shouldn’t be prosecuted for calling for the execution of the Pope at a protest at Westminster Cathedral:

We were saying that people should be wary of the fatwa which have already been given, for example against Salman Rushdie, and of course what happened during the cartoon demonstration. So in fact we were saying that people like the Pope and others should know better, and if they make such comments and they have severe consequences then really they have only themselves to blame.

Well, I’m glad he’s clarified that, then.

Meanwhile, the Islamist campaign to whip up violence by taking what the Pope actually said out of context gets an unexpected boost – from the American Family Association’s Agape Press and Christian Zionist Jan Markell:

The founder and director of Minnesota-based Olive Tree Ministries says Pope Benedict should be commended for his recent quotation of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s observations about Islam…Jan Markell says she was a bit surprised by Pope Benedict’s candor, which, she notes, “surprises me a little bit because [he] is trying to unite a bunch of religions, including Islam — bring them all together … and he’s really working on Islam to be a part of this.” For the Pope to come out with this statement, the Olive Tree Ministries’ spokeswoman says, “I honestly have to give him some credit for being that blunt”…And now that Pope Benedict has couched Islam in…frank terms, Markell says the Vatican should not yield to the demands of angry Muslims for an apology.

Of course, some have raised the possibility that Benedict was merely saying what he really thinks in a way that was plausibly deniable; such a conspiracy theory can never be proven either way, but in trying to divine the secrets of the Pope’s heart we should at least take some note of the official statement of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, which says that

“the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way.”

However, demagogues like Markell are opportunists, and misrpresenting Benedict’s stated views can only have the positive result of further inflaming the situation. Markell may dislike the Pope’s efforts at inter-religious dialogue  (or “uniting a bunch of religions”, in her paranoid worldview), but she and Choudary are united in their belief that hatred, fear, and ignorance should be the handmaids of religious revival.

3 Responses

  1. Actually I think the quote is even worse in context. If the Pope wanted to condem the spreading of religion by violence in general he would’ve used his own church as an example (for instance, the destruction of the Cathars) and not solely Islam with a quote that says that Mohammed brought only bad things into the world. This combined with the snide remark that Mohammed said that there’s no compulsion in religion only when he was powerless and under threat means the quote is clearly aimed at Islam. If the Pope wanted to condem muslims who wants to spread Islam by force he would also have quoted a muslim scholar and not a Christian emperor. In the following paragraph the Pope proceeds to attack Islam even more: spreading religion through violence is not in accordance with reason (and “contrary to God’s nature”) and Islam is irrational (and presumebly also “contrary to God’s nature”). That he does this through referencing the works isn’t relevant I think, he must mean something by restating what they think and if he disagreed with their conclusions he would say so.

    The rest (and main) of the speech is about how the Catholic faith is in accordance with reason and that other faiths and philosophies are not and blah blah blah. Perhaps the Pope did not understand how his words painted Islam as violent and irrational (Orientalism ahoy!) but the fact that he issues later statments saying that he didn’t mean to offend Islam can’t erase the plain meaning of his words.

    But perhaps it is the muslims who are violent lunatics, what with over a thousands bombs dropped on their heads monthly by a Christian Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Palestine starving to death under the Israeli occupation. Not that those wars are fought for religious reasons or that the crimes committed justifies attacks on civilians.

  2. Well, I’m not a fan of the Pope (nor do I go along with this particular lecture), but it seems to me that his purpose in quoting Manuel was to make use of a Christian source that drew on Hellenistic traditions in the context of inter-faith debate. Perhaps he was ill-advised given his position, but an academic audience hardly needs to rake over “Past Christian Abuses 101” just for the sake of balance, and he could probably assume that his educated listeners don’t need to be spoon-fed with a wider perspective on Islam than that offered by one antagonistic quote from medieval times.

    The reference to Islam as “irrational” was unfortunate, but only because of a popular confusion that equates “irrational” with “barabaric” or “stupid”. It’s clear that what he meant was that Islam’s emphasis on transcendence is “supra-rational”. There’s plenty to take issue with in both this lecture and other statements made by Ratzinger, but let’s at least look at everything in context – especially when people are being killed.

  3. More than that Bartholomew, the whole mess basically takes the Pope out of the equation in terms of adding anything the current debacle. They aren’t going to let him take it back. To the Muslims it is just one more iron in the fire. Five will get you ten the Pope’s trip to Turkey will be cancelled. There is no longer any “second” chances–not when things have already gone this far–not from a figure on the world stage who should know better. It doesn’t matter what is said intellectially at this point, (which recent subsequent defenses show the Pope is aware of) chalk one up for the extreemists–the Crusades have started all over again.

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