Tuesday, September 19, 2006

That bloody speech

You’d have to wonder what Pope Benedict was intending when he wrote his Regensburg address. It’s hard to believe that anyone of even moderate intelligence would fail to see that it was likely to cause offence to muslims.

Indeed, considering the fact that the Vatican Library must house acres of archives on the crusades, the inquisitions, the burning of heretics etc, it’s strange that he should choose to bypass all this evidence of past religious intolerance in order to find an obscure quote from a 14th century Byzantine emperor in order to damn the Prophet Mohammad.

Far better if he had first acknowledged the historical beam in the Christian eye before turning his attention to the mote in the Muslim eye.

One other quote in his speech has been largely ignored: “This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God.”

The fact that the spiritual leader of the catholic church can make such a joke should send a clear signal to religious fundamentalists of all creeds: lighten up!

The reaction in muslim countries is unfortunate but hardly surprising. It highlights once again the threat posed by fundamentalists to civil rights and freedom of worship and, frankly, it needs to be challenged.

For example, freedom of public worship is forbidden to non-muslims in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While there may be some legitimate sensitivity in places such as Mecca and Medina, such a prohibition should not be acceptable in the rest of the kingdom.

So, rather than an attack on Muslim beliefs, employing theological or religious arguments, we need the UN, the EU and our own individual governments to demand freedom of worship on the grounds of civil rights. Saudi Arabia would be a good place to start.

Exposure to other faiths should, over time, demonstrate to ordinary muslims that there is nothing to fear from other religions or the discussion of articles of faith.

Footnote: Published as a letter in the Irish Independent & the Irish Examiner and aired by Pat Kenny on his RTE1 radio programme.

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