Some people in the media characterized the Pope as politically naïve, or worse, a divisive incompetent. Is he? Now that we have some distance between Muslim outrage and Benedict’s recent conciliatory moves, it’s probably a good time to look at the blowup a little more closely.
My own views are that Pope Benedict made a bold and calculated move to speak the truth to further the need for dialogue among Christians and Muslims, to awaken western nations from their stupor, and on that score he succeeded. Of course it remains to be seen how it will advance peace and goodwill.
The angry display by some Muslim protestors, the call for the Pope to be killed, the outbreaks of violence (a nun was gunned down – isolated act it was said - and some churches torched), etc proved exactly what the Pontiff was talking about: violence is irrational and should never be condoned by Islam or Christianity. Where there is violence, the onus to denounce it in the strongest possible language must come from authorities within the group perpetuating it – deliberately or unthinkingly – Christian or Muslim. Otherwise they prove once again that denial is not just a river in Egypt.
The Pope met envoys from 22 countries at his summer residence and a speech quoting his predecessor Pope John Paul II who spoke to young people at Casablanca in Morocco, "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom. They favour peace and agreement between peoples" (Pope Benedict's full message here)
George Friedman in his article Faith, Reason and Politics: Parsing the Pope's Remarks also suggests that the Pope's speech took the bull by its horn with 'superb misdirection':
“In fact, there is a logic here: If the Muslims reject Benedict's statement, they have to acknowledge the rationalist aspects of Islam. The burden is on the Ummah to lift the religion out of the hands of radicals and extremist scholars by demonstrating that Muslims can adhere to reason.So what next? In a New York Times report conservative Catholic and former Italian culture minister had this to say of the Pontiff: "I think this is just the beginning. I am sure Benedict XVI has many surprises in store for us. He is not afraid."
From an intellectual and political standpoint, therefore, Benedict's statement was an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open: He now can move away from the statement and let nature take its course, repudiate it and challenge Muslim leaders to do the same with regard to anti-Catholic statements or extend and expand the criticism of Islam that was implicit in the dialogue.” (Full article here)