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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Benedict's benign quotation leads to Muslim consternation

On Sept. 12, just one day after the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the United States by Muslim extremists, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at the University of Regensburg that has shaken the relationship between the Catholics and Muslims of the world. His lecture entitled "Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections" is an excellent survey of the history of various philosophers and theologians attempting to reconcile the gaps between faith and reason. It is an excellent lecture except for one sticking point: a quote used partway through the speech from a conversation that took place in the 14th century. This conversation purportedly took place between Byzantine emperor Paleologus and an "educated Persian." In it, Paleologus blasts Islam with his challenge to the Persian: "Show me just what Mohammed 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 rather unnecessary use of this quote was a serious oversight. The Pope was simply using this quote as a means to an end in the discussion; it had nothing to do with the fact that Islam was targeted in the quote. It merely was an illustration that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."

Unfortunately, to many in the Islamic community, it had everything to do with the fact that Islam was the subject religion. In a world where terms such as "Islamofacism" are being coined and Muslims are being held in Guantanamo Bay without benefit of a trial or accusation of a crime, this quote is a wedge in the ever-growing rift between the Islamic community and the rest of the world. As a religious and political figure, the Pope's words are subject to extreme scrutiny and occasional misinterpretation. With this in mind, it is puzzling that he chose this particular discussion, relevant as it may be, to cite in his lecture.

However, he did. And it seems to have unraveled the hard work that Pope Benedict XVI has put into interfaith dialogues, despite his recently heartfelt but perhaps unsatisfying apology. This will be a sore subject that repeatedly comes up in future discussions with Muslim scholars and leaders. But this is more than just a sore subject and a loss of Papal political capital; it has led to protests and violence in various parts of the globe.

Churches were firebombed along the Gaza Strip in direct response to the quote. Denunciation of the Pope from leaders in Pakistan, Lebanon and Turkey were all issued promptly. Even the killing of a nun in Somalia is suspected to also be part of the backlash. This wave of violence in the Islamic world as a reflection of outrage harkens back to the publication of Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed earlier this year. The death toll for the ensuing violence over the cartoon was roughly 150.

Here's what boggles the mind now as much as then: why are some in the Muslim world protesting accusations of Islam being a violent religion with violence?

Islam is not a violent religion. It professes intense faith, charity, scholarship and desire for peace. The problem is that this is not what is displayed in the media. What most see is the death toll from Islamic insurgents, the results of the latest 'sectarian violence' in Iraq and the preaching of extremist leaders who pervert the Qur'an's teachings for their personal agendas. Of course none of these things are really aspects of Islam any more than the IRA's violent tactics were reflections of the teachings of Catholicism.

It's a great irony that the fundamentalist groups who profess a union of church and state have in fact managed to take all the true meaning of their religion out of their religion leaving only slanted political readings of the core text that go against every true value of the religion. Whether it be Christian fanatics who bomb abortion clinics, Muslims who run planes into buildings or Jews who use an 'any means necessary' approach to defending their homeland of Israel. All these violent acts in the name of religion make us ask the questions: "What do we actually believe? What does it mean to have faith? Is it still something possible in the modern world?... In the end, we can no longer see the forest for the trees." This quotation is obviously not my own. It was said by a man far more intelligent and well versed in religious issues than I: Pope Benedict XVI. He said this the same day that he benignly used a quote that offended the Islam world. Extreme members of Islam then proceeded to yet again miss the forest for the trees.

Will McAuliffe is a senior Political Science major with a serious love for the Colbert Report and Fox News. All letters of support, disdain or otherwise relevant commentary should be forwarded to him at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.