Monday, September 18, 2006

"That'll Show Them For Calling Us Violent"

This is Ray Harris' thoughtful and informative response to my post of yesterday:

I think the Pope’s comments need to be taken in their proper context. I know of at least one Muslim spokesperson who appreciates the context. Waleed Aly, a director of the Victorian Islamic Council and a regular spokesperson wrote an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age (18/9). He says that:
“Pope Benedict’s speech was an academic address at a German university on an esoteric theological theme that had nothing to do with affronting Muslims. The apparently offending remarks were almost a footnote to the discussion.”
He goes on to say:
“But it seems some elements in the Muslim world are looking avidly for something to offend them. Meanwhile, governments looking to boost their Islamic credentials are only too happy to seize on this, to nurture it, for their own political advantage. At some point the Muslim world has to gain control of itself. Presently its most vocal elements are so disastrously reactionary, and therefore so easily manipulable. Here, the vociferous protests come from people who, quite clearly, have not bothered to read Benedict’s speech.”
Waleed goes on to be scathing of Muslim over-reaction, openly ridiculing some prominent Australian mullahs, including the grand mufti of Australia.
Now if the bloody Pope can’t make “esoteric” theological points at a university then who can?
But, alas, he has decided to offer a personal apology, not that it will really satisfy the fundamentalists. I liked the comment from a mullah in Pakistan, “all we want is for the Pope to be removed.” Oh, is that ‘all’ you want? Some obscure fundamentalist mullah in Pakistan ‘only’ wants the Pope to be sacked. Sounds a reasonable request to me, totally proportionate.
The bizarre thing about this is that the Pope’s speech was actually about religious violence. So how do some Muslims protest the suggestion that Islam is violent? Why, by threatening to assassinate the Pope and burning churches. As Waleed sarcastically says:
“There. That’ll show them for calling us violent.”

I'm still inclined to question the Pope's judgment. Did he really need to speak out against religious violence by quoting words to the effect that Mohammed taught evil? If the Pope didn't realize that Muslims would hear about this and that many would react with violent outrage, he seems shockingly naive. On the other hand, if he did anticipate the reaction he got, what were his motives for going ahead and saying what he did? Either way, I think he's cast himself in a dubious light, although not nearly as dubious as have the Muslims who've responded with violence and even with just harsh indignation but have said nothing against the violence.

On the other hand, Harris raises an excellent point when he asks, "Now if the bloody Pope can’t make “esoteric” theological points at a university then who can?" He should certainly be able to. Anyone should be able to. But 'should be able to' and 'can' or, rather, 'should' seem pretty far removed, and I don't know what we should do about it in the world as it is.

What do you think?

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