There are hints, here and there, articulated most crassly in that Al-Jazeera cartoon, and more subtly in the Newsweek piece blogged below - what they all have in common is contrasting John Paul and Benedict, which is, of course, a useful excercise, but not so much when it ends up concluding that Benedict's all about the Tenth Crusade.
Those who are even suggesting that Pope Benedict is purposefully "fomenting" destructive confronation with Islam should be ashamed of themselves and do some research. Read what Benedict has written on inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue - start with the 2005 talk to Muslims in Cologne (linked at the top right) and go from there.
I wanted to be called Benedict XVI in order to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who steered the Church through the period of turmoil caused by the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and strove with brave courage first of all to avert the tragedy of the war and then to limit its harmful consequences. Treading in his footsteps, I would like to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between persons and peoples, since I am profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is first and foremost a gift of God, a precious but unfortunately fragile gift to pray for, safeguard and build up, day after day, with the help of all.
I would hope this gets some play - we have such wretchedly short memories we can't even remember that six weeks ago Pope Benedict was being criticized for calling for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Lebanon war.
Benedict XVI came of age in a time of a war that was driven, in part, by a destructive, dehumanizing ideology. He knows. I trust that Benedict knows a lot about this indeed - he knows about the violence and repression. He knows what happens to those who speak out. He knows about that place in history when evil seems to be on the ascendant and good people wonder what to do, how to talk and how to respond.
But here is what is just not understood, at all. Benedict believes that dialogue must be rooted in honesty about what the parties in dialogue really believe, and that this must be clearly articulated and, along with an authentic desire for understanding, the beginning of dialogue.
(And remember, too, that Benedict is no stranger to dialogue. Joseph Ratzinger was famous for his dialogues with intellectuals of other beliefs and persuasions, some of which have been published. As the introductory anecdote of his Regensburg speech indicates - he thrives on it, like any real intellectual does)
Recently, at the close of a compelling, thoroughly documented address (delivered April 2, 2006, at The Legatus Summit, Naples, Florida) entitled, “Islam and Western Democracies,” Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, posed four salient questions for his erstwhile Muslim interlocutors wishing to engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue:
1) Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? (see here, pp. 67-75 )
2) Is the program of military expansion (100 years after Muhammad’s death Muslim armies reached Spain and India ) to be resumed when possible?
3) Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Shari’a (Islamic religious) law? (see here)
Dr. Habib Malik, in an eloquent address delivered February 3, 2003 at the at the 27th annual Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents Conference decried the platitudinous “least common denominators” paradigm which dominates what he aptly termed the contemporary “dialogue industry”:
We’re all three Abrahamic religions, we’re the three Middle Eastern monotheisms, the Isa of the Koran is really the same as the Jesus of the New Testament…. This is politicized dialogue. This is dialogue for the sake of dialogue. Philosophically speaking, this is what Kierkegaard called idle talk, snakke in Danish; what Heidegger called Gerede; what Sartre called bavardage. In other words, if this is dialogue, it’s pathetic… it needs to be transcended, and specifically to concentrate, to focus on the common ethical foundation for most religions can also be very misleading. Because when you get into the nitty-gritty, you find that even in what you supposed were common ethical foundations, there are vast differences, incompatibilities. Suicide bombers is one recent example. Condoned by major authoritative Muslim voices; completely unacceptable by Christianity.
Cardinal Pell’s unanswered questions highlight the predictable failure of the feckless “We’re all three Abrahamic religions”, “dialogue for the sake of dialogue” approach to both Muslim-Christian, and Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
Eschewing the comforting banalities of his predecessor, Benedict XVI has acknowledged that real dialogue, as opposed to bavardage, begins not by kissing the Koran, but reading it. Most importantly, he is impatient with an interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians limited to platitudes about “Abrahamic faiths”, which scrupulously avoids serious discussions of the living, sacralized Islamic institution of jihad war.
Until Muslims evidence a willingness to engage in such forthright discussions, Benedict appears to share Dr. Malik’s sobering conclusions from his February 2003 speech: “One certainly needs to be open at all times to learn from the Other, including to learn at times that the Other right now has nothing to teach me on a particular issue.”
There is clucking all 'round about Benedict's purportedly imprudent citation. (More on that in the next post) He has said he is distressed by the response, and who can doubt that he means it? He prays for peace and mutual understanding constantly and calls us to the same constantly.
But what is this "peace?' How can we even begin to work to achieve a more peaceful world?
What Benedict knows is that when it comes to radical Islamist movements, those that are causing so much trouble in the world - "peace" and "dialogue" mean something else than they mean to the rest of us. We don't know exactly what Benedict intended by using this example, but knowing what do know about his passionate, prayerful hope for peace as well as his historical commitment to authentic dialogue, expressed throughout his professional life, as well as his own statements of appreciation to Muslim believers, it is calumny to say that he's looking to undo any "progress" that's been made in that regard.
Perhaps he's simply looking around, listening and questioning whether the paradigms of the past have led to progress, after all.
Taking it to the most fundamental level: if you're not telling the truth about what you believe - can I really dialogue with you - at all?