In the wake of the Pope's Regensburg remarks...
Over at Chiesa, but drawing upon the journal of the Aspen Institute in Italy, Sandro Magister offers an interesting article, "The Surprising Geopolitics of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope," that describes how the pope "has left his mark on international politics . . . . with Islam."
Magister directs our attention to the pope's Regensburg address, and since I played a small but, I hope, constructive role in the controversy raised by the pope's remarks on Islam and violence, I'd like to quote four passages from this part of Magister's article:
[T]he first action of Benedict XVI that made a worldwide impact was the long and substantial lecture that he gave at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006. He literally shook the world, for both the right reasons on the wrong ones. That lecture explained the new pope's view of the Church and of the West and his plans for them, including relations with Islam.In case anyone has forgotten, here is what the pope was 'officially' reported to have said in Regensberg concerning Islam and violence, and note the red font showing that he distanced himself from the words that he attributes to the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus (1350-1425):
According to the canons of geopolitical realism, Benedict XVI should never have delivered that lecture in its entirety. He should have had it reviewed and purged beforehand by the diplomatic experts, something that he intentionally declined to do. And a number of people in the Vatican curia criticized him for this.
And yet, two years later, the facts tell a different story. Despite the alarm of the Cassandras, a dialogue emerged between the Catholic Church and Islam that had never existed before Regensburg, and had even seemed impossible. This dialogue is not only intellectual -- represented, for example, by the initiatives following the "letter of the 138 Muslim scholars" -- but also political. The political dimension advanced considerably after the audience at the Vatican on November 6, 2007 -- the first of its kind in history -- between the pope and the king of Saudi Arabia.
Even after Regensburg, one aspect that distinguishes the relationship with the Muslim world inaugurated by Benedict XVI is its apparent imprudence. Pope Ratzinger is not afraid of alternating gestures of openness -- one thinks of his silent prayer in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul -- with actions at odds with diplomatic caution. He had no qualms about granting an audience to Oriana Fallaci, one of the most committed critics of Islam, which she believes to be violent by nature. At the Easter vigil at St. Peter's in 2008, he baptized Magdi Allam, a convert from Islam and a radical critic of his religion of origin. But what is most astonishing is the heart of Benedict XVI's reasoning. The pope is asking Islam to undertake the same kind of demanding self-renewal that the Catholic Church carried out over the span of two centuries, beginning at the time of the Enlightenment.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, 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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.Despite the pope's careful words, and in a context within which he also deplored the church's own use of violence in its past, he was harshly criticized immediately after his talk, and Islamist radicals incited Muslims to violent riots in various parts of the world to protest the pope's words.
But as I pointed out at the time, the pope's words were not only careful in the English translation, they were even more careful in the original German, and I provided my own translation:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, 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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so very forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.The pope continued to receive much criticism, of course, for the first but erroneous English translation of his words was so widely reported that the later, corrected version went largely unnoticed. Some people must have noticed, however, for my blog entry on this issue received a couple thousand hits within a few minutes after Ramesh Ponnuru linked to it in The National Review Online.
But let me return to Magister's article and quote a passage demonstrating that despite a careful distancing from the Byzantine emperor's words, the pope holds that Islam really does have a problem with violence because it has too radically separated faith from reason in the aftermath of its rejection of the philosopher Averroes (though he didn't explicitly state this in his Regensburg address):
Two thirds of the lecture in Regensburg is dedicated to criticizing the periods in which Christianity dangerously separated itself from its rational foundations [as I also noted]. And the pope is proposing that Islam do the same thing: that it interweave faith and reason, the only way to shelter it from violence. The difficulty of this enterprise -- recognized as arduous but necessary even by leading Muslim thinkers like Mohammed Arkoun -- lies in the fact that in the history of Islamic thought, any fruitful relationship between faith and reason practically ceased with the death of the philosopher Averroes in 1198. After this, Islam has been characterized by the separation between faith and "reasonableness" about which the pope cautioned all, Muslims and Christians, in the most memorable passages of his lecture in Regensburg.Magister's point is that these things need to be said and that the pope has opened dialogue on this issue by saying them. I think that this is correct. The best response to Islamist threats to free speech is more speech. Personally, I don't like controversy, and I also prefer not to insult anybody, but the perception of insult is subjective, so we have no control over how others might 'feel' in response to what we say. An Iranian student told me a couple of weeks ago that the widespread criticism of Islam by non-Muslims has been good because the clerics in Iran have given up on trying to threaten violence against 'infidel' critics, and even Muslims can now discuss things openly that would have been taboo just a few years ago.
The pope, it seems, has contributed to this new state of affairs.