Pope Benedict Pope Benedict XVI picked his words very carefully in Turkey today and spoke of the "great benevolence" of Islam.
His visit to Turkey was marked by massive, violent protests,mainly caused by remarks he made in Germany in a speech at the University of Regensburg on September 12th against jihad and `fanaticism in religion'. In that speech, the Pope cited a text which quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor, Manuel II, during a debate with a learned Persian where the two debate the merits of reason in Christianity and the Muslim concept of holy war:
"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," Benedict quoted the emperor as saying.
"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable," the Pope said.
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," he added. God is not pleased by blood, he said.
That bit of self-evident truth,of course, enraged the Muslim world.
Listen to Pope Benedict today:
"This noble land has seen the blossoming of the Islamic civilization in the most diverse of areas, including literature and art, as well as institutions," Benedict said in an address today to Turkish religious affairs chief Imam Ali Bardakoglu.
"The best way forward is via authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, based on truth and inspired by a sincere wish to know one another better, respecting differences and recognizing what we have in common."
Somehow, this call for dialogue and mutual respect seems to be what the Pope was originally calling for in his Regensburg speech. It didn't get him very far. And I would be very interested to know what the Pope's fellow Christians in places like Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Middle East thought about his remarks today.
Bardakoglu, who fanned the flames of wide spread protests against the Pope and who accused Pope Benedict at the time of behaving 'thoughtlessly,' spoke before the pontiff and voiced his concern about the spread of `Islamophobia' and made an implicit reference to the text the Pope used.
'Islam was spread over the world by swords and Muslims were the potential users of violence,' Bardakoglu said. "Such accusations and claims are not based on any scientific and historical researches and data."
Talk about irony...a heavily scrutinized portion of the four-day trip will occur on Thursday when the Pope visits Haghia St. Sophia, a 1,500-year-old site that was originally a Byzantine Cathedral and one of the largest Christian edifices in the world...until it was forcibly and bloodily converted into a mosque when the Muslims conquered Istanbul - then Constantinople - in 1453.
Of course, here's a clue to the real story. Turkey's Islamist prime minister said at a press conference today that Pope Benedict XVI has changed his initial opposition to Turkey's EU membership and now has told him he wanted Turkey to join the European Union.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan originally said he was `too busy' to meet the Pope, but changed his schedule to greet Benedict when he arrived in the Turkish capital on a flight from Rome, and the two men had a private discussion at the airport.
Now, here's what I wonder...we know what Turkey got out of the bargain. What did the Pope get?