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n September 12, 2006 German-born Pope Benedict XVI gave an address at Regensburg University in Bonn entitled "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections." In 1959 Benedict—then Father Joseph Ratzinger—arrived at Regensburg as an instructor. In his 2006 speech, Benedict said that in the face of radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason and to do so in the context of the tradition of Christian faith. He added, "I was reminded of this recently when I read...a dialogue [that took place] probably in 1391 [AD] in the winter barracks near Ankara [Turkey] by the erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam—and the truth of both.

"In the seventh conversation," Pope Benedict continued, "the emperor touches on the theme of the 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 Muhammad 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 the spreading of faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God,' Emperor Manuel said, '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 or threats.'"

Within two days, Pope Benedict's reiteration of a 615-year old discussion between a Christian emperor and an educated Persian shiekh exploded into an anti-Western, anti-Christian Islamic tirade that threatened to spark the type of violence that ignited the European rioting in January, 2006 over 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten after the illustrator hired by Kare Bluitgen, the author of the children's book, "The Koran and the Life of the Prophet Muhammad" agreed to produce 10 illustrations for the book only if he was provided anonymity (out of fear of retaliation by Islamic extremists). The Danish newspaper challenged the book publisher's right to self-censorship out of fear of extremists. To show that freedom of the press could not kowtow to fear, Jylland-Posten printed a dozen drawings purported to be Muhammad. One of them depicted what was supposedly the Prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.

Before the protest petered out, angry Muslim mobs in Damascus, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon stormed the Norwegian embassies and set them ablaze. Muslim extremists throughout Europe rioted in the streets, torching hundreds of vehicles. Before the fires subsided, eight people died—over a cartoon caricature. This time around, two people have already died. On Sept. 17, 2006 two Muslim extremists in Mogadishu, Somalia shot a 65-year old Catholic nun, Sister Leonella [Rosa] Sgorbati, four times in the back as she was entering the Austrian-run women's and children's hospital where she worked. The killing was to protest the Pope's address at the university in Bonn. Killed as well was her Somalian bodyguard. One of the two killers has been apprehended and is in custody. Somalian authorities assured the Italian government that the search continues for the other shooter.

Memories of the cartoon jihad were still fresh enough in the minds of the Europeans—particularly those in Bonn, Germany—fresh enough that they could envision the streets of Bonn—and Regensburg University—in flames. Out of fear of a Papal Jihad, European leaders began to pressure the Vatican to extend an apology to the Muslim world. A series of apologies—and rejections of those apologies as not enough—occurred over the weekend.

After the shooting of Sister Leonella, Benedict addressed the issue from his summer estate in Castelgandolfo. In his newest apology, the pontiff said he was: "...deeply sorry for the reaction in some countries to a few passages of my address...which were considered offensive to the sensibilities of Muslims. These, in fact, were a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way reflect my personal thoughts...I hope this will serve to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was, and is, an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect." And, of course the pundits—both Muslim clerics and media people—weighed in to determine whether or not the pope's "apology" reached a level sufficient to satisfy the injured Muslims.

Turkey's top Islamic cleric, Ali Bardakoglu, who heads that nation's powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, issued a stern statement deploring Benedict's remarks, stating that he was deeply offended by the Pope's words about an Islamic Holy War. He termed the pope's speech as "extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate," as he demanded that the pontiff apologize to the Muslim nations of the world. Bardakoglu insisted that Pope Benedict apologize because, he said, "...the [medieval] Church and [western society]—because they saw Islam as the enemy—went on Crusades. They occupied Istanbul, they killed thousands of people. Orthodox Christians and Jews were killed and tortured."

George Weigel, an author who has written extensively on the papacy, said he felt the pope had expressed a sufficient level of regret over the way his words were twisted and manipulated, adding that it was good that the pope did not back down. "The over-the-top reaction in the Muslim world," he noted, "simply underscores the truth of what he said at Regensburg, which is that unless Islam develops the capacity to be self-critical—unless the Islamic leaders take responsibility for saying to their extremists that violence in the name of God is wrong—then there can be no genuine inter-religious dialogue. There has not been the slightest backing off of that. And, there can't be because it's true."

Bardakoglu's statement suggested that the Christians and Jews were killed by the Crusaders. The Byzantines, who were Macedonians, occupied Turkey from as early as 527 AD—some 43 years before the birth of Muhammad. The first emperor of the Byzantines was Justin. His son, Justinian—and his general, Belisarius—led the first attack against Persia. Belisarius was defeated by the Syrians at Callinicum in 532 AD. A year later he conquered North Africa. Justinian conquered Rome four years later. The Byzantines massacred Christians, Jews and Muslims alike—just as the Persians did between 611-622 AD, when they invaded Antioch, Damascus and Jerusalem, and then Chalcedon and Egypt. Like the Byzantines, the Persians and the Syrians also indiscriminately killed the occupants of those land without regard of ethnicentricity. Until the birth of Islam, religion wasn't that important—unless, of course, you were a Jew.

The Muslim world began to expand, first consuming Syria and Mesopotamia, then fanning out through Eurasia and Northern Africa. The Muslims conquered Spain in 715 AD, laid seige to Constantiople in 716 AD, crossed the Pyrennes and invaded France in 732 AD. While expansion was slow and difficult, the Muslim Empire under the Caliphates continued to expand northward into Europe. In 827 AD, the Muslims conquered Sicily and began raiding settlements in southern Italy. When the Muslims threatened Rome in 961 AD, Pope John XII brought the armies of Otto the Great to Rome. In 1095 AD at the Synod of Clermont, Pope Urban II (head of the Latin Church) received a plea from Byzantine Emperor (the Greek Church) for help against the Muslim Turks. This led to the first Crusade in 1099 AD. The purpose of the Crusades was to stop the spread of Islam by the sword. Between 1099 and 1456, the Latin and Greek Churches orchestrated nine Crusades against the Muslim world. Thousands of Christians, Muslims and Jews died at the hands of both Christian and Muslim warriors. The Muslims believe Allah commanded them to spread Islam—by the sword if necessary—to all of the world. Those who refuse to convert to Islam during those battles were killed. Once the wars were settled, non-Islamics were allowed to settle in the Muslims lands, but they were always treated like second-rate citizens with fewer privileges than Muslims.

Pope Benedict issued his first "apology" in answer to the demand by Bardakoglu and other prominent Muslims around the world. But Benedict's apology wasn't satisfactory because the pope did not admit wrongdoing, nor did he take the blame for a statement made by a long dead emperor. The pope merely stated he regretted that his reiteration of the dialogue between Emperor Manuel II and the Persian shiekh offended the Muslim world. He refused to say he was wrong or that the views he expressed were inappropriate. His apology merely increased the outrage in the Muslim world, and led to the killing of Sister Leonella Sgorbati—once again, proving Benedict's point concerning the extremes of Islam.

Following a demand by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh for the pope to apologize, Palestinian Muslims fire-bombed five West Bank and Gaza Christian Churches on Sept. 16. Two of the churches that were fire-bombed with Molotov cocktails were Roman Catholic. Two were Greek Orthodox. The fifth, in Nablus, was Anglican. Four of the churches were in the West Bank and the fifth, one of the Greek Orthodox churches, was in Gaza.

Salih Kapusuz, deputy to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the pope's remarks were either "...the result of pitiful ignorance" about Islam and its Prophet or, worse, a deliberate distortion. "He has a dark mentality," Kapusuz said, "that comes from the Middle Ages. [His remarks look] like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Pope Benedict made a big mistake, and "...contradicted his own leadership of a divine religion." When the Vatican offered an apology to the world's Muslim population on behalf of the pope, Lebanon's senior Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, told worshippers in Beirut that the Muslim world "...[does not] accept the apology through Vatican channels." Fadallah added that the Muslim community asks "...[Pope Benedict] to offer a personal apology—not through his officials." Over the weekend, when the Vatican once again proffered an apology from the pope, Mohammed Bishr, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, reiterated that "...[w]e will not accept others to apologize on his behalf."

England's Muslim community—which now has a respectful fear of the British government—quickly accepted the pontiff's apology and argued for calm. "We praise [the pope's] apology," said Muhammad Umar, chairman of England's Ramadhan Foundation, "and we hope we can work together to build bridges. At the same time, we would condemn all forms of violent demonstration." But Muhammad Abdul Bari, general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, insisted that the pope repudiate the views he quoted in order to restore relations with the Muslim community.

Malyasian Prime Minister Abdullah Admad Badawi—the same man who President George W. Bush commended for his democratic principles on Monday—condemned the pope last Friday, demanding that Benedict retract his remarks and not "...take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created." Forcing the pontiff to recant or retract his words is tantamount to a denial of the truth of the words. The Muslims know that. So does the Vatican. Bush commented that Pope Benedict made some apologies for his remarks. Bush said the pope was sincere, suggesting by his comment that the Muslim world should drop the issue. But, why would they? It is a rallying cry for Jihad around the world when al Qaeda desperately needed recruits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the flack started, the first statement was issued by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi who said that "...[i]t is clear that the Holy Father's intention is to cultivate a position of respect and dialogue towards other religions and cultures, and that clearly includes Islam." The pontiff, who uttered a statement of fact to support the view that Islam converts by the sword and not by faith, was upset by the manner in which his remarks were interpreted by the Muslim world as 150 demonstrators in Basra, Iraq burned an effigy of Pope Benedict. Another hundred-or-so demonstrators protested outside the Vatican embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, 150 more demonstrated at an Islamic shrine in Damascus and Egypt expelled the Vatican envoy.

In their rage, the al Qaeda-backed Mujahideen Shura Council—hoping to entice new terrorists to join the jihad—is actually reenforcing what Pope Benedict said. "We tell the worshippers of the cross that you and the West will be defeated as in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya." They have resolutely made the pope's case. "You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks and raise the fluttering banner of monotheism, when God's rule is established governing all people and nations." By vowing to fight Christianity and threatening to spill Christian blood until Islam conquers the world, al Qaeda has confirmed that Islam converts with the sword. In a prepared statement that was published on the Internet, the al Qaeda mujahedeen consultive council in Iraq said it "...will engage in Jihad until the west is won over...We say to [Pope Benedict] the servant of the cross: wait for defeat...We say to the infidels and tyrants: wait for what will afflict you. We continue our [holy war]. We will not stop until the banner of [Islam] flies throughout the world. We will smash the cross...You will have no choice but Islam or death." Two other terrorist groups: Jaish al-Mujahedeen (the Mujahedeen's Army) and Asaeb al-Iraq al-Jihadiya (League of Jihadists in Iraq) also published responses that made it clear the extremists would carry jihad to the world as Islamic extremists began demanding and Islamic army march on Rome and execute Pope Benedict.

Around the world police agencies greatly increased security around both Protestant and Catholic churches. In London, police launched an investigation into remarks made by Anjem Choudhary, deputy to Kamran Bokhari, the spokesman for the British Muslim extremist group, Al Muhajiroun. Bokhari was invited by the Muslim Student Association at Southwest Missouri State University to address the student body. The university picked up tab for Bokhari—who declared that Osama Bin Laden was a 'scapegoat' for the United States. He also referred to the American Founding Fathers as 'terrorists.' in order to give Muslim terrorists credibility in the eyes of Americans who can't tell the difference between a citizen army fighting the army of a another nation and terrorists waging war on unarmed women and children. Choudary who held a demonstration of Muslim outside Westminster Cathedral on Sunday in which he inflamed the crowd as he demanded the execution of Pope Benedict. The 39-year old English citizen is a lawyer who organized a trouble-sparked protest in February over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. The placards carried during that demonstration said: "Behead Those Who Insult Islam." "Non-Muslims," Choudhary told the London Daily Mail, "must...understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam—and the Prophet. Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment."

The extremist group Ansar al-Sunna in Iraq issued a statement on Monday decrying the pathetic advocacy of the Muslim world by challenging "sleeping Muslims" to prove their manhood by doing something more than just making statements or holding demonstrations. "If the stupid pig is prancing with his blasphemies in his house, then let him wait for the day coming soon when the armies of the religion of right knocks on the walls of Rome." Although it has been hard for the radicals to whip up the fervor they were able to generate during the Danish Muhammad cartoon flap, the extremists were nevertheless successful in convincing the Muslim world—and the European media—that Pope Benedict's comments prove that the West is waging a war against Islam. In speaking before the UN, Bush told the assembled dignitaries that the United States is not waging war against Islam. The US is, the president reiterated, waging a war against terrorists who have waged war against America. Of course, as the Muslim world knows, it's the same thing. America just hasn't figured that one out yet because they prefer to believe that Islam is not a religion of hate, and Islam is not bent on world domination, using, as Pope Benedict pointed out, the sword instead of faith as its primary instrument of conversion.

Yet, the Pope was not implying in his remarks that Islam is wholly violent or that the subjugation of the world's population is their core objective—although, by the statements of the Wahabbi extremists, we know it is the core objective of radical Islam. However, while the Christian Old Testament instructed the Hebrews leaving Egypt to conquer the lands that God bequeathed them and, in Joshua, I and II Chronicles, I and II Kings and Esther, to kill those who would otherwise harm or defile the Jews, there are no universal instructions in the Christian Bible or the Torah such as those found in the Qur'an that mandate the conversion of the unbelievers by the sword—or the subjugation of the conquered peoples as an inferior class of people.

The Wahabbists within the Muslim world will use any offense—regardless how slight—as an excuse to declare Jihad against the nonbeliever. There appears to be a perpetual chip on the Islamic shoulder that leads to bloodshed whenever it is is dislodged—such as being struck by a light breeze on a balmy afternoon. That may be what led Egyptian Coptic Pope Shenouda III to say: "Any remark which offends Islam and Muslims are against the teachings of Christ." That statement, of course, is not true, since Christ repeatedly told His followers that He was the Way, the Truth and the Light; and that no one would go to the Father except through Him. And, quite frankly, to a Muslim—them's fightin' words.



Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
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