On Sept. 12, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who called some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed "evil and inhuman," including "his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached." The comment prompted an outcry of protest from Muslims.
"Anger swept the Muslim world like a tsunami," says Dajani. The Pope's recent visit to Turkey, seen by many as an attempt to repair his image with Muslims, didn't change this, he says. "The damage has been done. People still look at the Pope with suspicion and mistrust."
According to a viewer's poll by Al Jazeera, as of Dec. 1, more than half of the 20,000 viewers said the Pope's visit to Turkey would not improve relations between Christians and Muslims. (Thirty five percent said the visit would improve relations; and more than 13 percent said they did not know.)
Pope Benedict's comments about Islam further separated him from the late Pope John Paul II, who had good relations with Muslims and Jews, Dajani adds.
In a cartoon entitled "The Vatican's New Era," published by cartoonist Shujaat on Al Jazeera's English website, the late Pope John Paul II is shown releasing doves from a box labeled "Religious Harmony." In the next scene, Pope Benedict shoots the doves down with a rifle. The cartoon ends with the late Pope John Paul II holding his head in his hands as dead doves are splayed out in front of him.
If the Pope's trip was an attempt to reconcile with Muslims, he shouldn't have chosen Turkey, which is seen as secular by the rest of the Islamic world, says Ozeir. "In the eyes of Arabs, Turkey is part of the west," he says. The Blue Mosque, where the Pope prayed, is not considered one of the holy sites of Islam, adds Dajani.
"The Arab world saw the Pope's visit as part of Turkey's attempt join the European Union," says Ozeir, "a further sign that Turkey is seen as western."
The Pope's visit to Istanbul, the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church, was also an attempt to bridge the Orthodox-Catholic divide, adds Dajani.
"He's trying to do a lot of things in one," says Dajani. "It was a very calculated visit. Yes, he's doing something, but he has his own agenda and motive."
Though the Pope's visit may not have undone the damage done by his comments, Arab media analysts agree that it represented a positive step.
"Our religion teaches us forgiveness," says Omair Ali, executive director of MeccaOne, a Muslim broadcast and online news site based in San Jose, Calif. "We don't know what he was trying to say (in his statements about Islam); the Quran tells us to give 70 excuses for your brother, meaning give people the benefit of the doubt."
"This is a big figure in the Christian world and he stood in prayer in the Blue Mosque," adds Ali, the second visit to a mosque in papal history. "If he's trying to take steps towards peace, that's a good sign."
"His visit definitely left a positive impact that he was trying to do something and that he was genuinely sorry," Dajani adds. "But he has more work to do to repair his damaged reputation."
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Albion Monitor December
7, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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