Below is another post, from my discontinued blog of a few years ago, which can still provide food for thought today. The article, dated 19 September 2006, was prompted by and referring to a then recent event, that of Pope Benedict XVI quoting from the erudite 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and the violent reactions from Muslims it elicited. Since it's not in the article, this is what the Holy Father said in the lecture he gave at the University of Regensburg in Germany:
In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that [the Quran] surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war.After the South American Pope Francis' election, Benedict XVI sounds refreshingly well acquainted with Islam and its development from weak - and therefore forced to be "peaceful" - to strong and aggressive.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, 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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature.
To state that Muslims, by reacting with anger, attempts at intimidation and with both threats and acts of violence to the claim that Islam is violent (regardless of the question whether this was what the Holy Father simply quoted), are saying with their own actions what has been claimed just with words is even too obvious.
What I think is showing here is a semantic gulf between the West and Islam.
I cannot believe that all Muslims are so stupid (it’s possible, but statistically improbable) not to realize that for someone to say: “I’m not violent, and I’ll kill you if you say that” is a situation worth of a comedy sketch.
What I think is that when we Westerners say “violence” or “violent” we mean something entirely different from what Muslims intend by the same words.
The Western definition of those words, for reasons of culture, history and mentality, is not the Muslim definition of them. They have a negative connotation in both worlds, but they are applied to different behaviours and actions.
For example, for us in the West the act of killing someone who has offended Mohammed, Islam, the Koran or anything sacred to Muslims is an act of unqualified violence. For Muslims, it simply is not: it is indeed an act even laudable and in some circumstances legal and required (e.g. the fatwa proclaiming the death sentence for Salman Rushdie).
I personally am convinced that the Pope believes in the words he quoted from the erudite 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus. He did not retract them. The reason for his expressing regret at the way they had been taken was mainly, in my opinion, to protect the unfortunate people who are already persecuted on a routine basis and prevent them from being persecuted even more: I refer, of course, to the Christians living in Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East, where the burning of churches is a normal occurrence, only made worse by the jihad against the Holy Father.
And, to mix the sacred with the profane, does anybody remember what the Muslim Zidane did when he headbutted the Italian Materazzi in the football World Cup final last July? He blamed Materazzi for having provoked him, stubbornly refused to apologize to him and, in the politically correct environment of the FIFA and the liberal media, he almost got away with that lame excuse. It looks like blaming others for one’s own violence and irrational behaviour is definitely a Muslim thing.
Photo by permiegardener (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0).