Benedict on Islam

Pope Benedict XVI has issued a series of apologies for the ill-conceived remarks made in an academic lecture in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” At least in one sense, then, the pope appears to agree with those who charged him with misrepresenting the teachings of Islam and offending its adherents.

It is hard to make sense of this incident, especially given Benedict’s reputation for intellectual clarity and forthrightness. “I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason, go together,” Benedict said in trying to calm the uproar. Some Catholic commentators, eager to align this pontificate with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the tendentious contention that the world is now embroiled in a apocalyptic “clash of civilizations,” rushed to the pope’s defense. According to these pundits, Benedict was right and brave—“hard-headed” and “serious”—in criticizing Islam’s encouragement of religious violence. To be sure, Benedict has rightly condemned Islamic radicalism in the past and challenged the suppression of religious freedom for Christians in Islamic countries.

That many Islamic radicals turn to the Qur’an to justify violence cannot be disputed. The burning of Christian churches and death threats against the pope following the lecture only confirm that ugly fact. Islamic leaders must unequivocally reject such...

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