Today's meeting at the Vatican between Mohammad Khatami and Benedict XVI was held under the banner of the "dialogue between civilizations." Iran's former president has for years been working for such dialogue which involves the clear expression of identity, profound respect for the religious element, and a critique of mathematical and materialistic reason. From this point of view, today's encounter is very much in line with the speech that the Pope made at Regensburg University last September.
Pope Benedict XVI's masterly lecture tended in fact to highlight a widening of reason that, by going beyond anti-religion Enlightenment thinking ("irrational"), allows for rich and fraternal dialogue with extra-European and non-Western cultures. At the same time, the Pope showed that violence is "irrational" and is therefore worthy neither of God, nor of man, nor of any religion, Islam included.
The fuss which resulted from the Regensburg speech was fuelled by liberalist Westerners and islamist Easterners and belittled the profoundness of Benedict XVI's proposal so as to make it appear a simple dispute between Islam and Christianity, with the latter "obviously" unable to understand Islam and accusing the Pope of having fomented a "war of religions."
At that time, Khatami was among the few Muslims leaders – the first – to distance himself from the protest rallies and attacks of the Islamic world, asking everyone "to read the Pope's entire speech, before criticizing it." But, because of the tensions created by malevolent interpretations of the Regensburg address, his visit to the Vatican, initially planned for last November, did not take place. Today's meeting heals a wound and sends the message that "dialogue between civilizations" is stronger than the "clash of civilizations."
But it is only a partial healing. Where in fact healing is slow is in the liberalist Western world where, to avoid questioning its blind closure to the problem of Godless reason, it continues to rail against the Catholic Church and the Pope, and justifies the many forms of violence committed in the name of Islam, fomenting a new war of religion with Islam.
In their ideological blindness, a good part of the so-called "progressive" intellectuals says that the causes of terrorism are American imperialism, colonialism, the state of Israel, globalization. But in this way they do not realize that Islamist terrorism strikes well beyond the West: Buddhists in Thailand, Hindus in India, Muslims themselves, both Sunni and Shia. Even violence against Palestinians does not only come with an Israeli stamp, but also derives from a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
Thanks to this blindness in Europe – and in Italy – we are witnessing a veritable alliance between progressivism and violent Islamism. In the name of anti-Americanism and multiculturalism, people are calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, from Afghanistan, and are justifying the violence of males against Islamic women and polygamy. Again yesterday, the Pope was ridiculed in the European Parliament, while great caution was exercised when it was a question of the anti-Mohammad caricatures. And while a benevolent attitude is being preached with regard to a violent Islam, an intransigent and intolerant attitude is spreading against the Catholic Church, "guilty" of displaying crosses and nativity scenes and of expressing its view on life and family in the ("liberal"?) society.
The encounter between Benedict XVI and Khatami shows that dialogue is possible if parties do not hide their identity and work for the good of men and women. To do this, it is necessary that, from East to West, we condemn violence, always and regardless, while guaranteeing religious freedom.