In hope of a peaceful end to this seemingly intractable problem, the Pope and Islamic ambassadors met today in light of the uproar that has sparked as a result of the Pope’s speech at the University of Regensburg. We can argue for days to decide which is worse: Pope Benedict XVI characterizing Prophet Muhammad’s teachings as ‘evil and inhuman,’ the violent reactions from Muslims around the world or if the former justifies the latter. Instead, both ends should be arguing why there hasn’t been more peaceful means of dialogue.
The Pope’s reference in his speech where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor was offensive and inaccurate. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread the sword the faith he preached,” stated Benedict. CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) explains that the “Qur’an condemns forced acceptance of any faith when it states: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion (2:256).’
Since his speech, the Pope apologized for the reaction that his remark caused in some countries. “These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought,” explained the Pope in his apology.
The sincerity of the Pope’s apology is arguable, but it was undoubtedly an attempt to appeal for calm within Muslim communities around the world. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that regardless of the inaccuracy or validity of the comment, the violent reaction of some Muslims around the world is far worse than the words of the Pope. Words don’t hurt as bad as sticks and stones.
The case should have closed after the apology and for some sensible, moderate Muslims it did. For others, it was not enough. For the irrational and persistent it turned a very important and sensitive issue into a juvenile, whiny argument-sure he may have apologized, but he didn’t really mean it! What they should be demanding more of is efforts to build better relationships between Christianity and Islam.
Regardless of whether the statement was taken out of context, many Muslims still took offense, but did not react violently. In this post 9/11 world, many people in the West have given in to prejudices and misconceptions of Islam being a violent religion. The terrorists of 9/11, as well as Muslim extremists throughout the world have only further validated this misperception.
Extremists have proven time and time again that violence is their only response, not dialogue. For them, the only way to respond to intolerant thought is with even more intolerant thinking. Since the speech, five churches were burned in Palestine, the pope was burned in effigy in Pakistani Kashmir and Basra, Iraq, and in Somalia a nun was murdered whose death is speculated to be linked with the Pope’s comments.
Despite what the media displays or suggests, this is not the reaction of all Muslims. In the midst of all this, where are the voices of moderate Muslims around the world? Are they drowned by the extremists or simply hard to find?
The greater Muslim community should use this unfortunate episode to their advantage-not as a justification for violence and more hatred, rather to raise awareness and begin dialogue to help others understand why the comment was offensive and understand the underlying peaceful tenants of the Islamic faith.
If the Pope’s comments were inaccurate and offensive, then Muslims ought to be just as offended by the violent responses and condemn such acts. If this is the only way to respond or to be heard, then it’s only adding fuel to the fire of misconceptions and anger towards Muslims.