Pope’s visit could be off to a great start

Zabie Mansoory

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey was a major media event for the past couple of days, but what is more important to notice is that this is a great political move by the Pope.

Most news coverage of the Pope’s visit has focused on Catholic-Muslim relations, given the outrage in the Muslim world over a lecture in September in which Benedict quoted a medieval emperor who said Muhammad’s teachings contained “things only evil and inhuman.”

But most media coverage ignores one of the main reasons for the Pope’s visit: To strengthen relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern churches that do not recognize the authority of the bishop of Rome. Benedict’s attitude toward these ancient churches could offer as many insights into his view of his role as any of his dealings with Muslims.

I commend both the Pope and the Turkish government for hosting him. After having angered Muslims around the world with his comments two months ago, this is a great start for the Pope to build relations and encourage dialogue between Catholics and Muslims around the world. Pope Benedict’s role in promoting better interfaith relations may prove to be helpful for both Muslims and Catholics around the world.

During his visit, Pope Benedict has been emphasizing freedom of religion for minorities’ religions in Turkey. Honorable Pope, can you please ask the secular Turkish government to call for some freedom for the majority religion in Turkey as well?

Unquestionably the Pope knows that even his own religion is susceptible to user error and abuse; and surely he cannot believe, given Europe’s internecine wars of the 20th century, that violence is incapable of grounding itself in “rationality.”

I encourage the Pope to invite Muslims to consider the implications of their religious interpretations, surely he cannot believe that invoking the discredited dichotomy between “reason” and “revelation” will show the way out.

In fact those who proffer “problematic” interpretations of Islam (or Christianity or Judaism) are every bit as rational as their critics; they simply proceed on the basis of a different tradition or system of reason.

Maybe, at the end of the day the answer does not lie so much in reason as it does in those typically religious values of empathy, caring and community. Maybe through greater diffusion of these values we can arrive at a greater degree of mutual respect and avoid more of the undeniably predatory dimensions of human reason.

Now the question still remains of what the Church can do. First, offer alternatives to the hegemonic language that has undermined dialogue with Islam. By “violence” we could include humiliation, degradation and contempt; by “extremism” we could include gratuitous proscriptions of Muslim practices, i.e., what a woman chooses to wear on her head.

With in this in mind, I think Muslims and non-Muslims alike could and should embrace the value of combating “violence” and “extremism” instead of seeing these terms as crafty little tools used by the United States and the West to perpetuate its global privilege.