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Pope's Speech Sparks Muslim Outrage
Theologian's remarks one step too subtle
Alessandro Speciale (spespi)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-17 04:55 (KST)   
A speech by Pope Benedict XVI has sparked outrage among Muslims worldwide as the head of the Catholic Church apparently links Islam to violence and offends the prophet Mohammed. Religious leaders in countries from Turkey to Malaysia have called for an apology from the Pope. Attempts by the Holy See press office to dampen the upsurge of negative reactions have failed.

The chief spokesperson for the Pope, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement, "The Holy Father has to heart a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation of violence" and by no means intended "to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful."

The pope gave the speech in Regensburg, Germany, on Tuesday, at the university where he taught in the '70s.

In one section of his speech, on the topic of "Holy War" (jihad), the Pope quoted a Christian emperor who said that the prophet Mohammed only brought "evil and inhuman things" to the world. But, Fr. Lombardi said, this was said in the context of a 14th-century dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian wise man. The Pope then went on to reflect about the deep link between faith and reason.

While reactions were initially muted, probably because the complexity of the Pope's speech slowed its reception, the tone of messages coming from Muslim leaders seems to mirror the crescendo that led to the crisis over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed last February.

Among the first to condemn the Pope's remarks was the highest religious authority of Turkey. Ali Bardakoglu said the speech was "hostile, unfortunate, [and] arrogant," though he admitted having only read news reports and not the speech itself. The Pope is due to visit Turkey in November.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf took a stance against what he called "sinister tendencies to associate terror with Islam," while a Malaysian minister asked the Pope to "take full responsibility" for what he said and its consequences.

Violence has already erupted in the West Bank, where Christian -- though not Catholic -- churches were firebombed by a group purporting to be acting in reaction to the Pope's speech.

Reports from Rome suggest that the Pope, now back from his trip, was "angered" at the way his words were interpreted. He is now staying at the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, and monitoring the situation with his closest aides.

Experts in the West agree that the speech was not meant to offend or condemn Islam. But they also questioned whether the Pope, a learned theologian and scholar of worldwide renown, could have made such potentially explosive statements inadvertently.

Columnist Adriano Sofri of the Italian daily "La Repubblica" asked himself if the Pope "tripped on that Byzantine quotation" without meaning it. Rev. Daniel A. Madigan, rector of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at a pontifical university in Rome, said, "You clearly take a risk using an example like that." But he also stressed that the core of Benedict's reflection is that faith has to be taken seriously in the West to avoid diffidence from the Muslim world and a "clash of civilizations."

The news agency Adista and other Italian news outlets also reported a minor episode from the papal trip that seems to strengthen the idea that Benedict was aware that he was taking a risk with his scholarly dissertation. When releasing the speech to journalists on Sept. 12 in Regensburg, he added a note to the speech's text, explaining that he "intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes."

The new version of the speech is still to be released.
Read the Pope's entire speech
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alessandro Speciale

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