09/18/2006, 00.00
Vatican - islam

The Pope and eastern and western terrorism

by Bernardo Cervellera

Rome (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI's speech at Regensburg touched two festering wounds, which are devouring the East and the West.  The frantic reactions of many Muslims and the ill-advised ones of Western political figures and opinion-makers are simply confirming the existence of a problem that we can define physical and intellectual "terrorism."

The violent storm of Muslim reactions was partly caused by the bad information offered by Western media, which attributed to the Pope the words of Manuel II Paleologus according to whom "nothing good has come from Islam."  The explanation given by the Pope yesterday clarifies the misunderstanding: that phrase, Benedict XVI said, does not represent his thinking.  In fact, already in the past, the then Cardinal Ratzinger had expressed the positive debt that Western culture owes to Medieval Islam (philosophy, art, medicine, etc…).

But an important point about the Regensburg University lecture was the refusal of the religious justification of violence, a violence defined also as "irrational":  "violence is unreasonable.  Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," and thus "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature".  This affirmation is a criticism of every war of religion, and for this very reason it is a criticism of Islam too.  Given the scandalized reactions in the Islamic world, many Muslims and Westerners (including Christians) are now trying to "write-off" Benedict XVI as "conservative," in contrast to the "openness" of the late John Paul II.  But everyone is forgetting that the latter – just like Benedict – always condemned any effort to shroud terrorism with religious motivations, and, in Assisi in 2002, asked that all religious leaders (Christians, Muslims, Jews…) withdraw any support from those who claim to kill in the name of God.

The populist reaction of many Muslim crowds, replete with verbal, symbolic and physical violence, shows that all too often Islam defends itself with violence.  And, in accusing the Pope of "Islamophobia", it shows the inability to ask if the problems of the Muslim world come from within itself, from the choking bind between Islam and violence, Islam and politics.  Furthermore, many of us suspect that the series of Muslim protests against the Pope – which closely resembles the cartoon affair – are just another in a long line of decoys used to distract Middle Eastern populations from the problems in which they languish.  Iran is on the verge of being sanctioned and, with a limping economy, is waving the flag of victimism, of an external attack against Islam, to cover up the corruption of the ayatollahs and pervasive unemployment; the so-called "victorious" Hezbollah is having to face a Lebanese public opinion which is asking ever more urgently that it disarm; hanging as always over Syria's head, like the sword of Damocles, is the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination.

There also exists a Western "intellectual terrorism", that is the preconceived closure to Christian religion.  How else to define the criticism against the Pope and the call for apologies on the part of newspapers like the New York Times, El Pais, or The Guardian?

In defending Islam a priori, despite its intolerance, they have shown their "irrationality."  Then there are political figures and media voices that, instead of defending "reason", have preferred to call everyone to order, in an affirmation of tolerance that avoids the question of truth.

The Regensburg lesson highlights that this is "the" problem in the West: a truncated kind of reason that, by distancing itself from God-Reason, writes-off religious problems as "private matters" or shows itself to be "irrational" in defending violence instead of truth.  "The West," the Pope said, "has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby."

Unfortunately, the violent reactions of the Islamic world over past days have acted as a smokescreen to delay any questioning of the West itself.   Could it be that someone is inciting a clash between the Pope and Islam so as to hide the "irrationality" of Western reason?  After all, with the scientistic pretension of manipulating embryos, the affirmation of abortion as a "democratic right", the many victims of the ideologies of the 20th century, the West too is ailing from irrationality and thus from violence against Man.

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