« Yemeni elections | Main | Nancy Ajram sings the Lebanon war »

September 19, 2006



I couldn't agree more about the need to drive a wedge between the jihadists and mainstream Muslims. I find it curious though that this administration, which has survived, and prospered, so well by driving wedges everywhere they can find in the domestic arena, is so particularly inept in driving a wedge here.


An interesting comment, especially regarding Muslim Govts wading in to prove their Islamic credentials to their constituencies.

The sad thing is that there was the perfect opportunity to seize the moral high ground, especially with Benedict claiming that Muhammed made his statement about non-violent religious conversion in the early days when he had no power (ie, you can't take it seriously), when the saying is of course attributed to him much later on in life.

They could have belittled the speech and said "you're wrong and you got the facts wrong. We're in the right, which is why our response is going to be dignified."

But oh noooo! Instead we have tub thumping from "secular" Turkey which at the same time is strangling the tiny Greek Orthodox community by not allowing the reopening of a seminary for priests, and the moderniser Mohammed VI of Morocco withdrawing his Vatican ambassador.

And the end result? Benedict supposedly says Islam is violent. And millions of TV viewers around the world who don't have the patience to take in the background of the story see angry men in beards screeching "Pope is Hitler" comments and burning effigies.

Just brilliant!

the aardvark

... that's why I called the Danish cartoons episode a "StupidStorm." Nobody comes out of it looking very good...


Strange to say, the person who best exemplifies Dirk's "sadly, you got it wrong" response is none other than Monsignor Ali Khamenei. Interesting!

But it's pretty clear from where I sit anyway that the public stance of politicians in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. are for once reflections of popular demand. There is no way that the Turks gratuitously *wanted* to raise a fuss, and AKP would never have been so forceful if their constituency hadn't been demanding it.

I honestly find much of the dismay about the so-called "Muslim reaction" to be seriously overblown, even among people who don't have an ideological interest in the birth of a Huntingtonian universe.

1) To the extent that it's noteworthy when inflammatory pronouncements by the symbolic head of Christianity provoke widespread offense, the symbol clearly wouldn't be so important to many Muslims if the referent weren't so troublesome. And the referent right now is cluster bombs, torture, invasion, expropriation and so on. I mean, it's not like the complaints of the al-Qaida cultists are pure fantasy. Even the discussion in comments here tends to treat the pope's words as *purely* symbolic, something any rational non-ideologue wouldn't get excited about. But nothing is purely symbolic. Effectively, his quotation can be interpreted to suggest that, as a matter of Catholic doctrine, the destruction/oppression in the Middle East right now is Muslims' own fault. *I* find that pretty offensive myself.

2) I'm still struggling to figure out what's wrong with what Qaradawi and crew have said. I mean, what is a relatively powerless group of people supposed to do when insult is added to injury? Lobby the U.N.? With the exception of truly marginal figures, nobody has called for anything but the exercise of counter free speech. I see a lot of demagoguery about "Islam's" response to this lecture, but am singularly unimpressed by most of the examples adduced.

3) Finally, there have indeed been scattered acts of violence, they're terrible and unacceptable. But why on earth should it be described as "Islamic" violence per se? Granted that the symbolism of this event is religious, but is Islam really the determinant? When a 16-year-old kills a cleric in Turkey, how exactly is that more "Islamic" than when Dylan Klebold shoots up a lunchroom in Colorado? Do we hear loud denunciations of the dangerously violent culture of nerdofascists?

Sure, the young murderer shouted 'Allahu Akbar' But we generally don't take teenagers' explanations for their destructive actions at face value ('Why'd you steal the grocery money, son?' 'Because I hate you!') It seems somewhat curious that we should assume the word of alienated youth on the one hand, and wannabe despots like Zawahiri on the other to be so trustworthy. There are something like 1.7 Muslims in the world, so surely a few of them are going to commit crimes, and many of that number are going to try and justify them. A common murderer who claims some ideological justifications should be -- and elsewhere, is -- dismissed as a murderer. The Unabomber did not raise our suspicions of the Sierra Club.

I appreciate that there's a pragmatic issue here, in that one has to fend off the Michael Ledeens of the world, and Qaradawi's stance makes it somewhat harder. But it would be far more effective in my mind to speak frankly than to encourage the idea that Qaradawi is behaving in some remarkable way, which only plays into the cruelly essentializing topos in the U.S. and Europe right now about Islam and violence.


Look, whatever the Pope's intent, ya m-a, it's clear that Qaradawi and others (Mahdi Akef) are exploiting these remarks for their own purposes. The Islamic World will never move forward unless it moves beyond the politics of grievance and learns to shrug these sorts of things off. Qaradawi is speaking out of both sides of his mouth by calling for a "day of anger" but asking that it be peaceful.


Hi P-

Exploiting the remarks? Sure they are. These people are politicians, and exploiting stupid remarks is pretty much the objective function of a politician at this point in history. I'll even stipulate that the agenda Qaradawi and Akef are trying to further by exploiting the remarks is illiberal and very unappealing to me.

But my read would be that the "Islamic World" as you put it feels pretty screwed at the moment when it comes to injuries both rhetorical (e.g. pope) and material (e.g. invasion). While the General Assembly was always good for a pat on the back, the "Islamic World" has found precious few people with any power in geopolitical terms who were willing to take those injuries seriously, let alone to offer redress. They know as well as you and I that a letter-writing campaign to the New York Times would be less than effective; and unlike you and I most of them are not in a position to exploit that avenue.

There is anger. It is real, it has some basis in reality, and it currently has no legitimate outlet. Anger about Abu Ghraib, for example, now gets nary a mention in the press. Sorry, last year's story. It's certainly possible that YQ is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but it's also possible that a "Day of Outrage" expressed verbally could be a salutary thing. Who knows. But it isn't constructive, in my opinion, for all such expressions to be deemed illegitimate out of hand as a "politics of grievance," rather than grievance itself.

I do appreciate though that you're a bit closer to the fray.

Lee A. Arnold

If there was anyone in the Vatican with any brains, they would use the Pope's faux pas to admit sin, and call for a real dialogue of reconciliation without the usual Christian exceptionalism. The leaders of Islam would be called upon to respond in kind with judicious words, and then maybe all these leaders together could put a stop to the conflagration.

Jonathan Versen("Hugo Zoom")

although I agree with you about the pope's misguided paternalism and arrogance, my response to him would be:

"you say Islam needs a reformation? Well, reform Catholicism! Address the crisis of priests abusing kids and allow priests and nuns to marry, and stop being a jealous, hypocritical old goat.

Then maybe I'll listen to your opinion regarding other religions."


The Popes comments in an academic paper never constitute Catholic Doctrine. He isn't speaking ex-cathedra, and is therefore as fallible as any human being. I think that it is important to note that the Catholic Church exists--has laws and reasons that govern it--that stand above and aside from the Church as a political institution. I do not see this in Islam as an institution. I do not see how Islam can be self-reflexive (since the Persian Empire of the 1200 which the pope speaks of in his paper, interestingly enough. Perhaps that was the last time Islam allowed itself to enter into a dialogue with Christianity without having political/social temper-tantrums and demanding an apology for scholasticism.)

Why should Pope Benedict apologize for critical historical scholarship? Was he not addressing an audience of academics at a University?



"Why should Pope Benedict apologize for critical historical scholarship? Was he not addressing an audience of academics at a University?"

Well, first off it wasn't critical historical scholarship - the Pope was discussing theological matters in a historical context, but that's not historical scholarship. Historical scholarship would be, for example, to talk about the nature and context of the Byzantine Emperor's comment, which he doesn't. Second, when you are an actor on the world stage you don't have the luxury of being able to make public statements without them being interpreted in a wider context, and third, the Pope ends his speech by inviting Muslims and those of other faiths to join in dialogue. If you want to have a pleasant discussion with someone, you don't start, as Marc says, by calling them fat. That doesn't mean the other side ought to start burning things down or shooting people, but that doesn't change the fact that the Pope was not being constructive.

And as far as referring to Islam as "an institution" in comparison to the Catholic Church, Islam is not monolithic. Neither is Christianity. The quote the Pope used was between the Byzantine Emperor (not a friend of the Catholics at the time) and the Persians (not the same as other branches of Islam). I find your comment confusing.


Two minor pedantic notes (my last comments on this topic, I promise!) but...

1) the historical personality with whom Manuel II was conversing was the Qadi of Ankara, who may well have been of Persian origin, but was an Ottoman functionary. There was in the late 14th century no "Persian empire" per se.

2) Although he updated the literary conceit of the "dialogue" to reflect his own experience, Manuel's apologetic was in fact recycled from a Latin "Confutatio Alchorani" written by a Dominican monk (based on the notoriously inexact 12th century translation of the Qur'an by Robert Ketton). This doctrinal polemic against Islamic doctrine was translated into Greek and used in a similar exercise by his father JOhn VI Cantecuzenos. That's to say, the Pope's unqualified quotation was actually a fourth-hand version of a Latin anti-Muslim tirade.

I thought Tariq Ramadan's comments were right on: the real issue in this speech should not be the slur on the Prophet but rather the contention that Greek reason is the exclusive property of Christianity. THat said, papal recycling of medieval Church apologetics fits all too well with the larger theme. The culture warriors' idea that the West has reason while the Orient has none is descended lineally from the Church caricature of "Mahound" as a bloodthirsty, schismatic heretic. To call either of them "historical scholarship" is a bit much.

Anna in Portland (was Cairo)

Any pope-defenders who are pretending this is historical scholarship are invited to go and read this website:
And when you are done reading all the Muslim philosophers and their views on Platonism and Neo-Platonism and other issues come back and talk.

Stupid illiterate hypocrites.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Blog powered by Typepad