On Tuesday, Pope Benedict detonated a thought bomb outside every Mosque in the known world. A truck bomb might have caused less grief. In an atmosphere of heightened tension, the last thing needed from public figures, and particularly religious leaders, is yet another polemic. Politicians take note. The comments are grossly inappropriate. What Pope Benedict was thinking when he quoted 14th Century emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, suggesting that prophet Mohammed had only brought evil into the world, God only knows. Was he actually thinking? In some regards, the intended context is somewhat irrelevant. The quote is incredibly inflammatory, and its inclusion in his speech displays a blatant lack of sensitivity.  That is not to say that the contemplation of history, and particularly the dark histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam has nothing to say to the current climate. Quite the contrary is true. In fact, Muslims were not the first to practise “conversion” at the sword. Charlemagne was the first to make widespread the practice of “conversion” by the sword in spreading his medieval Christianity among Saxon armies. Then, as now, such a practice was extreme, as his Anglo-Saxon advisor Alcuin duly reprimanded him. And yet, the process was widespread throughout the Protestant Reformation. In today’s climate, Muslims of all colours are under sustained pressure in many parts of the world. Extremists meet the pontiff’s comments with outrage, and respond by violence. Some commentators, like Waleed Aly, have suggested that a level of political unrest in the specific locations precipitates such violent reactions, and that the response is less about the nuances of the particular comments and more about the local climate. But the vast majority of reasonable Muslims, who are already typecast by the polemics of a “them and us” mentality, suffer another injustice of the prosecution of Muslims in two-dimensional terms. It cements a fallacious and prejudicial stereotype, and it’s the last thing we need. The world has become extremely uneasy of late, yet human beings of all colour and religion have a tremendous amount to offer each other in dialogue. But a dialogue begins with respect, and comments that fail to articulate this are more divisive than silence. The world does not grow any richer when dichotomies are reinforced by ill-advised comments. We have much more to learn from each other than to fear. Perhaps one day our leaders will realise this. It is the only path to peace.

Peter Fray

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