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The Muse

September 19, 2006

Holy Pope!

You have undoubtedly heard of the recent furious reaction and threats against His Eminence Pope Benedict XVI. I wanted to take a snapshot of what is happening today and hence this post.

Some Turks have suggested that the Pope be arrested. Others want the Pope to convert to Islam. The Vatican has been scrambling like a deer caught in the headlights, and it is sending its envoys to Muslim states to explain the Pope's remarks. Of course, al-Qaeda has said it will take over and destroy Rome, while Iraqi's burnt effigies of His Highness. To make matters worse, it seems that we are nearing the anniversary of the infamous Danish cartoons that were published to a furious Islamic reaction.

While the Pope has apologized (somewhat), people are saying its still not sufficient. Perhaps the worst thing among all these is that the Pope has been lectured on the differences between Islam and radical Islamism by, of all people, Jacques Chirac.

I was trying to find out what exactly he said, and here is an extract of the speech he gave at the University of Regensburg on Tuesday, 12 September 2006. You are free to reach your own conclusions on whether or not his remarks have been taken out of context :

...In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry...

In case you are wondering, India also had protests. In apna Srinagar, well, all business establishments, government offices, school and colleges remained closed...public transport too remained off the roads.

Please note that I am not being funny here, and no offense is intended. As with all sensitive issues and religion, this has already taken an ugly turn as there are reports that a Somalian nun has been shot down, and the intensity of violence is truly sad and frightening. On a brighter side, Iran seems to be taking the lead in quelling the outcry, and the anger seems to be cooling down.

My only thought on this is simple: If I am secure in my faith, why the hell should I care about what anyone else is saying as long as there is no direct insult or injury to my religion? It is obvious that the Pope was trying to be an academic, and using obscure quotes that historians love. Why bother then? No matter which religion you are from, I am sure that everyone would have been blessed by their God if the protestors had used all this energy and time to help a few poor kids, or provide a few meals to the hungry. To each his own...

Update: On a related note, Idomeneo - a Mozart opera - has been cancelled due to security risks in Berlin, as the show reportedly depicts the severed head of Prophet Mohammed. There has been a lot of discussion on this cancellation and the line between disrespect and free speech. Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has already said that she thinks the cancellation is a mistake. Is the opera coming back? Let's wait and see.

You should note that this opera also shows severed heads of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha [don't ask me, my only experience with operas involves catching a glimpse on PBS while switching channels]


  • Hey Ram...I had not heard piece of outrageous news, cant even call it news as its way too outrageous!! Such a lot of commotion is definitely unwarranted..Regards your stance of being secular n if u believe in your faith why should u bother unless direct ijury is caused etc etc...Wish we all were capable of thinking in the same fashion in all scenarios, or better still wish no one had to speak such stuff n we r all always politically correct or polite!

    By Blogger SCRIBBLEZ TO WAKEUP, at 6:11 PM  

  • "to each his own"....Exacly.it's so tiresome to just get into a fight and argue.Worse still,have holy wars and public admonish through protests and violence which just totals to disruption.
    I think everyone should look at both the sides...one side in which there is only chaos and the other side where you can calmly sit by a sea shore and smile in peace.
    Someone used to tell me,hear from one ear and let it out through the other.sometimes...it's not so easy but sometimes it's as easy as pie. :)

    By Blogger Maya Cassis, at 3:13 PM  

  • Wonder when ppl will get more mature & think beyond religion.

    By Blogger Has to be me, at 6:59 AM  

  • Oh, then I'm glad I bought it to your attention Scribblez. I guess you had too much going on with regard to your moving etc, and this probably slipped you by. This is very extreme reaction, but I think the Pope quoted it in the hopes of having some kind of conversation - he just underestimated the viciousness of the reaction...

    Well said Maya, everyone should sit on the sea shore and try to be thankful for the very fact that we are here, instead trying to disrupt life as we know it.

    By Blogger Ram, at 1:29 PM  

  • Yes hastobeme, hearing all this is frustrating and it is sad. We can only hope and pray to all the Gods for maturity, perspective and wish that people realize the errors of their ways.

    By Blogger Ram, at 1:31 PM  

  • Ram, the pope`s comments are in a way misinterpreted, I must say. His only intention was to spread the message that humanity must stop supporting terrorism in the name of religion. It is unnecessarily being blown up..!
    Nice post and thanks for those wonderful links..

    And BTW, Ram, I have just tagged you now for the first time :) hope you get to do it, of course if you haven`t already done it.

    With Best Regards,
    Srijith Unni.

    By Blogger Srijith Unni, at 10:47 PM  

  • Good thought dude. It takes a great deal for such rational thoughts to precipitate to lower strata of the society. And thats where the problem lies.

    By Blogger Moul!, at 7:00 AM  

  • Very insightful blog. You have covered some of the core issues..will come back for sure!

    By Blogger Pallavi, at 9:10 PM  

  • Hi Srijith - I agree that is has been blown well out of proportion, and the sad thing is that this seems to be the norm nowadays. I heard that a Mozart opera has now been stopped as it was thought that it might offend Muslims - another debate on free speech [link updated on this post]. Let's watch and see...

    No problems re: the tag, looks interesting and will get to it asap.

    Hi Moul! - welcome here, and thanks for stopping by. I agree that the lower strata accounts for much of the problems - poverty and illiteracy might be forcing them to get easily influenced by extremist elements with selfish agendas. I guess we need a carrot and stick approach.

    By Blogger Ram, at 5:14 PM  

  • Hi Pallavi - thank you and welcome here!

    By Blogger Ram, at 5:15 PM  

  • Your only thought...so true...
    but then if everyone could only think for themselves, none of this would happen, we wouldnt be playing into the hands of seperatists,...the world would have been much better, closer to ideal.

    I am glad i stopped by your blog today. Keep the idealism!

    By Blogger Tarini, at 7:29 AM  

  • Hi Tarini - welcome here, and thank you for your kind words. I'm afraid I'm one of those guys who still thinks that idealism and rational thought are still alive somewhere in this world. I don't know whether I should be :( or :) at that...lol.

    By Blogger Ram, at 4:20 PM  

  • definitely :)

    everything starts with an ideal.

    cheers :)

    By Blogger Tarini, at 8:29 AM  

  • Long time....no post? Just stopped by to say hello! :)

    By Blogger Has to be me, at 12:30 AM  

  • Thought provoking post! :)
    Long time no c???

    By Blogger Ponnarasi Kothandaraman, at 10:13 AM  

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