Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Moral Victory of The Pope

The events of these last days concerning the speech Pope Benedict XVI gave at the end of his journey to Germany have resulted in what some could call a «knee fall» for Islam. I think that in reality, he is the moral victor of the conflict, but whether the Islamic religious and political leaders who have mobilized against him ever will understand (or be able to understand) that is another question.

The whole story is in fact rather bizarre. In the speech it is clear that the Pope never intended to make any judgment about Islam in general or Jihadin particular, but nevertheless churches are being attacked in the Middle East and ambassadors are called back from Vatican City. At least one striking parallel with the notorious Danish cartoons can be noted: those who lash out the hardest against the Pope, are exactly those who are the less informed.

The Secretary-General of the Central Council of the Muslims in Germany (Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland) Aiman Mazyek for example saidhe couldn't understand why the speech should imply any insult to Muslims. But a better illustration of what has been going on was the statement made by Ali Bardakoğlu, leader of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı): at first he had demanded apologies from the Pope, but later he had to admit that he had done that only on the basis of the first, incorrect press releases about the speech. However, he didn't admit his mistake entirely spontaneously, but only after some harsh comments by Mehmet Yılmaz in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. The comments of the latter didn't apply to Ali Bardakoğlu alone though, but to the rest of the Islamic world as well.

The intervention of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel goes in the same direction as that of Mehmet Yılmaz. In essence she said, in a diplomatic manner of course, that the Islamic leaders who are demanding excuses from the Pope should either first read the text of the speech, or they simply do not understand the meaning of it at all. If those leaders ever come back to their senses, they will maybe realize that in fact they made fools out of themselves. And perhaps the already quoted Tasnim Aslam will realize too what sort of nonsense she really said.

But there is a more fundamental question in this story too: how did it come so far? Maybe the Pope is the moral winner for those who are able to read, but on the other side, did he have much choice but to apologize for something he never said? After all, there was the threat of brutal violence, or better, it had already started with attacks against some churches in the Middle East, some of them not even Roman Catholic! Maybe a reference to Luke 6.29 («To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other.») should be made here. But that he saw no other option than to express regret over the fact that he had caused such anger in the Muslim world also says something about the weakness –unwillingness or incapacity?– of the political West to bring or force the Islamic world to reason.

Commentators in the German press too react with surprise about the intensity of the responses coming from the Islamic world, and wonder whether the clash of civilizations perhaps already has started. Fact is that today, large parts of the Islamic world apparently do not need any reason any more to mobilize against the Christian world, and incorrect reports can spread through the region at the speed of light while religious or political leaders do nothing to calm down people or bring them to reason again. In stead they bring more wood to the fire and try to beat each other in making yet bolder statements. Quite some moral and intellectual bankruptcy, and how convincing as the ultimate proof that Islam is all about peace and love.