Pope Benedict is being portrayed as a naive, shy scholar who has accidentally antagonised two major world faiths in a matter of months. In fact he is a shrewd and ruthless operator, argues Madeleine Bunting – and he’s dangerous. Only 18 months into his papacy and already Pope Benedict XVI has stirred up unprecedented controversy.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s apology for comments he made earlier in the week about Islam. Islamic groups called for an apology after the Pope quoted a 14th Century emperor’s views the Prophet Muhammad was “evil and inhuman” in a speech.
The furore over the Pope’s remarks about Islam has left many Catholics inside and outside the Vatican shaking their heads in disbelief. Aides of Benedict XVI are dismayed that a quotation used to illustrate a philosophical argument should have provoked such anger from Muslims. But for others, the row has highlighted their concerns about the Pope’s attitude towards the Church’s relations with the Islamic world.
During a conversation with German President Horst Kohler on September 9, Pope Benedict XVI said that he hoped Muslims could be better integrated into German society. That was the report that Koehler gave to reporters after their meeting.
ROME – The leaders of Muslim communities in Italy endorsed on Monday statements by pope Benedict XVI who warned that Africa and Asia feel threatened by the West’s materialism and secularism. “We agree with the pope,” said Roberto Piccardo, the spokesman of Italy’s largest Muslim group UCOII. “It is true that Muslims are puzzled by a West which is hostage to a materialistic system.” Mario Scialoja, the former president of the World Muslim League, also expressed support for the pope’s words, saying that the “West’s exclusion of God leads to the wrong life models.”
The leaders of Muslim communities in Italy endorsed on Monday statements by pope Benedict XVI who warned that Africa and Asia feel threatened by the West’s materialism and secularism. “We agree with the pope,” said Roberto Piccardo, the spokesman of Italy’s largest Muslim group UCOII. “It is true that Muslims are puzzled by a West which is hostage to a materialistic system.” Mario Scialoja, the former president of the World Muslim League, also expressed support for the pope’s words, saying that the “West’s exclusion of God leads to the wrong life models.” Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech Sunday in Munich which made headlines in all the main Italian newspapers for its indirect reference to Islam. “People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason,” he said. Expressing concern that secularism and materialism have replaced religious faith in the West, Benedict XVI also said non-Western societies “don’t perceive the Christian faith as the true threat to their identity but instead contempt of God and cynism.” Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, the deputy leader of another leading Muslim group in Italy, COREIS, called for “more cooperation between different religions so as to make sure the West doesn’t become a place of materialism, loss of values and the absence of references to the sacred and spirituality.”
ROME: Senior politicians in Italy’s government launched a policy manifesto on Thursday vowing to protect Western civilisation from what they said were the twin threats of Islamic fundamentalism and a moral vacuum. Marcello Pera, speaker of the Senate and a friend of Pope Benedict, said people in the West were ashamed to stand up for their values and often blamed themselves for being victims of terrorism. The West has difficulty recognising itself, Pera told a news conference to launch the manifesto. As Pope Benedict said: _the West doesn’t love itself any more’, he said. The document, entitled For the West, Force of Civilisation, begins: The West is in crisis. Attacked externally by fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, it is not able to rise to the challenge. Undermined internally by a moral and spiritual crisis, it can’t seem to find the courage to react. Pera, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, wants centre-right politicians to sign up to the manifesto ahead of an April general election which polls say the centre left, led by Romano Prodi, is more likely to win. Many politicians and some business and media figures have expressed support for the text, which calls for the spread of Western civilisation’s universal and inalienable principles. Berlusconi himself has yet to sign the document, Pera said, adding however that the prime minister backed the project. Pera’s manifesto was launched to a background of protests throughout the Muslim world against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in European newspapers. Many of the protests have turned violent and at least 11 people died in a riot outside an Italian consulate in Libya last week. Pera said the bloodshed could not be blamed on Europe. I don’t think this can be seen as a response to something which happened in Italy and the West, he said. In those places, fundamentalism was already getting ready and waiting for someone to put a match to the gunpowder. Violence by Islamist extremists in Britain and France had shown those countries had failed to integrate immigrants into society, Pera said, insisting Italy must make newcomers respect the Italian way of life. Pera denied any suggestion that his rallying cry to the tendency Italy’s media has dubbed the theo-cons – available online at www.perloccidente.it – was in any way inflammatory. There’s nothing that suggests a clash of religions or a clash of civilisations in this document, he said. . Berlusconi, who in September 2001 outraged Muslims by saying the West was a superior civilisation, gave an interview to Arab TV station Al-Jazeera on Wednesday where he dismissed talk of any clash of civilisations and condemned the Muhammad (PBUH) cartoons.
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Spain asked the Vatican on Friday to back an initiative promoting Western-Arab understanding, in a bid to give fresh impetus to the plan after Muslim protests against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos made the request for support of the “Alliance of Civilisations” during talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Foreign Minister Giovanni Lajolo, a Vatican statement said. Spain and Turkey launched the initiative last year and this month called for calm and respect after violent demonstrations by Muslims against the cartoons. Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous. Pope Benedict has condemned the cartoons, which were first published in Denmark and reprinted in Europe and the Middle East, saying freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person’s religion. Spain and the Vatican have had strained relations since the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero legalised homosexual marriages last year despite strong opposition from the country’s powerful Catholic Church. Moratinos’ visit to the Vatican appeared to be an attempt by Madrid to mend ties ahead of a visit by the pope to Valencia in July to attend a rally of Catholic families.
Reactions against the conscience test applied to Muslims who want to become German citizens in Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg province continue. The German Alliance 90/Greens Party Federal Assembly Group submitted a parliamentary motion to terminate the practice of examining the private life of applicants. The party’s Co-Chair Claudia Roth, criticizing the test’s questions on homosexuality as well, said, Even German-origin Pope Benedict XVI could not become a citizen if he took the test.
By John Hooper in Rome Oriana Fallaci, the controversial Italian journalist and author who is awaiting trial on charges of vilifying Islam, has been granted a secret audience with Pope Benedict. Fallaci’s diatribes against Muslims’ persuasions have turned her into a hate figure for the Italian left and a heroine for the anti-immigrant right. The Pope’s decision to grant her the privilege of a private meeting came after he appeared to reach out to Muslims on his first trip abroad as pontiff. Benedict’s discussions with Fallaci are bound to fuel concern among liberal Catholics, already dismayed by discussions on Monday between the Pope and leaders of an ultra-conservative group of breakaway Catholics. The Society of St Pius X, whose founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated in 1988, rejects many of the progressive initiatives taken by the Second Vatican Council. One of the society’s main objections is that the council opened a dialogue with other religions. Vatican sources were embarrassed by disclosure of the meeting with Fallaci. The Italian news agency APcom reported that the Pope had received Fallaci on Saturday at his summer residence near Rome. No announcement was made before or after their encounter and not even Fallaci’s family was aware that the writer, who lives in the US, had been in Italy. The newspaper La Repubblica said the writer, who is being treated for cancer, had driven herself to and from Castelgandolfo. Vatican sources said the audience had been brief and had been held at her request. Fallaci repeatedly berated the Pope’s predecessor for pursuing talks with Muslims. But she has been more positive about the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. However, after the London bombings, she said she had been astonished by his insistence on the need for dialogue. “Do you really think that they can change, mend their ways and give up planting bombs?” In June, a judge in the northern Italian city of Bergamo ordered that the 76-year-old Fallaci should stand trial next year on charges of slandering Islam in her book The Strength of Reason, one of three polemical works published since the September 11 attacks on the US. On his first visit to his native Germany since his election, the Pope last month made a point of meeting Muslim officials, addressing them as “my dear Muslim friends”.