In this column in WELT, Berlin Aspen Institute's Jeffrey Gedmin criticizes the pope for his Regensburg speech. We proudly present the original English version of his column.
If I were Muslim, I’d be offended by the Pope’s speech
Column in “Die Welt”, 20.09.2006
By Jeffrey Gedmin
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his commandment to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” That’s the Pope in his Regensburg speech quoting Emperor Manuel II. I’ve read commentaries explaining the context. I’ve read that the Pope’s speech was beautifully written. Who’d disagree? Still: What about common sense?
I am not worried that the Pope has offended the terrorists. They are offended by life and profess to love death, a wish we should oblige every chance we get. Nor am I concerned about the feelings of irresponsible Muslim leaders who use the Pope’s speech to fan hatred. One compared the Pope to Hitler. This creepy Turkish politician owes everyone an apology. But common
sense suggests another way of looking at this. If I were Muslim, I think I might be offended by the Pope’s speech. And that’s what I am missing in much of the commentary, and in the Pope’s stingy statement of regret: empathy. In fact, precisely because I am not Muslim, does not decency and fair play demand that I at least try to put myself in the other person’s place?
However imperfect the analogy, the current controversy reminds me of the insensitivity and smugness of some white Americans at times vis-a-vis their black fellow citizens. “He’s just thin-skinned,” someone will say of an African American colleague. It’s possible. But it’s also possible that it is a little like me the Christian insisting that my Jewish friend is just oversensitive and imagines anti-Semitism. Or like me the German, arguing that anti-Americanism doesn’t really exist. The Amis just don’t take criticism very well. Ever heard that before?
We have a problem. Islam has been hijacked by a small band of men bent on spreading death and destruction around the globe. We keep saying we urgently need a dialogue with peace-loving Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims does not store weapons in Mosques, use women as human shields and murder children to prove a political point. Trust me, if they did, with 1.4 billion Muslims in the world we would hear about it. It is hard to imagine that the Pope’s speech is deepening our dialogue with all those potential allies. I think he’s done Muslim moderates, unwittingly perhaps, a bad turn.
I concede a rather subjective view of all this. I just read Khaled Hosseini’s “the Kite Runner.” It is a powerful book, a story of courage, dignity, lost honour and redemption. It’s written by a doctor living in California whose name does not sound very Christian and whose principal characters are two Muslim boys growing up in Afghanistan. I can only admire their faith, and how it helps Amir and Hassan to live meaningful, honest lives. I have thought in recent days about a valued colleague I once had in Washington, a gentleman named Sharrief. A kinder, more decent human being you will not meet. Sharrief happens to be black. He also happens to be a devout Muslim, who likes talking about the importance of Islam in his and his family’s life. One third of America’s Muslims are African-American. I’ve also thought about Irshad Manji, a successful writer friend whom I admire. Irshad is Canadian, very Muslim and openly gay by the way.
According to Vatican spokesmen, the Pope simply wanted to say that religion should never be used to justify violence. Maybe he should have said just that.