Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press View the Middle East: Did Pope's Syria Trip Signify Papal Recognition of Islam? Asks Europe's Press

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The European Press View the Middle East: Did Pope's Syria Trip Signify Papal Recognition of Islam? Asks Europe's Press

Article excerpt

THE EUROPEAN PRESS VIEW THE MIDDLE EAST: Did Pope's Syria Trip Signify Papal Recognition of Islam? Asks Europe's Press

By Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones is a free-lance journalist based in London.

Pope John Paul II's landmark visit to a mosque in the Syrian capital of Damascus, retracing the steps of St. Paul the apostle on his conversion to Christianity, captured May headlines in Europe. "Does Pope John Paul's visit to Damascus's Umayyad mosque bestow papal recognition that the mosque, and hence Islam, is holy?" asked London's The Economist on May 5. Just a week before the pope's Syrian trip, the publication pointed out, the Catholic Church suspended a Jesuit who had suggested that Jesus might not be the sole path to the devotion of God. "There is fear that he [the pope] could be taking the road to Damascus less on a mission of harmony than of hegemony: to uphold Christ's superior claim...Now the fear is that differences over the pope's arrival could awaken sectarian tensions," a correspondent wrote.

The German daily Saarbrucker Zeitung of May 8 made a similar observation. The Roman Catholic pontiff said that never again should religion be used as a pretext for violence, noted the newspaper. He also prayed for reconciliation. These words should be followed by deeds, it said. This includes withdrawing the controversial document known as "Dominus Jesus" issued by the Vatican last September that appears to assert the primacy of the Roman Catholic church over other Christians and other religions. The pope should distance himself from claims to being the sole keeper of the faith, continued the paper.

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted the same day that the pope was received in Syria with respect and reverence, not just by the country's many Christians, but by its Muslims, too. "Unfortunately, this did not stop his host, President Assad, from sharply criticizing the Jews and Israel in a way which was crassly at odds with the appeals for peace the pontiff himself had addressed to the leaders of all three Abrahamic religions," wrote the newspaper.

The liberal French daily Liberation, however, said on May 8 that the image of the pope entering an historical mosque was strong. "It expresses some sort of mutual recognition," the newspaper said. "In a country like France, where any proposal to build a mosque usually results in a political disaster, one has to recognize the strength of such a symbol."


The Israeli government's decision to use F-16 fighter planes in May to bomb Palestinian areas led Europe's media to ask why Sharon is taking such a seemingly aggressive stance in the present crisis. The BBC's Jerusalem correspondent, Hilary Andersson, reported May 18 that there had been rumblings of disapproval even within Sharon's cabinet about the decision to use the American-made fighter planes. BBC Middle East analyst Paul Adams said the following day that when Israelis voted for Sharon earlier this year, many of them were looking for a military solution to the growing problem of the Palestinian uprising--"a robust, gloves-off response to months of violence which had left them feeling insecure and vengeful."

More than three months later, Adams continued, the Palestinian uprising still rages. Recent events suggest that, if anything, the conflict is continuing to spin further and further out of control. "Repeated attacks on personnel, facilities and equipment have caused some to wonder if Mr. Sharon and his defense minister, the hawkish Labor Party member Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, are not harboring a secret agenda: to remove Yasser Arafat and his apparatus for good," reported Adams.


The April incursion by Israeli troops into the Gaza Strip, which represented the first occupation of land legally given back to the Palestinian Authority, received widespread criticism in Europe. …

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