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A Catholic Stamp to a U.S. War

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No mistake, the Successor of Saint Peter, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI has erred and the damage is done: His anti-Islam remarks are out and cannot be retracted, like bullets that cannot be retrieved once shot, adding a Catholic stamp to the Evangelist "Islam versus the West" justification for the U.S. neoconservativeï led "WWIII on Islam." (1)

Coincidently the Pope and the U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday expressed "a deep respect" for Islam and Muslims, but both men failed to calm Islamic angry reactions because both of them blatantly sounded self contradictory.

The Pope in two public apologies in less than a week cited "reason" to justify unconvincingly his unreasonably quoted anti-Islam remarks "to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason, go together," (2) but failed to dispel a rapidly growing impression that he has positioned the Vatican in a role in the U.S.-led international war on "Islamic terror" similar to its role in the U.S.-led anti-communism war.

His self-contradiction was further highlighted by repeatedly stating that he quoted a 14th-century dialogue to encourage interfaith dialogue, not spark controversy, but his quotation was unquestionably at least a "setback" for any such dialogue.

Even if His Holiness could or would take out his defamatory and inflammatory quotation from the official text of his controversial speech at Germany's University of Regensburg in Bavaria on September 12, which nothing yet indicates that he might do, the damage done is snowballing rapidly to vindicate the rejection of the Catholic dogma of Papal Supremacy and infallibility by the Orthodox and other mainstream Christian churches, the secular and liberal intellectuals and the Muslims.

Were his remarks a "lapse," a "tumble"? Even those Muslim religious and political leaders who have wisely and ardently taken upon themselves the difficult mission of trying to contain the damage and control the angry reactions found insufficient the Pope's apologies on Sunday and Wednesday. If his slur against Islam was unintentional he should have made a more convincing apology.

"You either have to say this 'I'm sorry' in a proper way, or not say it at all; are you sorry for saying such a thing, or because of its consequences?" Turkey's cabinet minister, Mehmet Aydin, said.

The minimum acceptable "proper way" according to the Qatar-based Egyptian Islamic influential and prominent scholar Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qardawi is to drop out the "insulting" quotation from the official text of the Pope's speech.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this week charged that Benedict's words were "the latest link in the chain of a crusade against Islam started by America's [President George W.] Bush." Khamenei as well as the former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami have been spearheading an international campaign for dialogue among civilizations, an effort that the Pope's quotation could not in any way be interpreted as a helpful contribution.

Apologists may acknowledge that the Pope's offending quotation was insensitive but unintentional.

Islamic leaders in Indonesia and Malaysia -- the first being the world's largest Islamic country and both converted peacefully to Islam and easily could be cited to refute the Pope's quoted thesis that Islam spreads by sword -- have accepted the Pontiff's apology, seeing no Islamic interest in antagonizing the largest Christian church and playing in the hands of the Christian Zionists who have been trying to undermine the Islamic - Christian dialogue. (3)

Similarly the world's largest secular Islamic nations of Turkey and India -- the second being the home to world's largest Islamic minority -- were swift to demand papal apology but were also interested to contain the damage. Turkey's Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, said the Pope's planned visit to the country in November was still on. Russia's Christian leader Vladimir Putin, whose country is home to more than 20 million Muslims, also indirectly warned that "religious leaders" should be more careful in their statements.

The most internationally wide-spread and influential Islamic political movement, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has also accepted Pope's apology as "sufficient."

However, the mainstream rank and file of an estimated one and a half billion moderate Muslims worldwide could not swallow the fact that the leader of the largest Christian church who is highly educated and sophisticated and speaks about ten languages could have "lapsed." Al-Qardawi told the Arabic al-Jazeera satellite television station that the Pope added insult to injury when he assumed that Muslims could not apprehend his speech.

Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi of Egypt's Al Azhar, the Sunni Arab world's most powerful institution, said the Pope should have refused the Emperor's quotation but he did not.

Muslim and non-Muslim critics wonder why the Pope chose to quote from a 14th century "dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both," (4) and not from the 21st century inter-religious dialogue, thus jeopardizing the future of the modern debate on religious truth.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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