Risk Intel Report

Pope Receives Sympathetic Reactions at Inter-Faith Meeting

Pope Benedict XVI has made several efforts to alleviate the controversy caused by his remarks about Islam during a speech in Germany earlier this month. The citation which stoked controversy referred to a remark made by a 14th-Century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, who said, ?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? (source). The statement sparked a wave of outraged responses from the Muslim world, some apparently leading to the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia and attacks on Christian churches in Palestinian territories. Less violent protests also took place elsewhere and many Muslim leaders and scholars expressed harsh criticisms of the Pope?s speech. The Pope explained that the quote was not meant to offend Islam and that it did not represent his personal feelings about the religion (source). He further affirmed, ?I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.? His first clarifications were welcomed by a number of Muslim groups, who said that the Pope ?had taken an important step towards calming the unrest of the past few days? (source), but condemnation from other Muslim communities continued in Indonesia , Iran and elsewhere with one prominent Qatari Muslim scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, even demanding a day of anger. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt stated that they accepted the Pope?s ?retraction,? however later added that it was not enough of an apology and would not satisfy all Muslims. In a further effort to resolve the controversy, the Pope invited Muslim ambassadors and representatives from around the world to his private residence as a formal act of contrition and as an invitation for dialogue. The meeting took place on Monday, September 25, where he stated that his objective had been to ?explain that religion and violence do not go together, but religion and reason do.? The meeting was a clever repositioning in tone by the Vatican, an invaluable mitigation of the row, as well as an important step towards the shaping of a better dialogue and understanding between the faiths. While his initial provocative quote was badly chosen, his handling of the situation deserves a great deal of credit. The Vatican, with the pope on the frontline, has managed to temper much of the fallout from his remarks by openly confronting the situation and swiftly expressing great respect for the Muslim world, its people, and the faith. This reassurance has won over the majority of Muslim critics and has thus averted what could have developed into a larger crisis. Compared to the recent Mohammad cartoon crisis which began in Denmark and spread globally (see related Intel Report and Country Profile), the Vatican leadership has demonstrated a more positive engagement and dialogue with the global Muslim community, perhaps having learned from the cartoon outrage. The cartoon crisis was badly handled in that it was not promptly countered and, with the help of instigating Muslim clerics, escalated significantly. The right to freedom of speech was Denmark?s justification and defense for the publishing of the cartoon. In retrospect, however, it would seem that had the Danish government responded to the issue right away, articulating Denmark?s stance and respect for all religions of the world, but without abandoning its commitment to their democratic values of freedom of expression, much of the harm done could possibly have been tempered. Such perceived insults to Islam are not only damaging

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