"I was afraid," recalled Esther Najjar, an Arab Catholic from Gaza, to a wire-service reporter following an attack by Muslim radicals on several local churches. With mobs attacking five Christian churches--one of which was gutted --throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and angry demonstrations taking place near her neighborhood, Esther kept her two youngest daughters home from school.
The attacks followed a speech delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pontiff cited a Byzantine Emperor's negative assessment of the religious legacy left by Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic faith.
"Show me just what Mohammed 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," wrote Emperor Manuel II Paleologus to an unidentified Persian scholar in the late 14th or early 15th century--a time when Constantinople was intermittently under siege by Turkish forces (and also being looked at with covetous intent by some Christian kingdoms, as well).
The apparent intent of Pope Benedict was to extol the virtues of what he called "the best of Greek thought"--with its focus on appealing to logic and reason--as a means of understanding transcendent truths about God, and of persuading others to believe.
Missing the Message
The address, delivered at a university where Benedict once taught, was both subtle and profound, littered with provocative and debatable assertions that the Pope hoped would be examined and debated as part of a respectful dialogue. Predictably enough, the machinery of the contemporary media was too coarsely attuned to pick up the subtleties of the Pope's speech, which was depicted--on the basis of brief portions of the quotes from Manuel II, orphaned from their context--as a broadside against Islam and its founder, Mohammed. The results were quite predictable.
Throughout the Muslim world, demonstrations quickly erupted. Maledictions were hurled at the Pope, who was burned in effigy in Pakistan and Iraq. …