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Raffique Shah


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A very dangerous man

October 01, 2006
By Raffique Shah

I wish members of the Catholic community, many of whom have defended Pope Benedict's recent statements that insulted Islam, could feel what it's like for a religion, its leader and its ardent members to be pilloried or mocked by writers, or worse, by leaders of another faith.

Pope Benedict's choice of a quotation from an ancient emperor, "Show me just what (the Prophet) Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman...," was not accidental, as many made it out to be. It has to be seen in the context of today's George Bush and Tony Blair-led "crusade" against what they have dubbed "radical Islam", but what has turned into a virtual holy war against Muslims in general.

Many may wonder why I, an avowed agnostic, have chosen to enter into this fray. After all, I have long eschewed religious debate which is fraught with dogma, lacks rationalism, and generally makes no sense. If someone believes in the "good book", matters not which text is so venerated, and depending on that person's interpretation of the book, nothing will change his or her view.

Also, I have long argued that fundamentalist Islam, like fundamentalist anything, has no place in modern society. Reality is that the world is made of billions of people, among whom there are millions of beliefs or non-beliefs. If we are not to implode fighting over our differences, then we must learn to live in harmony with each other. I do not support those who insist that Islam is "the way", or conservative Christians who see salvation for mankind only through their tainted lens.

Why do I say that Pope Benedict deliberately sought to make his position on Islam clear? Why am I convinced that his provocative statement was intended to further rile Muslims across the world, and that on the eve of their holy month of Ramadhan?

He is the spiritual leader of one of the most powerful churches in world, and he must know that every word that flows from his mouth is taken as gospel by his faithful, and carefully analysed by those of other faiths.

The former Cardinal Ratzinger, as a close aide of the late Pope John Paul II, would have been keenly sensitive to the geopolitics of the past few decades. He has seen how fundamentalist Muslims reacted to novelist Salman Rushdie, how a madman Muslim killed Dutch movie-maker Theo Van Gogh, and many more seemingly irrational acts of violence in the name of Mohammed and Islam.

So why add fuel to an already leaking religious nuclear plant that faces possible meltdown? The truth lies buried in Benedict's past. According to Guardian (UK) columnist Madeleine Bunting, he is "a determined, shrewd operator... a man with little sympathy for other faiths". As Cardinal Ratzinger, about a decade ago, he referred to Buddhism as "a form of masturbation of the mind".

Now Buddhism may not be a big deal in this part of the world, since there are few Buddhists here. In the Far East-Japan, China, Thailand-it's a major religion. Buddhists, whose spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama, are still chafing under this grave attack on their faith. Luckily for the Pope, Buddhists are not inclined to violent responses the way many Muslims are.

Last May he visited the one-time Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. This site will forever remain etched in our minds as the worst manifestation of Hitler's supremacist views: it's where thousands of Jews were gassed to death. Yet, in his address there, he failed to mention anti-Semitism or to apologise to Jews, which caused quite a furore.

Of course, many noted that the Pope had been a member of the Hitler Youth, a body of young thugs who would graduate to be sadistic killers. To add injury to his insult to Muslims, shortly after he became Pope he invited Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, a liberal icon of the 1970s, but a violent anti-Muslim in her latter years, to a private audience at the Vatican.

This woman had written in 2001, in an invective against Islam, "Muslims breed like rats". Fallaci, incidentally, died about two weeks ago. Oh, I almost forgot to add that the Pope has openly opposed the entry of Turkey-a mainly Muslim country-into the European Union. He has not opposed applications by other one-time communist countries.

Clearly, Benedict is a pope who would see much merit in Bush and Blair's crusade to wipe Islam and Muslims off the face of the earth, and to restore conservative Christianity to supremacy. Unlike Pope John Paul II, who reached out to every religion, who identified with African slaves, who was the first Pope to visit a mosque, Benedict is bent on turning back the global religious clock.

It is in this context his unveiled attack on Islam must be seen. And no amount of apologies will mitigate his callousness, his intolerance of people who choose to think and believe other than what his church preaches. The Pope is a dangerous man.