Sunday, September 17, 2006

Setting the record straight

The news recently has been full of misleading and deceptive stories claiming that Pope Benedict "slammed" and “defamed” Islam in a lecture given last Tuesday, September 12, 2006, at Regensburg University. A more balanced story is in the Washington Post, "Pope Invites Muslims to Dialogue." John Allen reports that, although the controversial remarks involved only a few short sentences, “the lecture, titled ‘Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections,’ ran to almost 4,000 words (more than a half-hour of speaking time), and its main concern was with what Benedict sees as an artificial truncation of human reason in the West.” A translation of the full address may be found here.

Now we see pictures of effigies of the Pope being burned, crowds attempting to impose dhimmitude demanding that the pope submit to limits, women in burkas proclaiming that “Pope Benedict has lost his mental and moral balance,” and cross burnings.

Worse, although some Islamic corners are urging restraint and reason, we see violent riots breaking out; churches being attacked and burned in the Middle East; groups threaten, "We swear that we will destroy their cross in the heart of Rome ... and that their Vatican will be hit and wept over by the Pope . . . We will not rest until your thrones and your crosses have been destroyed on your own territory"; a Somali cleric tells Muslims “to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion. . . . Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim”; and an Italian nun in the Consolata Missionaries, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, has now been gunned down and killed in Somalia. Most alarming – there is open talk of Pope Benedict being assassinated, that is, martyred, when he visits Turkey in late November. A bestselling book in Turkey, where Catholic priests have been attacked and murdered recently, is entitled “Attack on the Pope -- Who will kill Benedict XVI in Istanbul?”

The director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, explained that what really concerns Benedict XVI is “is a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence” and in the speech he delivered at Regensburg University “it wasn't among the Pope's intentions to make a detailed study of jihad or of Muslim thought on this subject, much less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim believers.” Far from an intentional attack on and insult of Islam, the Pope has explained that he used a very short quote from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus “as a means to undertake - in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text - certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come.”

Despite the mischaracterization and distortion of his words, the Pope did not attack Islam or Muslims, as any fair reading of his remarks, in full and in context, will clearly demonstrate. “The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions.” It is the media, not the Pope, who should have been more responsible in reporting on this matter. Let us echo the Pope’s statement made on Sunday, “I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect.”

Better and smarter people than me take up this matter in depth, analyzing and accurately reporting what the Pope actually said instead of what has been falsely reported.
Egyptian-born Jesuit Samir Khalil Samir puts the events in context
Muslim commenter defends the Pope, denounces hatred
Rioters' madness shames Muslim world
Opining and analyzing in Germany
Opining and analyzing in the UK
The remarks in full and proper context
Pithy summations
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly About God and Man
Papa Ratzinger Forum

Update --

***Unreasonable War Against Benedict XVI
Sandro Magister reports that “In Regensburg, the pope offered as terrain for dialogue between Christians and Muslims ‘acting according to reason.’ But the Islamic world has attacked him, distorting his thought, confirming by this that the rejection of reason brings intolerance and violence along with it.” . . .

"Less diplomacy and more Gospel: this is the course that Joseph Ratzinger is setting for the Church’s central governance. . . . But this is not a pope who submits himself to such censorship or self-censorship, which he sees as being inopportune and dangerous indeed when it concerns the pillars of his preaching. His goal on his trip to Germany was to illuminate before modern man – whether Christian, agnostic, or of another faith; from Europe, Africa, or Asia – that simple and supreme truth that is the other side of the truth to which he dedicated the encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est.' God is love, but he is also reason, he is the 'Logos.' And so when reason separates itself from God, it closes in upon itself. And likewise, faith in an 'irrational' God, an absolute, unbridled will, can become the seed of violence. Every religion, culture, and civilization is exposed to this twofold error – not only Islam, but also Christianity, toward which the pope directed almost the entirety of his preaching. " . . .

“The pope took as his point of departure a dialogue that took place in 1391 between the emperor of Constantinople, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Muslim scholar from Persia on the irrationality of spreading the faith through violence.” However, Magister continues, “The dialogue was not a mere academic exercise. What little remained of the Eastern Roman Empire was under its final attack from the Ottoman armies. Around sixty years later, in 1453, Constantinople would fall under Muslim dominion, and the basilica of Hagia Sophia would be turned into a mosque.” . . .

“But if everyone takes seriously in hand, and reads from beginning to end, the hymn to reason that he raised in Regensburg... Because at bottom, in the view of Benedict XVI, the heart of the question is always the same one that the emperor of Constantinople and his learned Persian counterpart discussed in 1391: ‘Not acting according to reason is contrary to the nature of God.’”

***As for Manuel II Paleogus, where was he coming from in making his provocative remarks about Islam? –
"Manuel II Paleologus reigned as emperor of Byzantium from 1391, the year in which he is believed to have composed the text from which the Pope quoted last week, until his death in 1425. A brief overview of his experience of Islam:
"1390 -- Manuel is sent as a hostage to the court of Sultan Bayezid I. As his writings demonstrate, he reads widely in Muslim texts and engages in repeated debates with Muslim scholars.
"1394-1402 -- The Ottomans besiege Constantinople. For some five years, Manuel directs the defense of the city in person. Then he entrusts Constantinople to his nephew and embarks on a tour of the West, seeking assistance.
"1422 -- The Ottomans attack Manuel in Constantinople once again.
"By the time of his death in 1425, Manuel had spent virtually his entire adult life in the struggle against an armed and expansionist Islam — and in 1453, just over a quarter of a century later, the Ottomans would finally conquer the empire he had defended."

***Another historical summary notes that "Manuel II was, foremost, the antepenultimate emperor of the Byzantine Empire, the successor to the Roman Empire. At the time of his reign (1391-1425) the Muslim Turks had their sights set on the empire's capital of Constantinople. In 1399, Manuel traveled to England, France, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and Aragon seeking assistance from the various monarchs and courts. His visit was a complete bust. The split between the Greek Orthodox and Roman churches proved too wide. Unless the Greeks agreed to join the Roman Church there would be no troops, no assistance, and the Greeks were not about to surrender their autonomy to Rome, not even to save the empire, their religion and their lives.The result: Within a few years the Turks would take Constantinople, rename it Istanbul, and the Roman-Byzantine Empire would disappear forever from the earth. "

***With respect to a dialogue between Christianity and Islam, Walter Cardinal Kasper said in an interview, “The conflict with Islam has, after all, existed throughout European history, which is what the pope was pointing out. The encounter with Islam now seems to be entering a new phase. Many have called it a 'clash of civilizations.' But this phrase must be handled with great care to prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The alternative to conflict is called dialogue. This is the option the churches choose, and it's also what the pope favors. We want a peaceful difference of opinion, which, of course, is based on reciprocity. But one shouldn't harbor any illusions over the difficulties this involves. . . . One cannot be na├»ve when engaging in this dialogue. Islam undoubtedly deserves respect. It has some things in common with Christianity, such as Abraham as a common progenitor, and the belief in only one God. But Islam developed in opposition to orthodox Christianity from the very start, and it considers itself superior to Christianity. So far, it has only been tolerant in places where it is in the minority. Where it is the majority religion, Islam does not recognize religious freedom, at least not as we understand it. Islam is a different culture. This doesn't mean that it's an inferior culture, but it is a culture that has yet to connect with the positive sides of our modern Western culture: religious freedom, human rights and equal rights for women.”

***Meanwhile, instead of dialogue, the sword is unsheathed and the Pope is told to convert to Islam or die.
Muslim clerics call upon Pope to convert to Islam
“On Sunday, September 17, Muslim religious leaders in Gaza held a press conference in which they called upon Benedict XVI to ‘accept’ Islam if he wants to live in peace. The Muslim clerics cited the Pope’s alleged ‘ignorance’ and ‘hatred of Islam’ as the inspiration for his Regensburg remarks. Dr. Imad Hamto called upon the Pope to repent and ask forgiveness, reminding him of the words of the Prophet Mohammed centuries ago ‘Aslim Taslam’ – which some Muslims interpret as an exhortation to non-Muslims to convert to Islam in exchange for their lives.”

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