Is Catholicism under Pope Benedict on a Viciously Anti Muslim Route?

Mehul Kamdar 

Published on February 13, 2007

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was sworn in as Pope Benedict XVI, a slew of articles in the European media talked about his past as a member of the Hitler Youth. The Vatican was quick to step in and tell the world that membership in the Hitler Youth was mandatory in the Nazi era and that, as a boy, the pope didn't have a choice. It was a lie. And, perhaps, this early conditioning shaped the pope's thinking leading to his recent, regular remarks against Muslims as a people, and Islam as a religion. Known long before he was elected by the College of Cardinals as an arch conservative, the pope has indeed lived up to his reputation with his fanatical views.

   Two days after his election, the pope angered the Government of India talking about restrictions on conversions to Catholicism. There aren't any, and the one state that had banned conversions to any religion, Tamilnadu, saw it's then government routed in elections. And then came the pope's subsequent remarks against Muslims, beginning with his comments on the Crusades. While his predecessor, John Paul II had sent a delegation of Catholic monks on foot to Jerusalem in 2000 and apologized to the Muslim world about the Crusades, Pope Benedict talked about the Crusades having been moral and divinely inspired. One could say that the capture of Jerusalem, which was gleefully described by the Crusaders as a city that they left with an inch of blood across it, could only be seen as "moral" and "divinely inspired" by someone with a terribly perverted way of thinking. And yet, the world kept quiet at the time, unwilling to voice anger at the remarks of the leader of the largest faith.

   Whether it was this silence from the world that encouraged the Pope's recent remarks ostensibly quoting a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” or whether he chose to test the limits of what the world would accept in his denunciations of another religion is something that only he is aware. As one who watches the Vatican and it's moves, this writer can only say that this was expected. Hypocritically, for someone who endorsed the bloody wars that saw hundreds of thousands killed, the pope continued with his speech, telling his flock, “Violence is incompatible with the nature of god and the nature of the soul.” This anti Muslim sentiment is not new. In an interview to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, some years ago, when asked about the proposal to accept Tkey as a member of the EU, he had remarked, "Turkey always represented another continent during history, always in contrast with Europe."

   Benedict was elected to his position because his peers felt that he had the authority to galvanize the Catholic faith, dying as it was in Europe and most of the world with the exception of the Americas. It was believed that his aggressively anti secular attitude would help recover those who had left the Catholic faith either to join Evangelical churches, or, to be atheists or agnostics. There were also reformist Catholics who had problems with his defense of pedophile priests in his arguments that they should not be subject to prosecution and punishment. All of this shows the world, very clearly, that it deals with an arrogant, almost racist man with scorn for anything that does not come under the religion whose head he is.

   And yet, there is a way to deal with him. Though the Vatican is an independent nation in name, it's location in Italy gives those who disagree with the Pope's remarks an avenue to silence him. Some years ago, when Disney Corporation put up a display that angered Muslims worldwide, the late Sheikh Sultan bin Ziyad Al Nahyan publicly warned Disney Corporation that it could be expelled from the UAE if it did not mend it's ways. Italy sells a vast quantity of luxury goods across the Middle East and in wealthy Far Eastern countries like Malaysia, and Indonesia. From Ermenegildo Zegna clothing to Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ferrari and Maserati cars, dozens of brands of perfumes, food products like pasta, olive oil etc Italian companies sell billions of dollars worth of goods to Muslim countries. A boycott of these goods by Muslims would effectively force the pope to shut up. He may not apologise for the current comments that he has made as many Muslims, including moderates are demanding, but it is certain that he would not openly advocate anti Muslim ideas even though he is certain to harbour them in his mind.

   Not getting the Pope to stop would be a danger not just to Muslims but to the world's secularists as well. Remarks of this kind by the head of the biggest Christian denomination could only swell the ranks of fundamentalists among Muslims. 900 years after the Crusades took place, they have the effect  of angering Muslims across the world. Indian Muslims whose ancestors had nothing to do with those bloody wars, consider Salahuddin Ayubi a hero. In Syria and Egypt, Sultan Baybars, who completely routed the Crusaders and finally wiped their presence out is spoken about as if he were alive today. The Pope's views would, therefore, only fuel the horrors of jihad, something that he ostensibly seeks to oppose. A recent US government release said quite clearly that 80% of the victims of Jihadi violence across the world were Muslims. If Benedict XVI really believes that jihad is a bad thing, he should shut up. If he does not, then it is necessary for the world to force him not to pontificate on matters that he has no knowledge of, and where his prejudices continuously harm people across the world. A peaceful economic boycott of Italian goods would achieve this quite swiftly.

Mehul Kamdar from Chicago is currently moderating Mukto-Mona forum. He was the editor of The Modern Rationalist under late M D Gopalakrishnan  and associated with various rationalist movements. He can be reached at