The Regensburg speech and the Paris attack
In light of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo many are quoting Benedict XVI’s lecture against violence committed in the name of the faith. But they forget that the speech was a critique of modern reason - which dismisses religion as a subculture - from withinandrea tornielli vatican city
The terrifying attack in Paris, the massacre carried out at the offices of satirical French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, by three Islamic terrorists who had “trained” with jihadist militia, reminded many of the condemnations made by Italian journalist and writer Oriana Fallaci. It also brought to mind the famous speech Benedict XVI gave in Regensburg in September 2006 on a visit to his old university.
That Benedict XVI condemned the use of violence and fanaticism that makes wrongful use of God’s name in this and in other speeches he gave and as his predecessor had done before him, is without question. It is also known that in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia just a few months after the Regensburg speech, Benedict XVI said: “In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church.”
It is also worth remembering, however, that the Regensburg speech was not about the violence of religious fanaticism, rather, it was a criticism of a certain way in which reason was understood in the West. In that famous speech, Ratzinger said: “This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.”
“In the Western world,” he went on to say in his speech, “it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.
As he looked back on the year that was about to pass in his traditional Christmas address to the Roman Curia in December 2006, Benedict XVI added that “in Regensburg the dialogue between the religions was only marginally touched on and in a twofold perspective. Secularized reason is unable to enter into a true dialogue with the religions. It remains closed to the question of God, and this will end by leading to the clash of cultures.”
Today, everyone simply sees it as a call to Islam. Instead, it was also a call to a West that tends to “relegate religion into the realm of subcultures”.
And then actual reporting on Pope Benedict's speech by CNN in 2006:
Pope's Islam comments condemned
POSTED: 9:54 p.m. EDT, September 15, 2006
A growing chorus of Muslim leaders have called on the pope to apologize for the remarks he made in a speech in Germany on Tuesday when he used the terms "jihad" and "holy war."
Friday, Muslim protesters shouted slogans against the pontiff at a rally in Jammu, India. (Watch other Muslims burn the pope in effigy -- 1:41)
A Vatican statement said Benedict was not trying offend Muslims with his remarks.
"It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to ... offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful," said Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press officer.
In response to the pope's speech, Pakistan's National Assembly -- parliament's lower house -- unanimously passed a resolution on Friday condemning his remarks.
The Vatican's ambassador was also summoned to Pakistan's Foreign Office to hear directly the government's displeasure.
"It was underlined that at a time when there was an acute need for promoting inter-faith harmony such remarks, regardless of the context, were very unfortunate," said a statement from Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The ambassador promised to convey Pakistan's sentiments to the pope, the statement said.
In Cairo Friday, about 100 demonstrators gathered in an anti-Vatican protest outside the capital's al-Azhar mosque.
Meanwhile, a youth center run by the Greek Orthodox church in the Gaza Strip was slightly damaged by a small explosion on Friday, witnesses told Reuters.
It was unclear if the blast was connected to the pope's comments.
During his address at the University of Regensburg on Tuesday, Benedict quoted 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus.
"God," the emperor, as the pope quoted, said, "is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." (Full story)
A transcript of the pope's remarks obtained by The Associated Press television network reads: "In the seventh (sura, or chapter of the Quran), the emperor comes to speak about jihad, holy war.
"The emperor certainly knew that Sura 2, 256, reads: 'No force in matters of faith'. It is one of the early suras, from a time -- as experts say -- in which Mohammed himself was still powerless and threatened.
"However, the emperor of course also knew the requirements about the holy war that were later formulated in the Quran. Without going into details like the handling of the owners of the scriptures, or non-believers, he (the emperor) turned to his interlocutors -- in a surprisingly brusque way -- with the central question after the relationship between religion and violence.
"He said, I quote, '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 Organization of the Islamic Conference, in a statement released Thursday, said it "regrets the quotations cited by the pope on the Life of the Honorable Prophet Mohammed, and what he referred to as 'spreading' Islam 'by the sword.'"
"The attribution of the spread of Islam around the world to the shedding of blood and violence, which is 'incompatible with the nature of God' is a complete distortion of the facts, which shows deep ignorance of Islam and Islamic history."
Muslim Brotherhood Chairman Mohammed Mahdi Akef also expressed anger over the pope's academic speech.
"The pope's statements come to add fuel to fire and trigger anger within the Muslim world and show that the West with its politicians and clerics are hostile to Islam."
Condemnation also came from Turkey where Benedict is scheduled to visit in November.
"His words are extremely regrettable, worrying and unfortunate in terms of the Christian world and common peace of humanity," the Anatolian state news agency quoted Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Ankara's Directorate General for Religious Affairs, as saying.
"I do not see any use in somebody visiting the Islamic world who thinks in this way about the holy prophet of Islam."
In Syria, the grand mufti, the country's top Sunni Muslim religious authority, sent a letter to the pope saying he feared the pontiff's comments on Islam would worsen interfaith relations, AP reported.
In Gaza City, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya issued a condemnation, saying Benedict's remarks "are not true and defamed the essence of this holy religion and it defamed the history of the Islam."
"We say to the pope to re-examine these comments and to stop defaming the Islam religion that more than 1 and half billion Muslims believe in," said Haniya, who made the remarks after Friday prayers.
Later, thousands of Palestinians marched in Gaza, demanding an apology.
In Lebanon, the country's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric demanded the pope personally apologize for insulting Islam.
"We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels ... and ask him (Benedict) to offer a personal apology -- not through his officials -- to Muslims for this false reading (of Islam)," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah told worshippers.
But the Vatican statement said Benedict's discussion on Tuesday was quite to the contrary.
"The Holy Father's desire (is) to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue towards other religions and cultures, including, of course, Islam."
According to Lombardi, Benedict's speech was "a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom.'"