Work with me here. Am I understanding this correctly?Pope Benedict gives a speech in his native Germany in which he states that "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," and in which he 'quoted from a 14th- and 15th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus in his speech yesterday."
"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, '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.' "
"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable," Benedict said."Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," he said.
As may be expected, this inflames the fabled "Muslim street" (but what doesn't these days?). Muslims clerics and leaders of Islamic nation demanded apologies from the Pope. Fair enough. But then they loosed their people into the streets to riot. Oh, please face the fact that in almost every Muslim country in the world, no one riots or even demonstrates without prior government approval or instigation. There are exceptions, such as (maybe) Turkey, but they are very few.
What are they protesting? Why, the Pope's apparent accusation that Islam is a violent religion. How goes the protests? Well:The Times Online reports:
AN ITALIAN nun was killed by gunmen at a children’s hospital in Somalia yesterday in an apparent revenge attack for the Pope’s speech about Islam last week. Sister Leonella Sgorbati, 65, left, was shot four times in the back by two men at the entrance to the hospital in the capital, Mogadishu. Her bodyguard was also killed.
... threatened a suicide attack on the Vatican yesterday even as the Holy See said Pope Benedict regretted that some Muslims were offended by his comments about the role of violence in the spread of Islam.
Two churches were set on fire in the West Bank on Sunday, a day after Muslims hurled firebombs and fired guns at four other West Bank churches and one in the Gaza Strip to protest the pope's comments.
Australia's Daily Telegraph reports as well:
** A hardline Somalian cleric called on Muslims to "hunt down" and kill the Pope.
** A bomb exploded in a church in Iraq... .The paper also says the obvious:
THE hardline Muslims who took to burning churches this weekend in the wake of Pope Benedict's remarks supposedly linking Islam to violence seem to have proved his point.
Now, to be "fair and balanced," I should also point out that some Muslim leaders are calling for calm and cautioning about taking the Pope's commentary as indicative of all Christians' beliefs.
The leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said the Islamic political movement's relations with Christians should remain "good, civilized and cooperative."
"While anger over the pope's remarks was necessary, it shouldn't last for long because while he is the head of the Catholic church in the world, many Europeans are not following it. So what he said won't influence them," Mohammed Mahdi Akef said.
Mohammed Habash, a legislator and head of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, Syria, cautioned against sectarian animosities and urged both Muslims and Christians to find ways to avoid conflicts."We understand the reasons for the (Muslim) anger, but we do not call for that and instead we call for calm and dialogue," Habash said.
Good idea that. But we also need to understand that violence does not occupy the same theological space in Christianity as it does in Islam. Christianity has historically had to justify the use of violence even for just reasons, such as the maintenance of public order, punishment of criminals or making war. Violence just does not have a natural place inside the world view of the New Testament. It can be justified, but only uneasily, with great caution and no little difficulty. The times in history when Christian societies or Christian armies embraced violence as a means of propagating the faith are not held as exemplars today.
But in Islam, violence's theological space is not uncomfortable at all. It is a natural fit. Conversion at the point of the sword was not a regrettably necessary means to expanding the caliphate because there was no other way, it was an inherently praiseworthy, indeed, desirable, means. And this is mainstream Muslim history, not "radical." Warfare has never been denied by the main streams of Muslim theology to be other than an acceptable (though not always desirable) way to propagate their religion. If I am wrong, someone please provide cites to the contrary in a comment.
Pope Benedict in his speech reiterated what Catholics have said for a long time: there is no justification for the use of violence in the practice of religion. That part seems to have gone over the heads of the Muslims radicals (surprise) and most Muslim leaders. When prominent Sunni and Shia clerics around the world issue blanket condemnations of violence qua violence (not just terrorism) in the practice of Islam, then I'll be more sympathetic to their protests.
All that being said, Pope Benedict's brief aside in his speech was ill advised. Jules Crittenden explains why.More: "Against the Grain" has an excellent, continuing roundup. Examples:
Teófilo de Jesús (Vivificat) wonders where was the enlightened voice of Muslim protest when Ayman al Zawahiri and Adam Gadahn issued an "invitation to Islam", denigrating the Christian faith as a "hollow shell of a religion, whose followers cling to an empty faith and a false conviction of their inevitable salvation"? [Maryland-based] Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid gets it:
Have all leaders, religious and political, in the so-called Muslim World, become illiterate all of a sudden? Or are they intent on using every little opportunity that presents itself to prove in deed what they continue to deny in words, namely: that Islamic civilization and culture are dead, and that Muslims are adamant on continuing their head-long descent into barbarity?
See also this interview with emeritus theologian Adel-Theodore Khoury (Frankfurter Allgemeine Sept. 17, 2006), whose book Pope Benedict cited in his Regensburg lecture.