The Pope should resign
Associate since 1991
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February 10, 2009
LONDON - A range of people from cardinals to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have told the pope, or communicated to the press, their profound unhappiness at what he has done lifting the excommunication of an ultra traditionalist British bishop, Richard Williamson, who has questioned the extent of the Holocaust and denied the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps. The notorious interview on Swedish radio was only broadcast last month but a Google of the bishop reveals that he has long held these views.
In June 2006 during a visit to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz the Pope seemed to pass over the culpability of ordinary Germans in what happened then. Only four months later he made his supposedly major speech in Regensberg in which he seemed to tar the whole of Islam with the the violence of one long forgotten aggressive Muslim leader. Can he be allowed on some unknown subject to make another big alienating mistake? He lives in the 21st century not the 11th century at the time of the last German pope Victor 2. Benedict lives in more sensitive times. We in the West live closer to the ideals of the founder of Christianity than we used to even two generations ago, although we still have a long way to go.
The “Islam” speech was not joined up thinking, at least not in the way Anglo-Saxon scholars are trained to write. One point does not feed logically to the next. It is difficult, reading the whole text, to discern exactly the principal theme of the speech. But judging from the early quote from the 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel 11 Paleologus, on the violent nature of Islam and the pope’s concluding remarks on Islam, it was indeed meant to be aimed at the issue of Muslim/Christian relations.
If he had been more sensitive to the Islamic world he would have quoted as an example of the dangers of violence being done in the name of God the activities of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who having first decreed a radical policy for the mass conversion of Muslims, killed many of them and drove the rest of the 700 year-old community out of Spain in 1492 and then turned on the Jews. Some 80,000 Jews were forced out, a great many perishing of hunger on the way to refuge.
Yes, it was by the sword that Mohammed conquered Mecca and within 20 years of his death his followers had conquered large parts of the Roman Empire and absorbed the Persian. In contrast, Christians submitted themselves to the lions rather than fight and not until the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity some 300 years after Jesus’ death did Christianity take on the role of running a state with its well-embedded military traditions.
But in those first 600 years of the spread and development of Islam one of the most intriguing aspects is Islam’s tolerance for Judaism and Christianity. The Koran requires that Muslims should respect, “The People of the Book”.
Even after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 for the next 700 years the churches remained open. The Jews were given funds to rebuild their synagogues. This was in marked contrast to the way the Crusaders had ruled Jerusalem before when Muslim and Jews were mainly forbidden from living within the city walls.
Likewise, from the fifteenth century on, when the majority of Arabs lived under Ottoman rule, for its five hundred years of life Christians and Jews were recognized and protected. Many of the Jews expelled from Iberia were granted refuge in the Ottoman Empire. German, French and Czech Protestants fleeing Catholic persecution were also given protection.
The Christian West, with its long propensity to go to war against Muslims, has a not only a selective memory it has a deeply ingrained anti-Muslim prejudice, continuing to this day, about the violent tendencies of Muslims.
The same can be said of the attitude that Christian states used to hold towards the Jews. Anti Semitic- often violently so- antagonism was well embedded within Christian societies before Hitler. After World War 2 the West prided itself that it “saved” the Jews from Auschwitz and elsewhere. The fact is it was the war itself that precipitated their rounding up and mass murder.
But why should a Pope who seems not to know clearly and without ambiguity what went on in his own Christian country during his own youth be aware of the import of all this today? Perhaps now is the time to resign before further damage is done.
Copyright © 2009 Jonathan
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