Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Citing threats of violence against the pope in Somalia and Iraq, Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell said "the violent reactions ... showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence."
In a statement, Australia's top Catholic leader expressed gratitude that no "organized violence" had occurred in Australia in response to the pope's words, and he called the reactions of some Australian Muslim leaders "unfortunately typical and unhelpful."
"It is always someone else's fault, and issues touching on the nature of Islam are ignored," he said.
"Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony within the Australian community, but no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions."
Pell said genuine questions about Islam needed to be addressed, not regularly avoided.
Separately, in an op-ed article published Tuesday, he made a further appeal for Christian-Muslim dialogue.
"Accurate information, accurate understandings and a respect for truth, even across differences, are the only long-term bases for fruitful exchanges."
Responding to Pell's statement, Australian Muslim leader Ameer Ali said the cardinal's statement had not been helpful.
"The point is Pope Benedict quoted a most inappropriate quote at a most inappropriate time," Ali said.
In an academic speech in Germany last week, Pope Benedict, without qualification, quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor's assessment of Islam and its seventh century founder.
"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 pope quoted Manuel II Palaeologus as saying.
"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 emperor had said, according to the pope.
The speech at Regensburg University included an appeal for dialogue based on "reason."
Following angry response from parts of the Islamic world, the Vatican issued several statements seeking to clarify the remarks, and the pope himself made what is being called an unprecedented public apology.
He said Sunday he was "deeply sorry" for the reaction of Muslims, and that the passages he quoted did not reflect his own views.
Some Muslim leaders and organizations welcomed the apology, but others - including Egypt's radical Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza - called it insufficient.
Qatar-based Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi said the pope should retract the speech, and speaking on al-Jazeera television, he called for a day of "peaceful and rational" anger on Friday. The Egyptian-born Sunni cleric, who is considered an influential voice in the Islamic world, has called Palestinian suicide bomb attacks justifiable.
In incidents believed to be linked to the issue, an Italian nun was shot dead in Somalia and armed Palestinians attacked churches in the Palestinian self-rule areas.
Muslim figures have compared the pope to Hitler, Mussolini and Urban II, the eleventh century pontiff who initiated the first crusade.
Iran's "supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the pope's remarks "the latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America's [President] Bush."
Demonstrators in London have called for the pope to be killed for insulting Islam and Mohammed.
In an online posting attributed to the al-Qaeda terrorist group in Iraq, the pope was warned to "wait for defeat ... we will smash the cross."
'On the verge of an all-out clash'
Writing on the website of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Anas Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain said that when the pope spoke about "reason" it was clear he was saying that Judaism and Christianity were reasonable but Islam was not.
Pope Benedict was essentially accusing Islam of being "inherently violent, fundamentally blood-thirsty and an enemy of all others," said Altikriti.
He added that this was "an extremely dangerous assertion to make ... when the world lies on the verge of an all-out clash that threatens everyone and everything."
In Geneva, the Organization of the Islamic Conference asked the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to make time during its current session to address "religious tolerance and related issues."
Pakistan's envoy, speaking on behalf of the 56-member Islamic bloc, welcomed the papal apology, but said the speech had "showed lack of understanding, albeit inadvertent, about Islam and its prophet."
"Such a tendency also threatens deeper alienation between the West and the world of Islam and hurts the ongoing efforts to promote dialogue and harmony amongst religions," Masood Khan told the council, whose three-week session began on Monday.
"To associate Islam with violence is to negate the basic tenets of a faith practiced for 15 centuries and which now has more than one billion followers - who are one-fifth of humanity."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the world's Anglican (Episcopalian) church, defended Pope Benedict, saying his words about Islam should be seen in context and "judged against his entire record, where he has spoken very positively about dialogue.""
A weekend editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star said the pope's words were ignorant but a violent response "will only reinforce erroneous beliefs and stereotypes about Islam."
"In today's world - where even prominent leaders embrace hurtful myths that compare Islam with fascism - Muslims have a moral duty to uphold the tenants of their faith," the newspaper said.
"Only then will Westerners begin to understand that Islam is a religion of peace."
President Bush said last month that a foiled transatlantic airline bombing plot showed that the U.S. was "at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."
Earlier this year, Sydney's Cardinal Pell was attacked for a speech of his own, when he told an audience in Florida: "Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion, and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited."
Muslims Enraged by Pope's Remarks on Spreading Islam by Violence (Sept. 15, 2006)
Catholic Leader Ponders Violence in Koran (May 08, 2006)
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