Pope Benedict XVI issues a statement regretting that his remarks about Muslim violence have offended violent Muslims. The pontiff did not actually apologize for quoting an "erudite" Byzantine emperor from the Fourteenth Century. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood says the new statement is not good enough, demanding a "personal apology." (I also want a personal apology from the pope for failing to stay out of the news long enough to let me to forget he exists.)
Meanwhile, Muslims object to being called violent by rioting, burning flags and effigies, firebombing Catholic and Protestant churches, and making plenty of those Musselmen-foaming-at-the-mouth faces we've come to expect in these situations. In a related story, "War-Torn Middle East Seeks Solace In Religion."
This has been one of the great stupid news stories in recent memory. Everybody notes that the pope was quoting the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus—who like Benedict was something of a Gerald Ford figure—but nobody bothers to explain what that means, or in fact whether the pope agreed with the comments. To the extent I can understand anything this pope says, he's noncommital. The entire speech contains a ton of noodling in support of Ratzinger's theme of themes (Europe is Christian, goddammit). Here's the quote in context:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the 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. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between—as they were called—three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point—itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole—which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation…edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed 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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…".
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
The content is really unimportant. You can be sure none of the lunatics torching churches or burning the pope in effigy have any idea what he actually said. People who are more interested in this stuff than I am can debate whether Islam actually added anything to religion that wasn't already in Judaism and/or Christianity—beyond teetotaling, which is undoubtedly evil and inhuman.
The interesting point is the person the pope is quoting. Manuel, the penultimate Eastern emperor, isn't an obvious avatar for a hard line on Islam. He spent most of his career as a vassal of the Ottoman sultan, and the only time in his reign that he got a leg up it wasn't because of anything he did but because Tamerlane defeated the Ottoman army. Like everybody in the eastern church, he was as likely to view Catholics as Muslims as the main enemy. What makes him of interest to Benedict is that he had a pronounced Western Europe jones, toured the western capitals in search of an alliance during his reign, and conducted sporadic negotiations toward a reconciliation with the Latin church. That's of direct application to Ratzinger's vision of a re-Christianized Europe reclaiming its rightful place at the center of the geocentric universe.
This, and not some wishful thinking about the pope's joining up with President Bush for the war on terror, is the real story. Just a few years ago, the anti-idiotarians were ready to add Vatican City to the Axis of Evil because Garrulous Karolus the Koran Kisser didn't favor the invasion of Iraq. Now they're ready to believe the pope is up for a Last Crusade, but they're going to be disappointed. For Ratzinger, it's all about Europe and the dictatorship of relativism. He may not like Muslim Europe, but that's just the symptom. The disease is post-Christianity and the Theory of Relativity, and the way he believes they have weakened the Continent. It's only by chance that the pope's path has intersected with that of the late Oriana Fallaci, who late in life developed a sentimental attachment to Catholicism, but only as a stick to hit Muslims and, um, Mexicans.
Which brings me to the real point of this post: That celebrated Margaret Talbot profile of Fallaci contains one of the great unchecked facts of our time:
Images of soiling recur in the books: at one point in "The Rage and the Pride" she complains about Somali Muslims leaving "yellow streaks of urine that profaned the millenary marbles of the Baptistery" in Florence. "Good Heavens!" she writes. "They really take long shots, these sons of Allah! How could they succeed in hitting so well that target protected by a balcony and more than two yards distant from their urinary apparatus?" Six pages later, she describes urine streaks in the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, and wonders if Muslim men will one day "shit in the Sistine Chapel."
Is that just a fantasia of Fallaci's? Are Muslims really pissing in the baptismal fonts in Italian churches? If so, you can see why Da Holy Faddah is ready to start a ruckus.