Should the Pope speak the truth or be politically correct? – New York Post

ISLAM, THE POPE & THE OPERA

MOST EURO MUSLIMS SICK OF EXTREMISTS MICHAEL MEYER

By MICHAEL MEYER

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Benedict: If he listened, he’d find surprising agreement.

October 2, 2006 — ONCE again, Europe is grappling with explosive questions. How to deal with the religious sensitivities of Islam? Where does free speech and open debate leave off, and offense begin?

Consider the controversies of recent days. In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI apologized to those who may have “misunderstood” a speech he recently gave during a visit to his native Germany, where he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor condemning Muhammad for the “evil he spread by the sword.” Violence, Benedict insisted, “is incompatible with the nature of God and soul.” Days later, in Berlin, the venerable Deutsche Oper opted not to stage a production of Mozart’s “Idomeno” – featuring a scene with the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet – for fear of inflaming Muslim sensibilities.

Angry fingers quickly pointed. “Appeasement,” the pope’s critics howled – the pontiff was merely stating an obvious truth, they argued, and shouldn’t retreat in the face of political correctness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said much the same on the opera affair: “Self-censorship out of fear is intolerable,” she declared. “Violent radicals” must be confronted, not coddled.

Two important points were all but lost in the uproar. First: Benedict’s “apology” was, in fact, not one at all. Muslim leaders from across Europe were summoned to the Vatican for a “summit,” only to hear the pope read a prepared statement affirming his respect for Islam. Photos of the event told the real story. There sat the leader of Christendom, resplendent on a golden throne and separated from the assembled dignitaries by a vast expanse of polished white-and-black marble floor. He did not take questions.

If this was hardly appeasement, neither was it the “dialogue” the pope had promised. If he had invited conversation (or, better, simply listened), he’d have heard something other than criticism – for the majority of the Muslim leaders gathered there agreed with him, al most entirely. (As, for the record, did Merkel.) They, too, decry extremism. There is no place in civilized life for violence, they would have said, let alone terrorism.

The pope can be forgiven his reticence. After all, “Cartoon-gate” – the bloody riots that erupted last spring after a Danish magazine published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad – was fresh in his mind. So it was as well for the Berlin opera producers, who cancelled their performance after receiving an anonymous bomb threat. (They’re now reconsidering, depending on whether sufficient security arrangements are practical.)

This raises the second neglected point: Yes, Germany’s more radical Islamic activists welcomed the opera company’s move (suggesting it had headed off potentially ugly protests) – but a vastly larger number of moderates took a different view.

The day after the opera announced the scrubbing of its production, a conference of German Muslims happened to convene in Berlin. Rather than spouting condemnations, they called on Deutsche Oper to restore its program. Some even suggested the entire group attend, en masse.

Kenan Kolat, leader of the country’s 2.1-million Turkish community, spoke for most when he declared that it was high time for Muslims of all ethnic stripes to accept principles of free speech and other tenets of European democracy. “This is about art, not politics,” he told Bavarian radio, adding that anything else represented a retreat to “the Middle Ages.” Shades of Pope Benedict?

The lesson in both incidents, perhaps, is to recognize that Islam is no monolith, in Europe or anywhere else. What’s more, moderates represent an overwhelming majority of Muslims living in Europe – a majority that’s increasingly unhappy with the radicals in their midst.

So, if the pope could be faulted, it had little to do with anything he said: The mistake was his failure to engage with Muslims who would otherwise be allies.

The Berlin opera erred, too – by playing to the wrong audience. The anonymous hot-head who called in his terror threat was an enemy not only of the West but also the multitude of fellow Muslims who largely embrace a German way of life.

Merkel and the pope are right. We should not coddle extremists, let alone kowtow to them.

Michael Meyer is Europe/Middle East editor for Newsweek International and a member of Benador Associates.

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~ by badkow on October 6, 2006.

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