Lida and I can certainly agree about the radical Muslim response to the Pope’s comments and the need for sensible, moderate Muslims to have a more active role in debates surrounding Islam.  But I have to disagree about the Pope’s comments.

The Pope’s comments have been taken so far out of context, it’s a circus by this point.  When you hear about the speech, it’s easy to imagine Pope Ben giving an anti-Muslim diatribe.  In reality, the speech was not about Islam.  The speech (you can read the entire text here) was an academic lecture on the nature of God and reason.  Reader D.R. sums it up well:

“For the record, the Pope’s first mention of Islam in the speech was that there was ‘truth’ in it, followed by quoting a verse of the Quran (‘there is no compulsion in religion’), which as far as I can tell is a pretty direct repudiation of the idea that Islam is necessarily violent.

“He quoted the Byzantine emperor because the guy was having a discussion about faith and reason with a Persian Muslim.  The Pope’s contention was that Islam thinks that Allah transcends reason (and can actually contradict Himself), an idea which would have been (and the pope believes still should be) foreign to Catholicism/Hellenistic Christianity which believes that God is pure reason, i.e. that to suggest God could be unreasonable would be to suggest that God was imperfect, which is unacceptable (‘in the beginning there was the logos…’ and what not).  He was drawing a distinction between the Greek view of God (that a war in the name of God is evil for example) and the Islamic view, and contending ultimately that Catholicism is in concord with the Greek view.

“It was for this reason that he says that holy war is by definition incompatible with God.

“Regardless, mention of Islam was at best a minor aside.  After the fifth or sixth paragraph, his lecture doesn’t mention Islam, and just goes through the evolution of the views of God and reason within Europe and Christianity.  The theme of his talk is not ‘Islam is violent’ but rather:

“‘Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God,’ said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.'”