Negative reactions in the Arab and Muslim world to the remarks made by Benedict XVI at Regensburg University are exaggerated and misplaced. Protest marches are being organised everywhere in ways that bring to mind what happened in the wake of the publication of the blasphemous Muhammad cartoons. But one thing is clear. No one, and I mean NO ONE, has fully read what the Pope said.
An English translation of the speech, which was in German, was released yesterday, a French version is not yet ready, and no translation has been made in any Eastern language. Therefore, all the attacks so far are based on a few quotes and excerpts liberally taken by Western news agencies on what the Pope said about Islam, which was only ten per cent of his speech. But this ten per cent must be understood against the whole thing.
The Pope’s speech was a prolusion, an inaugural speech, delivered to an assembly of faculty and students at the beginning of the new academic year. By definition, it was an academic exercise, interdisciplinary, and the eyes and ears of scholars and would-be scholars. Moreover, the full text of the speech released by the Vatican Press Office does not have any notes, which will be supplied at a later date.
It is necessary to keep in mind that what the Pope did was prepare and deliver a speech as an academic, a philosopher, a top theologian whose arguments and fine points may not be easily grasped.
The media—which should indulge in some self-criticism of its own—picked out those remarks from the speech that it could immediately use and superimposed them on the current international political context, on the ongoing confrontation between the West and the Muslim world, taking a step back into what Samuel Huntington called a ‘Clash of civilisations’. In reality, in his speech the Pope outlined a path that runs contrary to this view. The goal he has in mind is actually to engage others in a dialogue and of the most beautiful kind.
Initial reactions in the Muslim world showed that the Pope’s was misunderstood. Some reports actually said that at Regensburg University the Pope had delivered a lecture on ‘technology’ rather than ‘theology’ (evidently something got lost in the English translation). Even though newspapers eventually printed corrections, it was the following day. All in all, it goes to show how no one really understood what he said.
Comments made by Western Muslims were superficial and fed the circus-like criticism. In a phone-in programme on al-Jazeera yesterday, many viewers called in to criticise the Pope but no one knew about what. These were just emotional outbursts in response to hearsay concerning the Pope talking about jihad and criticising Islam, when in fact all that is false. Let me say why.
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