The events of the past days concerning the speech which Pope Benedict XVI gave at the end of his journey to Germany have resulted in what some could describe as an apology towards muslims. I think that in fact the Pope is the moral victor of the conflict, but whether the Islamic religious and political leaders who have mobilized against him will ever understand (or be able to understand) is another question.
The whole story is in fact rather bizarre. In the speech it is clear that the Pope never intended to make any judgment about Islam in general or Jihad in particular. Nevertheless churches are being attacked in the Middle East and ambassadors are called back from the Vatican. At least one striking parallel with the notorious Danish cartoons can be noted: those who lash out the hardest against the Pope, are exactly those who are least informed.
The Secretary-General of the Central Council of the Muslims in Germany (Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland) Aiman Mazyek said he could not understand why the speech should insult Muslims. Ali Bardakoğlu, the leader of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) first demanded apologies from the Pope but later admitted that he had done so only on the basis of the first, incorrect press releases about the speech. However, he did not admit his mistake entirely spontaneously, but only after some harsh comments by Mehmet Yılmaz in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. The comments of the latter did not apply to Ali Bardakoğlu alone, but to the rest of the Islamic world as well.
The intervention of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is similar to that of Mehmet Yılmaz. In essence she said that the Islamic leaders who are demanding excuses from the Pope should either first read the text of the speech, or simply do not understand the meaning of it at all. If those leaders ever come to their senses, they will perhaps realize that they made fools of themselves. And perhaps even Tasnim Aslam will realize that what she said was nonsense.
Maybe the Pope is the moral winner for those who are able to read, but on the other hand, did he have much choice but to apologize for something he never said? After all, there was the threat of brutal violence, or rather, it had already started with attacks against churches in the Middle East, some of them not even Roman Catholic! Maybe a reference to Luke 6.29 («To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other.») should be made here. But that he saw no other option than to express regret over the fact that he had caused such anger in the Muslim world also says something about the weakness – unwillingness or incapacity? – of the political West to force the Islamic world to reason.
Commentators in the German press also react with surprise at the intensity of the responses coming from the Islamic world, and wonder whether the clash of civilizations has already started. The fact is that today large parts of the Islamic world apparently do not need reason to mobilize against the Christian world, and incorrect reports can spread through the region at lightning speed while religious or political leaders do nothing to calm down people or bring them to reason. On the contrary, they add fuel to the fire and try to beat each other in making yet bolder statements. Quite some moral and intellectual bankruptcy, and how convincing as the ultimate proof that Islam is all about peace and love.