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.