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Monday, September 18, 2006

The Religion War

This post is not, of course, about that delightful book, by the creator of Dilbert, that bears the same title, and one that I'd strongly recommend to readers as a fast-paced thriller with a difference. It is much more than a thriller. It is a parable for our times. This is about the rather strange passage that the Pope chose to quote during his address at a University. As if there wasn't enough trouble in the world already. A transcript of the Pope's remarks reads:
"The emperor [14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus] certainly knew that Sura 2, 256, reads: 'No force in matters of faith'. It is one of the early suras, from a time -- as experts say -- in which Mohammed himself was still powerless and threatened. "However, the emperor of course also knew the requirements about the holy war that were later formulated in the Quran. Without going into details like the handling of the owners of the scriptures, or non-believers, he [the emperor] turned to his interlocutors -- in a surprisingly brusque way -- with the central question after the relationship between religion and violence. "He said, I quote, '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.'"
Not surprisingly, and rightfully, it has drawn fire from Muslims around the world. Sadly, some of the more stupid ones may retaliate by 'avenging' themselves on Christians (including non-Catholics) and their places of worship. One can only hope that the governments of Muslim countries will act quickly to protect the minorities in their midst from being harmed because of the pronouncements of an idiot! Fortunately, it was not an ex-Cathedra pronouncement or, given the Pope's infallibility in those situations, there would have been no chance of a retraction or even an apology - not even the tiny ambiguous one that he has offered indirectly. In fact, never did the cliché - too little, too late - find a better example. To follow what he said with the following statement, via his Secretary of State, betrays a dysfunctional mind.
The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the Pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the church "esteems" Muslims. Benedict "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," Bertone said in a statement.
For one, I am sure glad that he "esteems" Muslims; for had he detested them, I wonder what he would have said. For another, I am amazed by his being surprised at the 'interpretation' that Muslims have placed on the passage, unless it really was a message in secret code for his own international representatives to hurry up and send in what Lenny Bruce had called 'protection money'. Criticism has poured in from many parts of the world. Among them, from The New York Times, which has this to say in it's Editorial.
"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. ... 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 ... 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."
However, by far the best and most scathing piece appears on Truthdig, where a leading atheist discusses the Pope's comment and much else from the speech. In a column titled Pope 'Rottweiler' Barks, Sam Harris, the bestselling author of The End of Faith responds to Pope Benedict XVI's speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Says Harris: "It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as 'evil' and 'inhuman' before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a 'genuine dialogue of cultures.'"
ADDENDUM (30.09.06): Bishop Spong, writes in his piece titled Small Leaders in A New Dark Age
Joseph Ratzinger, the German Cardinal who became Benedict XVI, [embarrassed] the Christian world in his address on Islam. In this speech, in which he said his intention was to establish "the place of reason in inter-religious conversation," he condemned quite rightly religious violence. Yet his biased words implied that only Islamic fundamentalists had ever been guilty of religious atrocities. To introduce this talk he quoted a Byzantine Emperor from the 14th century, a time when the memory of the Crusades was still in the public mind, who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things evil and inhuman." Can anyone be so naive as to think these words were not intended to be offensive, coming from one who has publicly opposed the entry of Turkey, the world's lone democratic Islamic state, into the European Common Market because it would "compromise the Christian basis of European culture"? Trying to defend himself when Islamic leaders reacted with criticism, Benedict simply dug a bigger hole. "These were not my words," he said weakly, "I was only quoting someone else." He seemed not to be aware that he had chosen this quotation and that by doing so he gave its words renewed power. On the day before Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope, he lectured the cardinals on why Christianity must stand against all relativity. Behind his words lay the incredibly dated conviction that the content of the Catholic Faith has been received by Divine Revelation, and that anyone who disagrees with it cannot be other than wrong. Violence, whether it be political or religious, always begins with the claim that "my point of view is true and anyone who disagrees is evil."

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9 Comments:

Blogger moizza said...

This is the same Pope who protested the entry of of Turkey in the EU because he feels "the borders of Christian Europe must be protected". Kaafi jahil lagtay hain mian.

18 September, 2006 10:56

 
Blogger Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

I have just recieved my copy of 'The Religion War' from amazon. Would love to discuss that once I have read.

I have read an article by Karen Armstrong on this issue of Pope's comments and according to her... this (Islam being inhuman and spread by the sword) is the belief of majority of Christen whether they express it or not. And it is a gross misconception. Need of the hour is to start a inter-faith dialogue.

Islam used to be lot more tolrent and enlightned than what we have today.

19 September, 2006 14:06

 
Blogger Zakintosh said...

@akg: ... Islam being ... spread by the sword ... is the belief of majority ...

well, the belief is certainly furthered by the image of a saudi flag with the kalima and a sword (http://worldatlas.com/webimage/flags/countrys/zzzflags/salarge.gif) as well as their appearance on the irani flag, though the current version has a subtler depiction than the pre-revolution one which had an image of the lion of god holding up the zulfiqar, his trusted sword (http://www.arash.com/arash/iran/flags.asp).

that takes care of the two countries that are seen as representing sunni and shia viewpoints.

do you know of many others who have weapons on their flags?

19 September, 2006 23:05

 
Blogger vintage said...

i could very well say that the pope is an idiot, an adequate and precise description as far as i'm concerned but thats letting him off too easily.

i mean, what is this world coming to? what is wrong with 'people'? why do they keep coming up with dumber and dumber things to say? i mean, sure it provides for a lot of laughs, but dont they 'think' before they begin to make statements? i thought nowadays, people were supposed to be more 'educated'.

and what sword? i thought the saudi flag was all green and had just the kalima on it.

20 September, 2006 15:45

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vintage: You must be pretty blind to miss the sword. Even those of us who do not know what is written on the flag (or what you refer to as the 'kalima' is) can see that loud and clear.

21 September, 2006 09:35

 
Blogger sabizak said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

21 September, 2006 12:24

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry. I am Syrian. I found out from an Indian friend yesterday that it refers to something like The Lord's Prayer for us Christians.

23 September, 2006 11:10

 
Blogger Zakintosh said...

@anonymous:
The Kalimah is merely a pronouncement and affirmation of a Muslim's faith in his God and his Prophet.
The equivalent of The Lord's Prayer would be Surah Fatehah (or, as you'd understand from the language, the Opening Chapter) of the Qur'an. It is very similar to the Lord's Prayer in its appeal to God to lead the believer into the right path and away from evil and, btw, also contains 7 verses.

23 September, 2006 19:12

 
Blogger Zakintosh said...

@AKG [again]: Saheeh Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 73: Narrated 'Abdullah bin Abi Aufa: Allah's Apostle said, "Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords." ... possibly also the source of Iqbal's "Tayghoñ ke ssae mayñ hamm pal kar javaañ huay haeñ"

10 October, 2006 23:28

 

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