Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sticks and Stones...

...may break your bones, but words can set the world on fire.

The proponents of the Clash of Civilizations mentality were handed another victory recently, when one statement by Pope Benedict XVI was ripped from the context of a speech he gave and was presented to the world in such a way that apparently offended Muslims worldwide. Muslim radicals were able to play to their base and point to the Pope – the ‘ranking’ Christian authority on Earth – as being anti-Muslim. Western radicals were able to play to their base and point to Muslim reaction (the Arab Street being the ‘ranking’ Islamic authority) as more ‘proof’ that there is no redeeming quality to Islam. Radical ideology on both sides of the schism are reinforced, radical ideologues gain more power and credibility from their respective bases.

Normal, everyday people get crapped on, again, by ideological nonsense, and peace, prosperity, rationality and ecumenical reconciliation move further away.

Here are the Pope’s remarks, (taken from the full text English translation):

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (M√ľnster) 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 sura 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.

(Emphasis and links added by HR)

Why so much focus on the first part of Manuel II’s quote (“Show me just…”), and nearly none on the second (“God is not pleased by blood”)? I know that all I have seen in the media so far never quoted that second part. The Pope’s words are being lost in translation to both the Muslim world and the West.

So, right now, the world is being presented an out of context quote where the Pope is attributed with saying Mohammed is evil and inhuman. The telling of this particular story only benefits those with sinister agendas (the Islamic “Hate the West” Crowd, and the Western “Islam Sucks” Crowd).

The reaction, on both sides, has become nothing short of predictable.

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