Politics Behind the Vatican's New Stand.contributed to the ihsan blog, by Mohammed Elsalanty.
Spain's former PM criticizes Muslims for demanding pope's apology
"Why do we need to apologize to Muslims?"
Such a statement was not surprising, coming from the former Spanish Prime Minister; after all, it was because of the railway bombings days before the 2004 elections that his government lost after 8 years in office. Radical statements like this are indeed expected from an official who decided to get his country involved in a proxy war to which 80% of his constituency were opposed.
However, his remarks have resonated widely in the Muslim world, not only because of the mounting tension between the West and the Muslim world, for reasons we all know, but because of their striking logic. Mr. Aznar is asking a simple question, why do we (the west) have to always give apologies to Muslims when they don’t apologize for their conquests in the past?
Let me rephrase Mr. Aznar’s question from my own perspective: why are Muslim leaders seeking an apology from the Vatican for an offence against Muslims, something the Vatican has never and will never give?
Although I cannot speak for Muslim leaders, I think I can understand where they’re coming from. The rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and measures in Europe are rapidly and dangerously deepening the rift between Islam and the West. Whether it’s a newsflash from Iraq, a cartoon from Norway, an immigration law in Britain, unprecedented enforcement of a dress code in France, or a statement from the Vatican, it all raises doubts of the already disillusioned Muslims about the rules of the new world order and plays right into the hands of those who helped throw Mr. Aznar out of office.
Muslims are simply worried about their youth, who are violently and continuously being pushed away from the core values of their religion towards the ditch of radicalism. Sounds of reason are swamped in the shed of anti-Islamic rhetoric that seems to be collecting from various corners of the world into a single stream, polarizing both camps and setting them on a fateful collision course. Muslim youth are now more convinced than ever than the “war on terror” has expanded to become a war on Islam itself as a political, economic, cultural, and even spiritual power.
Since Mr. Bush launched his infamous warning “you’re either with us or with terror” and his sharp criticism of “the old Europe” for failing to stand a strait line behind his Middle East remapping campaign, attacking Islam became a frequently used political gesture to highlight the inclination of an official either to join the US “coalition of the willing” or to appease the conservatives in his/her home country, who see Islam as the coming threat. Added to the important “where do I stand on the Israeli issue” statement, a European politician now needs to publicly declare where he/she stands regarding Islam as a way to indirectly appease or criticize the new American world vision.
Mr. J. A. Ratzinger (AKA Pope Benedict XVI) is no exception to that rule. The leader of 1.1 billion Catholics needed to declare where he stood; he needed to do it fast and unequivocally, and indeed he did. Before all, the new pontiff has come to the leadership during what experts have described as the worst time for the Catholic Church since Nero. Litigations mounting to billions of dollars keep coming through American courts for hundreds of pedophilia charges. Evidence is mounting that the cover-up has been a church long-time tradition, and a chain reaction could reach the very top. Issues like the rule of women in the Catholic Church and Catholicism in general, gay marriage, contraception, and many other hot topics have been threatening the moral authority of the largest and strongest religious institution on earth. The new pontiff needed two things: a rallying call to reunite his reluctant flock, like a common enemy of the Church, and to appease the US by joining its project that looks like is here to stay. It was a similar set-up that prompted the Catholic Church to join its old rival, the Byzantine Church, and venture the invasion of the Middle East a thousand years ago.
What Mr. Ratzinger did was to show Mr. Bush that, unlike his predecessor, he can align with him in his future adventures (very likely their will be another adventure before Mr Bush leaves office). Also, Mr. Bush has a problem in Latin America because of defiant (AKA rogue) governments, calling him names and making inconvenient alliances. The head of the Catholic Church can sure help calming them down by turning their majority Catholic constituency (also known to be among the most strictly religious) more in favor of the US project. By this, Mr. Ratzinger would hope to get the US government’s, and more importantly the Protestant right wing’s, support in the Church’s legal and public image problems in the US. What he needed was a public gesture that will appease the US and spark the rallying call, and he found it in a fourteen’s century text.
It seems, however, that Mr. Ratzinger has started the wrong debate. Talking about spreading religion with violence is certainly not Catholicism favorite topic to discuss at this point. I don’t believe the bishop of Rome himself can deny how Catholicism was spread and maintained over the last two millennia. If he searches in the old Church documents, he will find a message dated July 14, 1099 from the crusader army leaders to the bishop of Rome, saying: “If you want to know about the number of dead (Muslims and Jews), I can tell you the blood in the streets of Jerusalem is up to the horses’ knees.” In number, only a few thousands of the 40,000 non-Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem escaped the slaughter that day.
The Catholic Church has institutionalized forced religious conversion through the Inquisition, which lasted hundreds of years, with hundreds of thousands of victims throughout Europe. Such concepts, among others, paved the way for the emergence of Nazism (Hitler was a church-going Roman Catholic) and Fascism (the true Mussolini’s Fascism, not Mr. Bush’s invented Islamic Fascism) in the heartland of Catholicism and often with its blessings and strong support. It was the efforts of Jewish researchers to expose the rule of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust that prompted K J Wojtyła (AKA Pope John Paul II) to issue an official apology to the Jews for all the suffering they went through because of the Catholic Church (I wonder what Mr. Aznar thought about this one).
In conclusion, this wave of anti-Islam is neither sporadic nor temporary. Muslims, both in the West and in their home countries, need to realize themselves as political and economical powers. Our intellectual, economic, and social forces should be organized and utilized. We should raise activists, lobbyist, fund-raisers, campaigners, media-experts, and writers, and form think-tanks, channels to political institutions, and a network of world-wide lobbies around our cause and through civic, not religious, channels. It is the weight of such powers that will make it politically and economically painful to officials anywhere to use anti-Islamic rhetoric for political gain. After all, Mr. Aznar, it’s the office that you wanted, not Mr. Ratzinger’s blessings, or should I say the Pope? Well, he’s your Pope, not mine, and I’m not going to apologize for that.