Why He Did It

Pope Benedict’s comments united the Muslim world against him. But the bigger story is the effect those comments are having among Catholics.

We have all seen the images of rage-ridden Muslims rioting in the streets, torching churches and demanding and re-demanding an apology from the pope. This anger is unifying the Muslim world. Largely underreported, however, was the number of Catholics and Europeans who rushed to Benedict’s defense after his speech in Regensburg.

In many ways, the effects of the pope’s remarks upon Catholic Europe are as important, if not more so, than those in the Muslim world.

Pope Benedict xvi’s remarks were carefully considered and calculated. But why? Analyst George Friedman pointed out that “the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe” (Stratfor, September 19).

“There is an intensifying tension in Europe over the powerful wave of Muslim immigration. Frictions are high on both sides. Europeans fear that the Muslim immigrants will overwhelm their native culture or form an unassimilated and destabilizing mass. Muslims feel unwelcome, and some extreme groups have threatened to work for the conversion of Europe. … [W]ith his remarks, [the pope] moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe’s Muslim community—without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church” (ibid., emphasis mine throughout).

Benedict’s remarks were largely designed to put some fire under Europeans and Catholics and rally the Continent around the Vatican.

This is precisely what is happening. Islamic rage is igniting a deeper respect and loyalty among Europeans and Catholics for the Vatican.

On September 18, EUobserver.com reported on the European Commission’s reaction to the pope’s comments and the Muslim uproar. “The European Commission has said it was wrong to pick out quotes from the pope’s controversial speech in which a link between Islam and violence was suggested and deliberately taking them out of context.”

A statement from Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger was pointed and unapologetic: “… I can also say that reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable, and let me conclude with this: Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the EU’s order as is the freedom and respect of all religions and beliefs …” (ibid.).

In Germany, where the pope made his remarks, the daily Die Welt said that “anger in the Islamic world about the quote used by Pope Benedict xvi is groundless because it merely expressed a ‘historically documented fact’” (bbc News, September 18). The paper condemned Muslims for exploiting the opportunity to start a clash of cultures.

Edmund Stoiber, a prominent German politician and friend of the pope, insisted that there were “no grounds for criticism” in the pope’s comments. Switzerland’s daily La Tribune de Geneve reported that “Islamists are again showing they are ‘the worst enemies of Islam’”—and, regarding the murder of a nun in Somalia, said, “If fundamentalists were trying to confirm Benedict xvi’s declarations, they could not have done better!” (bbc News, op. cit.).

El Mundo in Spain linked the Muslim backlash to the cartoon crisis episode from earlier this year. “The pope does not have to apologize for expressing an opinion,” it wrote. “He upheld an idea we fully share: tolerance.” The article grew stronger as it progressed. “To bow to Muslim protests and accept that Benedict xvi must apologize is tantamount to questioning freedom of expression and of thought, which—however much Islam dislikes it—is the main conquest of our civilization” (ibid.).

Polish President Jaroslaw Kaczynski defended the pope, condemned Muslims as being a “little too easily offended,” and asked, “Where is the line that a Christian or Catholic cannot cross and say what they think?”

The message out of Europe is clear and definite: Muslim rage, no matter how vehement it might grow, will not stain the reputation of the pope among Catholics, nor will it cow the Continent into a defensive posture.

The fact that Europe is beginning to stand up to Muslim war-mongering is the real story.

This is a deeply significant event in Muslim/Catholic relations. The obvious fault line between Muslims and Catholics has been exposed. Catholics and Europeans see the danger rising against them. This controversy has evolved into a rallying cry for Europeans, as well as the 1 billion Catholics scattered across the globe.

Even as far away as Australia, Catholic leaders stood behind their beloved patriarch. Head of the church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, defended Benedict and went further to say that the Muslim reaction “justified one of Pope Benedict’s main fears” about Islam.

The pope is also receiving support from other Christian religions. In Britain, former head of the Anglican Church Lord Carey not only defended the pope and praised his speech as being “extraordinarily effective and lucid,” but also warned, according to the Times, that the “‘clash of civilizations’ endangering the world was not between Islamist extremists and the West, but with Islam as a whole” (September 20).

As you watch the controversy between Muslims and Catholics unfold, keep a keen eye focused on Europe’s response to the growing tidal wave of Islamic hatred against the West.