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VATICAN FAILS TO DEFUSE MUSLIM ANGER OVER POPE'S REMARKS

by Sabina Zaccaro

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(IPS) ROME -- The Vatican, seat of the Roman Catholic faith, launched a diplomatic drive this week to try to explain the pope's controversial references to Islam.

The furious reaction in many parts of the Muslim world to comments by Pope Benedict XVI last week were the result of "a hurried reading" of the pontiff's speech, the Vatican's new foreign minister Monsignor Dominique Mamberti said in an interview with an Italian radio network. "One of my priorities will be to push ahead with dialogue."

Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone has instructed all papal nuncios in Muslim countries to begin explaining the meaning of the pope's references to the Prophet Mohammed, Islam and violence.


In his controversial lecture at his old University of Regensburg in Germany last Tuesday, the pope quoted 14th century Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire as saying: "Show me just what Mohammed 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 pope added, clearly and in his own words, that "violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

Pope Benedict XVI personally tried on Sunday to placate Muslim anger over the comments. "These words were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought," he said. "I hope that this serves to placate souls 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."

But the Muslim anger has not died out. Boosting the wave of fury over the pope's words was a message posted on an Internet Web site, apparently by the Iraqi cell of al-Qaeda. In response to what it called the "denigration" of Islam and the Jihad by the pope, the cell pledged it would continue the "holy war" until the "defeat" of the West and until the flag of Islam flew over the entire world.

Another group, Ansar al-Sunna, which has claimed several killings and attacks in Iraq, said the day is near when "the armies of Islam will destroy the walls of Rome," explicitly referring to Rome as a target for the first time.

"Pope Ratzinger committed the mistake of talking as a professor addressing his colleagues at the university where he once taught," church historian Alberto Melloni told IPS. But the pope was not seen as a professor among professors but as the head of 1.1 billion Roman Catholics around the world, he said.

The Vatican has now to rebuild on the confidence created by Pope John Paul II, he said. John Paul was the first pontiff to visit a mosque, and apologized for the crimes of the church, including those committed during the Crusades fought with Muslim armies during the Middle Ages.

Many Muslim leaders remain dissatisfied with the clarification offered by the pope. A government spokesman in Tehran said the pope's regrets expressed on Sunday were insufficient. Turkey's leading Islamic cleric Ali Bardakoglu said the pope had only produced an "indirect" apology. The pope had not said he was "sorry for his words" but only that he was sorry that he had been misinterpreted, Bardakoglu said.

On Monday King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent a letter to Benedict XVI saying that he should respect the values of reason and tolerance that are a part of the Islamic faith.

The Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (UCOII), the biggest Islamic group in the country, said it was satisfied with the pope's clarifications. "The clarifications of the secretary of state and the pope's words at the Angelus should be sufficient to close the issue," spokesperson Hamza Piccardo said.

Cardinal Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), renewed the bishops' full solidarity with the pope, and said the bishops would intensify their prayers "for him, for the church, for religious freedom, and for dialogue and friendship among religions and peoples."

Michele Zanzucchi, editor of the Catholic magazine Cittą Nuova, translated and distributed in 25 countries for 2 million readers, says the origin of the trouble is political. "If the political dialogue was more effective, the reactions to religious divergences would be more moderate, even in the Islamic world," he told IPS.

Zanzucchi is author of the book "The Un-Frightening Islam" (L'Islam che non fa paura), a journey within the more tolerant side of the world of Islam. The book includes interviews with religious leaders, opinion makers and Muslim scholars, and shows a face of Islam followed by millions of its believers not looking for a clash of cultures.

"What I have seen throughout the Muslim world is that people carry out their own inter-religious and intercultural dialogue in their everyday life," he said. "I mostly refer to the millions of Christian people living in the Muslim areas of the globe."

Zanzucchi added that Christians know very well that "the issue raised by the pope is a real one, even if maybe not all of them agree with the way he decided to address it."



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Albion Monitor   September 22, 2006   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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