- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

ISTANBUL — Pakistan’s legislature unanimously condemned Pope Benedict XVI. Lebanon’s top Shi’ite cleric demanded an apology. And in Turkey, the ruling party likened the pontiff to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades.

Across the Islamic world yesterday, Benedict’s remarks on Islam and jihad in a speech in Germany unleashed a torrent of rage that united Shi’ites and Sunnis and threatened to burst into violent protests like those that followed publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

The pope did not condemn modern-day Islam. But by citing an obscure medieval text that criticizes teachings of Islam’s founder for advocating a faith “spread by the sword,” Benedict inflamed Muslim passions and aggravated fears of a new outbreak of anti-West protests.

The last outpouring of Islamic anger at the West came in February over the prophet cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper. The drawings sparked protests — some of them deadly — in almost every Muslim nation in the world.

Some experts said the perceived provocation by the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics could leave even deeper scars.

“The declarations from the pope are more dangerous than the cartoons, because they come from the most important Christian authority in the world — the cartoons just came from an artist,” said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst in Cairo who studies Islamic militancy.

Yesterday, Pakistan’s parliament adopted a resolution condemning Benedict for making what it called “derogatory” comments about Islam, and seeking an apology. Hours later, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to express regret over the pope’s remarks Tuesday.

Notably, the strongest denunciations came from Turkey — a moderate democracy seeking European Union membership where Benedict is scheduled to visit in November as his first trip as pope to a Muslim country.

Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted party, said Benedict’s remarks were either “the result of pitiful ignorance” about Islam and its prophet or, worse, a deliberate distortion.

“It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades,” Mr. Kapusuz told Turkish state television and radio. He said Benedict will go down in history for his words, “in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.”

Even Turkey’s staunchly secular opposition party demanded the pope apologize before his visit, and a group of about 50 people placed a black wreath outside the Vatican’s diplomatic mission.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has tried to defuse anger, saying the pope did not intend to offend Muslim sensibilities and insisting Benedict respects Islam. In Pakistan, the Vatican envoy voiced regret for “the hurt caused to Muslims.”

But Muslim leaders said outreach efforts by papal emissaries were not enough.

“We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels … and ask [Benedict] to offer a personal apology — not through his officials,” Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, told worshippers in Beirut.

The pope quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th-century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

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

The pope did not explicitly agree with or repudiate the comment.

Many Muslims accused the pope of seeking to promote Judeo-Christian dominance over Islam. Even Iraq’s often divided Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs found unity in their anger over the remarks.

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood,” Shi’ite cleric Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi said during a sermon in Iraq’s second-largest city, Basra.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the German-born pope, saying his message had been misunderstood.

“It is an invitation to dialogue between religions and the pope has explicitly urged this dialogue, which I also endorse and see as urgently necessary,” she said.

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