What's the Pope to do?

In my quick roundup last post of crises happening at the moment, I certainly missed the biggest one of all–comments the pope made. And since I have been out in the wilderness in the days since and not watching tv, reading blogs or doing anything else civilized, I can look at the furor now and see the shape it is taking.

I don’t have the context of the speech in which the quote from a 14th century emperor was made where the Prophet was disparaged. I would hope that the context gives some clarity to why this comment was made. Whether there was sufficient context or not, it still seems pretty clear the comment was ill advised. The fact that it was ill advised is the real problem–we live in an overheated time of extreme political correctness that is seriously unbalanced. That is true in various places in the public sphere but nowhere more so than in the sometimes hot sometimes cold war between the medieval Islamic culture of the Islamists and the contemporary liberal democratic culture that most of the west and western-influenced world lives in. The Islamists desire very strongly to cast this culture war into crusade language–it is a great falsity and one unfortunately perpetuated far too much by the press in their attempt to be balanced and politically correct. That’s why George Bush made such a serious mistake when he used the term “crusade” and he has been scrupulous to avoid it ever since. That’s the Pope was ill advised to refer to any medieval comments about the relation between Christianity and Islam because it is all but certain to create this kind of reaction.

The fact is in this super-heated cultural/political war environment, it is perfectly OK for one side (Islamists) to not only disparage but announced their intentions of doing the most awful things to the most sacred icons of the western culture, while they will use the slightest slip that can be seen as disparagement of their sacred icons as evidence of the west’s true intention: a return to the medieval crusades. It is they who wish that return. The west does not.

I see now I am venturing into political and geopolitical comment which is an area I want to stay out of if at all possible. In this case it is not entirely possible because my advice to the Pope and his advisors has everything to do with understanding the tensions that exist. They should have understood it better. The Pope is doing all he can under the circumstances. He has apologized repeatedly. Perhaps the first one could have been more aggressive–these apologies that keep ramping up until they have impact are less effective. Now, what is desperately needed is for reasonable Muslim leaders to step forward to close this breech. The Pope and the Vatican can do no more to stem the tide and to keep the radicals from exploiting this unfortunate situation. It has to be more moderate Muslim leaders who see the dangers ahead if the Islamists are successful in their public relations jihad. They have been far too quiet in all these flareups–including Bush’s “crusade” gaffe, the Danish cartoon disaster, and now this. Time to speak up for civilization and all that is right and good, gentlemen.

5 thoughts on “What's the Pope to do?”

  1. Yes, we are living in an overheated time, you are right on target.
    Yes, the Pope should definitely work on his PR skills.
    The Pope could use a good US PR firm. If he had Edelman, he would be blogging his way out of this by now. If he had Burson, there would already be an astroturf group called Friends of the Pope working to clear this up. And, one of these hot new PR firms would probably have him do something on YouTube, remaning it YourPopeTV.com

  2. LOL.
    What if he had Baron PR, what do you think he’d be doing? What about Bruni PR?

    I’m guessing if it was vdw PR he’d remain pretty quiet from here on out. What do you think Patrick?

    What about Weber Shandwick, Rowan and Bluett, Bernstein Crisis Management, Ketchum, Fleishman Hilliard? Any patterns there? It makes for an interesting question. Like ad agencies, do PR firms establish a recognizable style? And is one better than another that way?

  3. G, joking aside, the Pope could use some American style PR thinking. Remember the big splash the previous pope created when he launched the first “Pope Web site” several years ago. I was a Media Escort for the previous Pope on the “Pope ’95 tour”. You could hear a pin drop at Newark airport when he came out of that plane. Never so much respect from the press for one individual. This Pope has some big shoes to fill in terms of PR and Media Relations, but I think he can do it.

  4. I agree with you. Even more, the entire western civilization needs a PR makeover. Again, don’t want to get into political discussion here but ultimately the struggle we are in with Islam is over the hearts and minds of reasonable people. It seems we have forgotten that. I don’t see any strategy for those who share our cultural values to address the objections and win over those who can be won over to our concept of freedom, liberal democracy and free expression.

  5. PR won’t cure the underlying rot here.

    The Pope chose to quote someone who gets Islam wrong. “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 by the sword the faith he preached.”. Why couldn’t he quote Vatican II?

    “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth…”

    He picked this fight, he chose his words, and then didn’t apologize for his remarks. He expressed regret that he upset people (their fault), no mea culpa for him. And then Crisisblogger piles on.

    As if the latest in the string of infallible Popes and a Christian emperor (the guy the Pope quoted) had standing to speak for the Prince of Peace.

    Putting PR varnish on a holy cowpie is not going to win hearts and minds in the target audience.

    I also take exception to the assertion that moderate Muslim leaders have been “far too quiet”. Conventional US media provides scant insight into what moderate Muslims are doing in other countries. To suggest that they should do more without knowing what they are doing is misguided.

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