When I complained to the Guardian yesterday about Pope Benedict having been misquoted (see previous entry), I didn't directly criticize Madeleine Bunting's opinion piece, 'A man with little sympathy for other faiths'. But I had been sufficiently wound up by reading it that I suspect it helped fuel yesterday's missive. There were several of her comments that particularly bothered me. [Mad Bunting's comments in this colour; mine in this]
Even the most cursory knowledge of dialogue with Islam teaches - and as a Vatican Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI would have learned this long ago - that reverence for the Prophet is a non-negotiable. What unites all Muslims is a passionate devotion and commitment to protecting the honour of Muhammad.
A non-negotiable what? Demand? Muhammad spoke out against idolatry, yet some of his modern-day followers make the error of idolizing him. Jesus was against idolatry, God/Allah is reportedly against it, so why does Bunting call it a non-negotiable? Reverence should be for God, not for one of his creatures, not even for one of his prophets.
18 A certain ruler asked [Jesus], "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 19 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone." [Luke 18]
The phrase "a passionate devotion and commitment to protecting the honour of Muhammad" reads vaguely like a warning to avoid criticizing Islam or face risking Muslims' ire. Why is it wrong to criticize certain aspects of Islamic belief and practice, but fine to misquote the pope so as to present a distorted and unfair portrait of him in a national newspaper (see previous post)?
By an uncanny coincidence the legendary Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci died last week. No one connected the two events, but the Pope had already run into controversy in Italy by inviting the rabid Islamophobe to a private audience just months ago.
No one connected the two events? Huh? The only way I can see that the two events could directly be linked would be if Allah/God had killed Fallaci in revenge for Benedict's words, which I don't believe but maybe Bunting does. But many people writing about Benedict and Islam did mention the Fallaci audience, and people reflecting on Fallaci's life and death mentioned the papal visit. Maybe she means, no one at Demos, or in her house, connected the two.
At the time of her papal audience, Fallaci's ranting against Islam had landed her in court and there was outrage at the Pope's insensitive invitation. The Pope refused to backtrack and insisted the meeting was purely "pastoral".
Fallaci was a dying atheist who faced jail for speaking her mind in the public square. She admired Benedict's views on Europe and asked for an audience. Benedict is a pastor, and there was the opportunity to minister to her. Should pastoral care only be extended to the faithful and PC? When Fallaci died,
She was buried in a white coffin wearing a tailleur and a military watch  around 11 am, at the same time the bell of the church of Sant'Ilario where her mother used to pray and she was baptized, was rung. [Wikipedia]
Which sounds to me like her audience with Benedict in August 2005 had partially reconciled her to her Catholicism.
Put last week's lecture in Bavaria and the Fallaci audience alongside his vocal opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, and the picture isn't pretty.
The picture Bunting paints is ugly, but I would suggest that says more about her than about Ratzinger. His Regensburg lecture was an attempt, however faulty, to speak truth to the power of violence. The Fallaci audience was, I've argued, pastorally justifiable. On Turkey, Bunting is almost accusing him of xenophobia or worse. Ratzinger's point about Turkey is that, historically and culturally, it is not a European nation. If you read his words, he actually wishes Turkey would stop secularizing itself and become more Muslim again, and seek a leadership role amongst other Muslim nations.
"In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe," Ratzinger said, noting that the Ottoman Empire once threatened Vienna and fought wars in the Balkans.
"Making the two continents identical would be a mistake," he said. "It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural, to the benefit of economics."
The German-born cardinal said Turkey "could try to set up a cultural continent with neighbouring Arab countries and become the leading figure of a culture with its own identity". [Aljazeera]
He actually said this to Le Figaro:
La Turquie, qui se considère comme un Etat laïc, mais sur le fondement de l'islam, pourrait tenter de mettre en place un continent culturel avec des pays arabes voisins et devenir ainsi le protagoniste d'une culture possédant sa propre identité, mais en communion avec les grandes valeurs humanistes que nous tous devrions reconnaître.
Ratzinger may not be a pretty picture, but he has a reality that is not captured by Bunting's words.
'A woman with little sympathy for her own faith', I could have titled this essay.