September 16, 2006

The Pope Fiasco and Stupid Muslim Reactions

From a recent speech Pope Benedict XVI delivered to scientists at the University of Regensburg quoting the dialogue between the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam took place in the fourteenth century:
In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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 emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.
Times Online comments: "Even his critics agree that the Pope did not intend to cause offence to the world’s Muslims".
But his mistake was his failure to distance himself from the emperor’s comments — surely inflammatory enough in their own time, and a thousand times more so when repeated today.

His address is undermined further by a serious error in regards to the Koran. “Sura 2,256 . . . is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad was still powerless and under threat.” In fact, this sura [Koranic chapter] is held by Muslim scholars to be from the middle period, around the 24th year of Muhammad’s prophethood in 624 or 625, when he was in Medina and in control of a state. Contrary to what the Pope said, this was written when Muhammad was in a position of strength, not weakness.

Pope quoted an emperor, a Christian adversary of Islam, who had set down the comments while in the middle of a battle, the siege of Constantinople in 1394 to 1402. The tragedy of the episode is that the Pope was arguing against the idea that violence can be justified in any religion. The irony is that the Islamic response illustrates how desperately the world needs to hear his message.
What can be said about the Muslim outrage? Some burned down churches, issued a death sentence fatwa. Even the communists in India joined the protests. Morocco recalled its ambassador from the Vatican.

The pope has apologized for his comments. But to some this apology is not enough.

Some say that the Muslim backlash proved his point. You cannot win every fight or prove something wrong with violence.


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