Be careful who you quote

BBC NEWS | Europe | Pope’s speech stirs Muslim anger

The Vatican is trying to backtrack today from a statement made earlier this week by Pope Benedict XVI. In a speech discussing the general role of reason and faith, and the use of violence to advance religious causes, the Pope quoted Manuel II Paleologos, a 14th Byzantine Emperor, in an attempt to make a larger point about using violence and war to spread faith. I won’t print the quote here, as having read it, I find it reprehensible, and you can find it in the link above anyway. Suffice to say, whatever the Pope’s larger point may have been, one of the quotes he chose to make it with equates everything new that Islam has brought to the world with violence and evil … that’s never going to be a way of making friends or influencing people.

Further, its ironic that the Pope didn’t expound on the historic circumstances that the Christian Byzantine Emperor he quoted lived in. He chose to use a quote from the 14th century to show the ‘violence and evil’ inherent in Islamic proselytising, without looking at Christian behaviour at the same time. The 14th century was a time of Inquisition in the Christian World, and a time of Crusade, a time when the very man Benedict quoted would have been involved in using violence to promote his own ‘Christian’ aims. He picked a quote that tried to show the worst about the Islamic world, without once addressing the world the quote was issued from.

There is never a reason to denigrate an entire religion, and that’s what the quote does … It tries to equate Islam with violence and evil. Surely, the Pope could not read those words without seeing the over-all insult to Islam contained in them. The only legitimate context for a quote like this one would as an example of religious bigotry … to use it in any other context shows you agree with its basic premise against Islam.

There are plenty of less controversial ways to discuss the roles of reason and faith, plenty of quotes that wouldn’t insult a brother religion, that the Pope could have picked. He could have chosen to use a speech like this to reach out to other communities, as I believe his predecessor, John Paul II did … instead, Pope Benedict XVI chose to use a bigoted quote from a Crusade-era Emperor to isolate and point fingers at others. I can’t believe a quote this volatile got into his speech by accident, and so I find the Vatican protestations after the fact a bit disingenuous.

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