We already know what happened in the last couple of days about the Pope’s unfortunate statements and reactions to his words. Some, who does not want to see the truth, defend him as he did not say the words himself but ‘quoted’. Intended or not, quoted or not, we face a strong reaction from the Muslims at the moment, whose population are more than 1.5 billion. Those Muslims are the ones who had to deal with prejudice against them after 9/11, and the cartoon crisis recently.
The Pope Benedict XVI formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is known for his enrollment in Hitler Youth in 1941. He is also known about his opposition views on inter-faith dialogue and Turkey’s membership on EU. When all these considered, it is hard to believe that he didn’t intend to offend Muslims.
It looks like the Pope forgets about his position and importance of it. More than anybody, he knows how sensitive religious subjects are. Why did he need to quote from Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus? He should have chosen a better example, he should have thought of the reactions, especially at a time which the relations between Islam world and the West are tense. Certainly, it did not help for dialogue.
People on the street do not have to read the full text of his speech. Not everybody has to be intellectual or academician to interpret such words. People react to what they read on newspapers, which perhaps misquoted the speech. Even if the Pope did not mean to hurt Muslims’ feelings, he did. Now Muslims are on the street, tension is growing. A church was attacked in West Bank a few hours ago, and it would not be unlikely to expect similar events soon.
As the leader of the Catholic world, as somebody who says that he supports inter-faith dialogue, he should have more discretion. To prove that he is not against Muslims and he respects Prophet Mohammad, he owes a ‘real’ apology to Muslims. Otherwise, the clash of civilizations is going to come true pretty soon. And as some intend, it is not going to be anybody’s fault but ‘cruel’ Muslims’.
I miss the marvelous his holiness Pope John Paul II, and his good will towards Muslims. I remember him delivering a speech at Omayyad Mosque of Damascus, and starting his speech as “As Salaam Alaykum”. At his speech, he emphasized the similarities in Islam and Christianity, believing in the same God, sharing similar values, Jesus as a prophet of Islam, and how Muslims and Christians respect one another. The place he chose was a holy place for Muslims, mosque. The words he chose was careful and meaningful. The people he talked to were Muslims. And the quotes he used were from Quran.
For a true dialogue, we should forget about mistakes have been made in history. I could talk about Christianity as the religion of sword and refer to Crusade wars. But, would that solve anything? Are we trying to prove whose religion is better, or how can we co-exist in the same world? It is time for conscience for all of us, and the leaders should pioneer it.
*Published at www.turkishweekly.net on 16.09.2006