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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
8: The Vatican demonstrating intolerance for the Muslims in Europe. Possibility
of the Pope speaking negatively toward the Muslim faith, its beliefs and the
Qur’an. He could conceivably call for a new "crusade" against Islam.
Pope cool towards Islam dialogue
By Roland Flamini
The recent terrorist bombings in London and Sharm-al-Sheik were not
specifically directed against Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI said
Monday, but he stopped short of agreeing that Islam could be a religion
|A committed Europeanist,
the German-born pontiff sees Europe's burgeoning population of
immigrant Muslims as a growing threat to Christian values and
the Christian way of life.
The pope is on vacation in the Aosta Valley, in the Italian Alps. He
gave a "flying interview" to reporters who had waited for him outside a
church near the village of Les Combes. Asked specifically whether Islam
could be considered "a religion of peace" he said he didn't want to use
grand labels,"but it certainly has elements that could favor peace: but
then it also has other elements." Still, he went on, "We should always
try to find the best characteristics that help to promote dialogue."
Asked if he thought the London bombings of July 7 and 23, and the Sharm-al-Sheik
attack last week were anti-Christian, Pope Benedict replied, "No, they
seemed to be aimed at a wider target, not specifically against
The pope seemed to be correcting his earlier statement, made immediately
following the July 7 suicide bomb attacks on three London underground
stations, and the bomb on the London bus. In a message to the Catholic
Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor transmitted
through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope
Benedict called the attacks "anti-human and anti-Christian."
The pope's comment did not appear on the Vatican's official Web site,
and the reference to it being anti-Christian was later left out of the
official text, without explanation. However, Vatican sources said that
the original wording had been a mistake, and hinted that the Vatican
press office had been responsible for the error. Given some the pope's
earlier criticisms of Islam the outburst in the heat of the moment is
plausible, and indeed human.
But of course, inaccurate -- as the Vatican quickly perceived. The 54
dead and over 700 injured in the four blasts mirrored London's
multi-racial society. The bombs claimed both Christians and Muslims
victims, and the terrorists both in London and more so in Egypt knew
that they would. But to the Islamist suicide bombers the aim was to
create chaos through terror; and if a few brethren died in the process
they had given their lives in a worthy cause.
A committed Europeanist, the German-born pontiff sees Europe's
burgeoning population of immigrant Muslims as a growing threat to
Christian values and the Christian way of life. He has spoken out
against Turkish membership of the European Union, arguing that Turkey
belongs to "a different continent, always in contrast to Europe," as he
once put it. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before his election, he fought
hard, but without success, to persuade the European Union to include a
reference to Europe's Christian roots in the text of the new EU
In this context the pope's reference to the possibility of dialogue with
Islam was doubly interesting. The Vatican has diplomatic relations with
several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, but Rome has not been
particularly active in promoting dialogue with Islam as a global
strategy. Pope John Paul II, recognizing the wisdom of closer
inter-faith contact, became the first pontiff to visit a mosque on his
trip to Damascus in 2001. He also paved the way for better relations by
issuing a formal apology for the misdeeds of Catholics towards Muslims
in the Crusades and under colonialism.
It was said that one reason for John Paul II's strong and publicly
expressed opposition to the Iraq war was to avoid creating the
impression of a conflict between Christians and Muslims. There were,
after all, no Islamic countries in the U.S.-led coalition.
It is true that John Paul II promoted dialogue between Vatican prelates
and Muslims, some of them radical. But the exchanges were on a
theological rather than a social level; and some analysts believe that
the Catholic Church is missing an opportunity to play a major role in
combating Islamic fundamentalist terror by engagingIslam more closely,
particularly in Europe. Observers think it would be surprising if Pope
Benedict stepped in where his predecessor did not. He has given every
indication of seeing relations between Islam and Catholicism as one of
competition over the truth.
As a cardinal, the pope was known to have been unenthusiastic about Pope
John Paul's dialogue with Islam because it assumed that the two faiths
-- Catholicism and Islam -- were on an equal footing. Rome, on the
contrary, regards the Catholic faith as the one, true faith. It is one
thing to seek closer ties with other Christian churches, but quite
another to treat Islam as an equal. The danger -- the pope felt before
and probably still does now -- was that dialogue could give the false
impression that Catholics could "shop around" for a religion of their
So the need to create understanding with Islamic communities in the hope
of making the ground less fertile for militants is currently left to the
initiative of local hierarchies. But does it work? Ironically, one
strong advocate of inter-faith dialogue with the Muslim community is
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. He says such contacts are "an urgent need."
For the cardinal, "Christianity and Islam have a shared responsibility
in defending world peace."