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Rediff.com  » News » Pope's remark was unnecessary

Pope's remark was unnecessary

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September 19, 2006 18:09 IST
The wave of anger sweeping across the Muslim communities worldwide -- including in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India -- over a recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI shows no signs of abating despite apologies from the Pope.

He has sought to apologise in what he probably thought was a dignified manner, but those angered by his remarks apparently want nothing less than an abject apology. Demands have also been made for a retraction of his speech.

The angry demonstrations come on the eve of the first anniversary of the publication of the Danish cartoons (September 30) caricaturising the Holy Prophet of Islam, which justifiably angered Muslims all over the world earlier this year.

Organisations such as Al Qaeda and the other members of the International Islamic Front and the Hizbut Tahrir are trying to exploit this to further widen the already worrisome divide between the Muslims and non-Muslims.

The Al Qaeda and the IIF, which have always been projecting the US-led war against international jihadi terrorism as a religious war against Islam being waged by the modern version of the Crusaders, have been citing the Pope's ill-advised remarks as another piece of evidence pointing to a global conspiracy of the Crusaders and the Jewish people against Islam.

While the demonstrations have by and large remained peaceful, there have been some reports of attacks on churches in the Palestinian territory.

More seriously, there has been an alleged murder of a Catholic nun in Somalia and physical threats against the Pope and the Vatican have reportedly been held out in web sites associated with Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements.

Whereas the demonstrations over the Danish cartoons picked up momentum nearly three months after their publication and there was some evidence of a centralised orchestration, the current demonstrations against the Pope's speech seem to have been immediate and spontaneous.

But while there is no evidence of external incitement yet, one could sense an attempt to keep the demonstrations going till the first anniversary of the publication of the Danish cartoons so that the two events could be projected as part of the same anti-Islamic conspiracy.

Security agencies all over the world, and particularly in Denmark and other Western countries, were already worried over the possibility of violent incidents coinciding with the first anniversary of the cartoons. Their worries will be doubled as a result of the current anger over the Pope's speech, and underline the need for a greater security alert than originally envisaged worldwide.

The fresh Muslim anger has been sparked by the opening remarks of a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on September 12, when he read out a prepared speech on 'Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections' at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he was previously a professor of theology.

What has shocked the Muslims is his quotation of a remark reportedly made by a Byzantine emperor in 1391 during a conversation with an unnamed Persian scholar, which gave the impression that the Byzantine emperor tended to identify Islam with violence.

The Pope's reference to that remark, which was totally unnecessary in his speech, has been interpreted by Muslim religious leaders as indicating that the Pope too agreed with the negative manner in which the former Emperor projected Islam.

While Vatican spokesmen and the Pope himself have denied this, it has not carried conviction with the agitating Muslim leaders, who legitimately ask: If the Pope did not agree with the quotation, what was the need for citing it? Or, why he did not make it clear in the speech itself that he did not agree with it? Most Muslims see the denial as a reaction to Muslim anger, and many question its sincerity.

Given the already worrisome divide between the Muslims and the non-Muslims and the likelihood of the Danish cartoons being raked up again, it was totally unwise on the part of the Pope and his speechwriters in the Vatican to have shown insensitivity to the feelings of Muslims by including this quotation in his speech.

President Bush and many other Western leaders also often make negative remarks about Islam, but their remarks do not evoke the same kind of anger because they are political leaders, and are usually ignored by the Muslim leaders.

But as head of the Catholic Church, the Pope is an important religious leader, and negative remarks by him acquire a special significance, and they are, often incorrectly, seen as representing the views of the Christian religion as a whole---or at least of the Catholic Church.

It is not in the interest of any religious community or the international community that the existing divide between different communities be further widened.

Concerted attempts should be made by Muslim and Christian leaders to put this incident behind us, and to prevent any attempts by Al Qaeda, the IIF and other extremist or terrorist elements to exploit it for their nefarious purposes.

B Raman
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