Technology, old-time hate make deadly combination
It is not unusual for a political leader or his spokesman to be forced to declare something he said inoperative (a delightful Nixon-era coinage). The U.S. president does it all the time. But now a Christian leader, Pope Benedict XVI, has found it necessary to express “sincere regrets” about remarks that offended Muslims.
Speaking Tuesday in Germany, Benedict quoted 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel Paleologos II, who said that some of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings were “evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The pope did not endorse these words, nor did he disavow them.
In reaction, Islamic leaders around the world demanded an apology. Palestinians attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza, and an Iraqi insurgent group threatened the Vatican with a suicide attack. Many people feared violence on the scale that occurred a few months ago in reaction to cartoons of the prophet that Muslims considered blasphemous.
On Saturday, the Vatican issued the pope’s statement of regret for offending Muslim sensitivities without actually taking back what he said. This did not satisfy some critics, so on Sunday the pope said he was “deeply sorry” about the remarks.
Even that wasn’t enough for some Muslims. The slaying of an Italian nun in Somalia on Sunday by two gunmen came just hours after a leading Somali cleric condemned the pope’s remarks.
Modern, civilized people do not commit violence because of hurtful words, but what we have here among some Muslims is a medieval reaction provoked and spread around by 21st century communication. It is doubtful that the emperor’s words stirred as much of a furor seven centuries ago when he spoke them.