September 18, 2006
The Guardian

We Cannot Afford to Maintain These Ancient Prejudices Against Islam

The Pope's remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic

by Karen Armstrong

In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"

Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad 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 Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".

But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.

Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. . . .


Richard T. Cooper, "General Casts War in Religious Terms," Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2003

Pope Benedict XVI, "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections," The Vatican, September 12, 2006

Tariq Ali, "Papal Insults,", September 16, 2006

Peter Popham, "Muslim world protests at Pope's 'derogatory' Mohamed comments,"Independent, September 16, 2006

"Pope Makes Personal Apology to Muslims," Deutsche Welle, September 17, 2006

John L. Esposito, "Benedict XVI and Islam," ACMCU, September 18, 2006

Yair Ettinger, "Chief rabbi writes to Sunni cleric about pope's remarks," Haaretz, September 18, 2006

[Famously, the then Cardinal Ratzinger once referred to Buddhism as a form of masturbation for the mind . . . The current anger of Muslims is comparable to the anger and disappointment felt by Jews after his visit to Auschwitz in May.--Madeleine Bunting, "'A man with little sympathy for other faiths"," Guardian, September 19, 2006]

"Pope Expresses 'Deep Respect' for Islam," Associated Press, September 20, 2006

[For nearly a century and a half after independence, American Jews who received senior diplomatic postings overseas usually got sent to Muslim capitals, where it was assumed that they would readily find a common language. That custom came to a sudden halt only in 1917, when the Balfour Declaration inaugurated a century of Muslim-Jewish hostility. . . .

The violent convulsions wracking the Muslim world today are no more inherent to Islam than the Crusades or the pogroms were essential to Christianity. As for the current confrontation between Islam and Judaism, it is, in the broad sweep of history, a mere blip, compared to the two-millennium nightmare of Christian persecution.--"The Pope, Islam and History,", September 22, 2006]

[ . . . the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union. . . .

True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.--Uri Avnery, "Muhammad's Sword," Gush Shalom, September 23, 2006]

Kabir Helminski, "Islam and Logos: A Reply to Pope Benedict," Islamica Magazine, September 2006

Abdolali Bazargan, "Letter to the Pope," Islamic Center of Beverley Hills, October 25, 2006

"Vatican-Muslim talks due in Italy," BBC News, March 4, 2008

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