Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Pope and the Islamic World

As you can readily imagine, I have continued to follow the story of how the Holy Father's words are being interpretted -- for good or ill -- by certain elements of the Islamic Community.

Yesterday, Pope Benedict met with ...

Yesterday, Pope Benedict met with representatives of the Islamic world: diplomats and some Italian Muslim groups. Amy Welborn has the text, and AmericanPapist has valuable commentary.

My own take tends to centre on how the world's press interprets these things. The press tends to take the moral high ground, almost always attempting to say the Pope is hypocritical when criticising modern Islamist violence. Typical of this is in this post by the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Crusaders in 1099 captured Jerusalem and began wholesale attacks on its population, including Muslims and Jews, historians say. At the same time in other parts of the Muslim world, a golden age of science, medicine and learning was under way with its intellectual hub in Baghdad.

In the early 13th century, Crusaders sacked Constantinople, the ancient center of Greek-led Byzantium, in part to use the plunder to fund more forays into Muslim lands. The Byzantine Empire never fully recovered from the blow and Muslim forces took the city - now called Istanbul - in 1453 and it became the seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Religious scholars have noted that Ottoman policy did not demand conversion to Islam across its realm, which covered much of the Balkans at its peak. But some places, notably Albania and Bosnia, welcomed the faith. In Orthodox Christian Greece, an old saying is still widely used: Better the turban than the papal tiara.

It is the typical, one-sided "You Barbaric Catholics did some nasty things yourselves to those poor, innocent Muslims". Of course, many attrocities were committed on both sides. The sack of Jerusalem and Richard the Lionheart's massacre at Acre were met by Baybars' sacks and massacres at Tyre and Antioch. Moreover, the press tends to forget that Europe felt legitimately threatened (cf The Conquest of Spain which Fr Stephanos points out occured 300 years before the First Crusade), were invited to defend the Holy Land by an Eastern Orthodox Emperor, and went to secure the Holy Sepulchre, which had itself been destroyed by those poor, innocent Muslims. It was not -- strictly speaking -- a conquering enterprise, as is clear evident in the fact that they stopped after they secured the Holy Sepulchre and the rest of the Holy Land. The press tends to conveniently forget the immediate root causes of the conflict was a particularly cruel and nasty destruction of one of our holiest sites:

The turning point in western attitudes towards the east came in the year 1009, when the Fatimid caliph of Cairo, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem destroyed. His successor permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it under stringent circumstances, and pilgrimage was again permitted, but many stories began to be circulated in the West about the cruelty of Muslims toward Christian pilgrims; these stories then played an important role in the development of the crusades later in the century.

(from Wikipedia.)

The point of this is that the press tends to get it lop-sidedly wrong, so as to self-righteously mock us. However, they also tend to forget something else ... The Crusades and other things which the World likes to smear us with happened in the past. And Pope John Paul the Great apologised for those times in which we sinned during those events. Islamist violence is, however, happening today. The Holy Father has a right and a duty to criticise it, especially in light of the fact that we have apologised for when we have not carried out the Will of Christ in these matters.

In related news

The criticism of the disproportionate reaction among many quarters in the Islamic world is no longer (it seems) restricted solely to the blogosphere. An Indian columnist has a very insightful piece. He also has an interesting quote from Gandhi:

"Mussalmans have an ordeal to pass through. There can be no doubt that they are too free with the knife and the pistol. The sword is an emblem of Islam. But Islam was born in an environment where the sword was, and still remains, the supreme law. The message of Jesus has proved ineffective because the environment was unready to receive it. So with the message of the Prophet. The sword is yet too much in evidence among the Mussalmans. It must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means - peace."

I find that interesting, because Gandhi is almost always cited as having nothing but effusive praise for Islam.

Moderte Islam is finally speaking out, too. Over in The Phillipines (via Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B again) and around the rest of the Muslim world. It's about time.

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