If, as Turkey's senior Islamic official, Ali Bardakoglu, told the pope on his arrival, Islam is a religion of "vast tolerance" that rejects all violence and terror and "assumes that killing an innocent person is a heavy crime and sin," it is singularly extravagant of the Turkish government to assign an army of 15,000 security men to one frail old priest. How many divisions does it take to protect the pope?
If, as Mr. Bardakoglu also lectured the pope, it is "Islamophobic" to say that Islam "was spread over the world by the sword," why is it that almost all the major conflicts in the world today occur on the fault lines between Islam and other faiths? Even in Turkey, the most secular of Muslim countries, persecution has reduced the proportion of non-Muslims in the population from a majority in Byzantine times to less than 1% today. It is still a crime in Turkey to refer to the Armenian genocide. And it is still dangerous to be an observant Christian or Jew. Synagogues in Istanbul were attacked by Islamist terrorists in 1985 and 2003, killing scores and wounding hundreds of Turkey's tiny Jewish minority.
Benedict's Post-Secular Vision from the IHT by
The Pope, far from being sectarian, wants to inaugurate a new religious renaissance in Europe that opposes both secular and religious fundamentalism. This apostolic journey is of a piece with the logic of the Regensburg address, rather than a belated act of repentance for it.
Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.
Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.
Benedict's religious alternative is not some form of theocratic absolutism. On the contrary, the Pope is a staunch defender of secularity — the separation of church and state. Benedict wants to disentangle the church from the state, but without divorcing religion from politics, because only a religion freed from subservience to the state can save modern culture from itself.
Thus Benedict's true purpose in Turkey is that of uniting all the monotheistic faiths against a militant and self-consciously destructive secular culture. To that end he will seek a new political communion with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — the symbolic leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Even the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexei II, who rejected overtures by the late Pope John Paul II, has indicated that he would now welcome talks with Rome.
Nor are the pope's attempts to produce a concerted monotheistic alliance restricted to Christians. On the first day of his visit, Benedict quoted an 11th century pope, Gregory VII, who talked about the duties that Christians and Muslims owe each other "because we believe in one God."
Far from being anti-Muslim, the pope views Islam as a key cultural ally against the enlightenment liberalism that for him corrodes the moral core of Western society.
It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism.
Accordingly, the denunciation at Regensburg of scripturally authorized violence by Islam is wholly in line with Benedict's call to the faiths to abandon their respective perversions. Hence the papal demand Tuesday that all religions "utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of faith."
It is a genuine cause for celebration that Benedict seeks to make common cause with other universal faiths to confront an aggressively supremacist Western culture of forced unbelief and relentless consumerism.