Friday, September 15, 2006

The unmistakable whiff of Christian triumphalism

This was no casual slip. Beneath his scholarly rhetoric, the Pope's logic seemed to be that Islam is dangerous and godless

Giles Fraser
Saturday September 16, 2006
The Guardian

"Christopher Tyerman's latest book on the Crusades, God's War, argues persuasively that analogies between the Crusades and the present global conflict are often overdrawn and historically dubious. That may be so. But it's an argument that doesn't cut much ice with millions of Muslims. After all, it was one of Benedict's predecessors, Urban II, who first summoned a Christian jihad against Islam. And it's born-again Christians who have been at the forefront of support for the invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, and the whole "reorganisation" of the Middle East - a catastrophe in which many thousands of Muslims have lost their lives.

Furthermore, the Pope has form on all of this. Just a few months before he was elected, he spoke out against Muslim Turkey joining the EU. Christian Europe must be defended, he argued. It didn't go down well at the time with Muslim leaders. But what makes his comments from Bavaria doubly insensitive is that Munich and its surrounding towns are home to thousands of Gastarbeiter, many from Turkey, who are often badly treated by local Germans and frequently subjected to racism. It won't be lost on them that Manuel II ran his Christian empire from what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul. And reference to that time, in circumstances such as these, has the unmistakable whiff of Christian triumphalism.

For the Pope argued that in Muslim teaching, because "God is absolutely transcendent", He is "not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality". In other words, there is no reasoning in or with Islam. Which, surely, is another way of the Pope saying how dangerous he thinks Islam is.

Blog sites have been buzzing with the thought that the Pope may have the president of Iran in mind when he speaks of Manuel's Persian interlocutor. But we don't need to speculate upon a contemporary casting for this speech to recognise its dangers. For in claiming that Islam may be beyond reason, and then to claim that to act without reason is to act contrary to the will of God, is pretty close to the assertion that this religion is godless."

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