Pope Benedict XVI got in more trouble than he could have imagined last week
when, in the course of a lecture at a German university, he quoted from a
debate in which one of the last of the Byzantine emperors disparaged the link
between Islam and violence.
The speech, which sought to denounce religiously-inspired violence, provoked
a response that was reminiscent of last fall's Danish cartoons controversy.
Then, as now, the perception of an insult to Islam resulted in Muslim violence.
A nun in Somalia was murdered and churches across the West Bank were torched.
More horrors were promised and, in the face of intolerable international
pressure, the Vatican did the unthinkable: make a public and tacit admission that
the Pope was wrong about something.
This defeat for the principle of Papal infallibility may not mean much to
non-Catholics but it should. For over six decades the Vatican has refused to
admit that a former Pope might have erred by his inaction during the Holocaust.
The fact that it took them all of five days to cave in to the demands of Muslim
censors speaks volumes about the fear of Islamist terror and the West's lack
of self-confidence is speaking in defense of its basic values.
But for good or for ill the Pope has apologized and hopes, perhaps in vain,
this will put the issue to rest. Given the vulnerability of Christians inside
the Muslim world, it can be argued that a Papal apology may serve to save lives
and on those grounds alone should be understood. But the reason why an
apology may have been inevitable the proclivity of Muslims to use deadly violence
to register their opinions and to promote what they think are the interests of
their faith demonstrates the West's dilemma in dealing with the
The notion that Muslim violence and the rise of Islamist terror is not a fit
topic for public debate is the real problem. The idea that jihad or an
obligation to wage holy war had nothing to do with the historic spread of Islam is as
absurd as the attempt to suppress debate about contemporary Islamist terror
and hate for Jews and other non-Muslims is dangerous. The violent reaction of
Muslim mobs to anything, whether ironic (as was the case with the Danish
cartoons) or scholarly (as in the Pope's speech) that speaks to this issue only
reinforces the cogency of a critique of Islamic culture and politics in our day.
It must be realized that the retreat of the Vatican is in line with the
general rout of Western Europe when dealing with aggressive Islam in recent
decades. The work of authors such as Bat Ye'or ("Eurabia") and Melanie
Londonistan") have demonstrated other examples of this trend.
Even worse, editorials on the issue in newspapers such as The New York Times
completely missed the point about the need to confront Muslim intolerance. By
accepting the idea that the Pope had been insensitive, those who urged that he
apologize implicitly accepted the idea that any aspect of Islamic practice,
including jihad, is above criticism. But appeasing the "Arab street" in this
manner will not work. It will instead just be taken as proof of the strength of
their position and encourage even worse outrages in the future.
That a world religious leader such as the Pope cannot think aloud about the
links between faith and bloodshed without fear is exactly what is wrong about
exchanges between the West and the Islamic world.
Benedict has been derided by many for his lack of belief in the utility of
interfaith dialogue. But rather than this being a sign of intolerance, it
appears that this former German cardinal and theologian may have a deeper
understanding of the intersection of Islam and the West than those who are more
interested in ecumenical proclamations and the fairy tale of peaceful accommodation
with those who believe in violence.
If this episode deters the Pope and others from further exploring these
themes, it will be a major victory for the jihadist mentality and a defeat for
genuine peaceful contact between the great faiths of the world.
The Pope may have felt he had to apologize, but despite the dangers, thinking
persons who care about the future of the West and freedom ought to be asking
the same questions that he has tentatively broached.