Pope Benedict XVI seems happy to rekindle the medieval myth –“Islam was a religion spread by sword” –a myth used by Popes centuries ago to wage Crusades (holy wars) against Muslims.
Reading his full speech I think the Pope has tried to propagate Christianity by portraying Islam as a cruel, illogical religion. Aware of the fact that plunging into Christian theology would be boring to the audience, the Pope has tried to attract attention using the ploy of showing Islam in a derogatory manner. It seems he has absorbed the ploy of some Christian missionaries and priests who know very well that anything related to Islam has a ready audience these days!
The Pope quotes Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as saying: “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”. Pope goes on explaining faith and reason, while touching on many diverse threads including what people have said about Islam and then presents Christianity as a logical, caring and loving religion in perfect harmony with reality!
What can we expect a besieged medieval emperor to say about his enemy’s religion, when all he has seen is the advancing armies of Ottoman Turks? What does emperor Manual II, know about how inspiring and rational Muslims find Islam to be? Even today with all the modern information sources available there are many in the West who think Muslims worship a Moon God.
Further as Chet points out here it’s almost a déjà vu of the Danish Cartoon crisis with one significant difference. Back then an artist committed the insensitivities and insults. This time it is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which increases the seriousness of the matter.
Now Vatican tells us Pope Benedict XVI is “extremely upset” about quoting derogatory comments about Islam nevertheless offers no apology.
However there’s an important matter in his speech that has being buried by all this turmoil. If you read the full speech you’ll notice the Pontiff is disturbed by the trends within Christianity, the increasing secularism and disillusion among Christians. It seems he’s trying to appeal to the sense of preservation by trying to portray Europe as Christendom or a Christian Europe.
By quoting this medieval emperor is the Pope trying to -as the Turkey prime minister points out –revive the spirit of crusades? Is he trying to reinforce the prejudice and misconceptions about the religion of Islam?
The pontiff who holds the highest position in the Christian world should definitely be better informed of the dimensions of other religions and the implications or repercussion he might unwittingly be igniting. That is especially true in the backdrop of an reawakening of global sentiments similar to early 20th century European sentiments.