Newsweek's Ali on Pope Benedict: Is He Clueless About Muslims or Just a Jerk?

April 17th, 2008 12:42 PM

In an April 16 Newsweek Web Exclusive, Lorraine Ali pretty much posed two options to sum up Pope Benedict's view of Muslims the world over: he's clueless about them or he's purposely insensitive.

Here's how Ali opened her article, "Hope--And Skepticism: American Muslims wait to see if the pope will reach out to them." (emphasis mine):

When John Paul II traveled to Syria in 2000, he became the first pope ever to visit a mosque. He stood in Damascus's Umayyad Masjid, kissed the Qur'an and stated, "For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness." It's no wonder many Muslims look back on John Paul's reign as the golden days of interfaith relations--and as Pope Benedict XVI's first few years as anything but.

Today, more than a few U.S. Muslims wonder if Pope Benedict is simply tone deaf when it comes to interfaith sensitivity, or if he really does have it in for Islam. During a 2006 lecture at a German university, he quoted these lines from a 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Mohammed 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 lecture spurred outcry and protests, and though Benedict said that he was "very upset" that Muslims were offended, he never clearly apologized. A visit to Turkey, where he prayed in a noted Istanbul mosque, seemed to cool things off ... until Easter Day of this year. At Rome's St. Peter's Basilica, the pope himself baptized Italian journalist Magdi Allam--an Egyptian Muslim who'd moved to Europe and become an outspoken critic of Islam. "The act of conversion itself was not offensive, but rather, the high-profile nature of how the conversion was carried out was insulting to Muslims," said Washington's Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in a recent statement. "The fact that the conversion took place at St. Peter's Basilica, one of the most sacred locations for Christians, and on the holiest day of the Christian calendar carried a negative message of competition and superiority. Unfortunately, these recent events are neither constructive, nor conducive to effective interfaith dialogue."

Ali never explored the notion that Islamic moderates might need to reach out to Catholics and other Christians to push for say religious tolerance in the Muslim world towards minority Christians and Jews in those countries. After all, there are no historically Christian countries in Europe that punish conversions to Islam from Catholicism by death, nor is "radical Christianity" -- Rosie O'Donnell's assertions to the contrary -- a clear and present physical danger to Muslims and other non-Christians.

Closing her article, Ali took the recent news that Muslims outnumber Catholics (but not Christians when including Protestant and Orthodox) as placing the onus on Pope Benedict to "dialogue" with Muslims:

Highlighting commonalities may be the key to improved relations, especially at a time when new data--cited by the Vatican, no less--shows that Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world. "We know it's important to have dialogue of civilizations," says M. J. Kahn, a Houston city council member and a Muslim. "We believe the more people talk, the better off we will be. But we as Muslims don't need to have some sort of confirmation from the pope to say we're OK. We know we are, it would just be nice if he noticed, too."