Violence has erupted in the Muslim world in recent days over comments made by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech last week. What has basically happened is that the Pope gave an absolutely briliant speech, one line of which has been taken grossly out of context and blown completely out of proportion. The initial reports that I heard about the speech said that the Pope had criticized Islam for being violent, and that Muslims were protesting the Pope’s comments with violence…basically, a repeat of the Danish cartoon “scandal.” Upon reading the actual text of what Pope Benedict said, however, I found that this was decidedly not the case.
The remark that has offended so many Muslims is this: “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.” Taken at face value, it is an inflamatory comment. Taken in the context of his speech, however, the violence that has occurred in the wake of this comment is absurd, at best.
The overall argument that the Pope was making in his speech was that academia and religion can, in fact, meet together to discuss logically the veracity of claims made by either side – outright rejection, such as we have seen by both sides for many years, and violence, as especially evidenced by the past and current uprisings, are unnecessary. Though he did not use these words, Pope Benedict was essentially arguing for the “marketplace of ideas.” Rather than condemning Muslims for their violence, he was urging academics, Christians, and Muslims to come together to work out their differences logically. The quote blamed for the uprising of Muslims was taken from a 14th Century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who wrote down the text of a debate between himself and a Persian scholar over the natures of Christianity and Islam.
Instead of listening to what Pope Benedict was actually saying, the Muslims reacted with violence to this one quote (in many accounts falsly attributed to Pope Benedict himself, both in Middle-Eastern and Western media), burning several churches, and even murdering a nun. Many are saying that, by reacting violently, these Muslims are proving the Pope right. This would be true if the Pope had been condemning Muslim violence, but he was not. The one they are truly proving right is Emperor Manuel II Paleologus…and by the fact that his remarks hold true for many Muslims 600 years after they were written, Muslims condemn their own religion.