There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman.”
In the most provocative part of a speech this week on “faith and reason,” the pontiff recounted a conversation between an “erudite” Byzantine Christian emperor and a “learned” Muslim Persian circa 1391. The pope quoted the emperor saying, “Show me just what Muhammad 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.”
Muslim leaders the world over have demanded apologies and threatened to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican, warning that the pope’s words dangerously reinforce a false and biased view of Islam. For many Muslims, holy war — jihad — is a spiritual struggle, and not a call to violence. And they denounce its perversion by extremists, who use jihad to justify murder and terrorism.
The Vatican issued a statement saying that Benedict meant no offense and in fact desired dialogue. But this is not the first time the pope has fomented discord between Christians and Muslims.
In 2004 when he was still the Vatican’s top theologian, he spoke out against Turkey’s joining the European Union, because Turkey, as a Muslim country was “in permanent contrast to Europe.”
A doctrinal conservative, his greatest fear appears to be the loss of a uniform Catholic identity, not exactly the best jumping-off point for tolerance or interfaith dialogue.
The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.
Stanley Kurtz has a response:
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that the New York Times, the leading voice of secular liberalism (America's fasted growing religion), has insulted Catholics by falsely accusing the Pope of fomenting religious discord.
In the most provocative part of today's editorial, The New York Times uses the Pope's opposition to Turkey's entry into the European Union as proof that the Pope did in fact mean to offend Muslims, despite his protestations to the contrary. Of course, the conviction that national or regional boundaries ought to take account of significant cultural differences cannot and should not be stigmatized as offensive and bigoted. Yet the Times expanded this already provocative line of argument by implying that traditional Catholics are intolerant, and incapable of interfaith dialogue. The Times also intentionally confused the boundary between deliberate offense and unintentional offense based on carelessness or misunderstanding.
The New York Times therefore needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology to the Pope, and to Catholics everywhere, thereby demonstrating that editorialists and secular liberals can heal as well as offend. The future of comity between secular liberals and our nation's religious Christians depends upon it.