- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

From combined dispatches

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s top Islamic cleric asked Pope Benedict XVI yesterday to take back recent remarks he made about Islam and unleashed a string of counteraccusations against Christianity, raising tensions before the pontiff’s November visit to Turkey — his first to a Muslim majority nation.

In a speech Tuesday, at Regensburg University in Germany, the pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th-century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Islam and Christianity.

“The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,” the pope said.

“He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ ”

Benedict said “I quote” twice before repeating the phrases on Islam and described them as “brusque,” while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.

The Vatican hastened to defend the pope, saying that the pontiff wanted to promote respect toward and dialogue with other religions, “obviously also toward Islam.”

But Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey’s powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, said he was deeply offended by the remarks about Islamic holy war, calling them “extraordinarily worrying, saddening and unfortunate.”

Mr. Bardakoglu said that “if the pope was reflecting the spite, hatred and enmity” of others in the Christian world, it would be even more troubling.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Tuesday that the pontiff had not been giving an interpretation of Islam as “something violent,” although Father Lombardi said the religion contained both violent and nonviolent strains.

Mr. Bardakoglu said that he expected an apology from the pope and that it was Christianity, not Islam, that popularized conversion by the sword, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency.

“The church and the Western public, because they saw Islam as the enemy, went on Crusades. They occupied Istanbul; they killed thousands of people. Orthodox Christians and Jews were killed and tortured,” he said.

Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, was the capital of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Christian empires before being conquered by Ottoman Muslims in 1453.

The Christians “saw war against those outside the Christian world as a holy duty,” Mr. Bardakoglu said.

Senior Islamic officials in Kuwait and Egypt also demanded an immediate apology from the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

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