Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI continues his historic visit to Turkey today and, as you might suspect, the reviews are mixed. The Pope has been generally well-received, although with very tight security, which is necessary to protect him from those who have threatened him because he does not recognize the peaceful nature of Islam.

Benedict has avoided the type of language that caused outrage among Muslims in September when he appeared to equate Islam with violence and unreason. Indeed, he has appeared to reach out to Muslims and seek areas of agreement from which relations between the world's Catholics and Muslims can be improved. It's a worthwhile effort, but I don't think it will bear fruit, at least not soon, and perhaps not in my lifetime.

One problem has been noted often enough: there's no one for Benedict to talk to. The Pope is the acknowledged leader of, and speaks for, the world's Roman Catholics, but there is no single interlocutor within Islam who can speak authoritatively for all Muslims. This makes it very difficult to reach wide-ranging agreement on the topics that divide the religions.

A second problem comes from the differing views of history between the two religions. Islamic commentators constantly thunder about the Crusades, castigating anyone from the West as a "Crusader" and viewing almost everything through the lens of the religious wars that ended nearly a thousand years ago. They don't view the Islamic invasions of Europe in the same way, however...evidently since they were intended to spread Islam, which Muslims seem to view as a good and natural thing.

The third problem is an outgrowth of the first two: most Muslim commentators have their heads in the proverbial sand, ignoring the reality of the violence being committed every day in the name of their religion. While Muslims were outraged at the Pope's characterization of Islam as a religion of violence, I'm hard-pressed to remember the last Catholic...or Jewish...or Buddhist suicide bomber, while suicide bombers and Sunni-vs-Shia violence in Iraq and Palestine claim dozens of lives each month. If Muslim leaders continue to ignore this reality, and to cloak the evil done in their name in justifications rooted in the Koran, I see little hope for the lessening of tensions, reduction of suspicion, and acceptance of Muslims in the Christian West.

I'll continue this thread later today or tomorrow morning. Please come back and continue to follow this discussion - it's probably the most important topic of our time. How it plays out will largely shape the world my grandchildren will inherit. If you agree with me - and especially if you don't - leave a comment on this post...just make it reasonable, courteous, and free of threats and hyperbole.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


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