Earlier last week, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech. In this speech, he quoted 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and the entire Muslim world was up in arms the next day. He quoted someone with whom he had never spoken – someone who cannot possibly be a threat to today’s Muslim society – and yet the flag-burning and vicious attacks on the pope started the next day.
Apparently the passage that got most Muslims riled was when he mentioned “to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Is it not true of every religion? Must we all forget, in times like these, that every major (and minor) belief system took up violence to help spread its message? The Jews conquered Israel as they marched from Egypt. The Christians spread their beliefs by sword throughout their history, from the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the missionaries of Spain in the 16th century. And certainly Islam has violent beginnings – sweeping through the Middle East and northern Africa with the help of armies. It was in this way that these three belief systems became the three dominant religions of our time. All religions have a violent past – it is ignorant to try and deny that. Waiting for him to issue a complete apology is not only a completely unfounded demand, but also does nothing to help the situation. Besides, what does Islam consider a complete apology? Is not the pope being “very upset that some parts of his speech could have sounded offensive to the sensibility of the Muslim faithful and were interpreted in a way that does not correspond at all to his intentions” enough? How else does one apologize? Let’s be honest, no matter what the pope said, there will always be people who are not satisfied with the end result. Al Qaeda would have still issued their statement of “doom” whether the pope had said anything or not.
The biggest mistake made by the Muslim world is to make the situation worse by making death threats and counteracting the pope’s words with violence. Killing a nun in Somalia doesn’t help anyone. Muslim groups who wish to kill the pope do not rectify the situation.
We should realize by now that these types of situations have the ability to define a group. It depends solely on the entire Muslim community, not just the militaristic groups of the Middle East to come up with a way to diffuse the situation. It requires different tactics than the ones that have been used. No longer should violence be the answer to outrageous remarks, rather words and diplomacy should be used to handle such differences.
For the sake of inter-religious peace, everyone should learn something from this experience. We should all remember that while we identify ourselves differently, we are all human. All of us will make mistakes that will offend others. It is up to the offended party to react accordingly. For as it is written in the Quran, “When they are angered, they forgive.”
Maystrovsky can be reached at email@example.com.