EDITORIAL: Ironies Linger After Remarks From Pope
Being pope, apparently, means never having to say you're sorry.
Oh, Pope Benedict XVI used the word "sorry," even the words "deeply sorry," as he went through the motions of issuing an apology of sorts for a previous statement that had inflamed the Muslim world -- which doesn't need any more inflaming right now.
But the retraction fell short of the mark and has been widely rejected. All the pope really said, if you read the text, was that he regretted "the reaction" that still rages across parts of the Muslim world to his earlier speech, in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
In other words, the pontiff seemed to be saying that he lamented what other people had done -- reacting with outrage to his ill-chosen remarks -- rather than what he himself had done, which was to make them in the first place.
Left unspoken by most observers, of course, is the fact that Muslim leaders around the world regularly say much more insulting things about Christianity -- and especially Judaism -- with impunity. There does seem to be a colossal double standard here. It's also hard to overlook the irony in the fact that some on the extremist Islamic fringe were so outraged at the charge that theirs is a violent religion that they responded by rioting, firebombing Christian churches in several cities and murdering a Catholic nun in Somalia.
All this is too reminiscent of last year's controversy over some Danish cartoons, which would have been merely silly if it hadn't been so deadly. Eventually, one hopes, Islam will grow up, enter the 21st century and come to understand that people in a pluralistic, global society have to develop a thicker skin and a greater tolerance for some semblance of free speech.
Even given all that, though, Benedict blundered by making an insensitive statement that could so easily be interpreted as an attack on a world religion by the supreme leader of another world religion. And he couldn't have chosen a worse time to do so, playing into the hands of those who would portray the reaction of the Western democracies to the terrorist threat as a new Crusade -- an assault of Christianity on Islam.
At the very least, the Vatican needs a better PR department to vet future papal addresses.
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