I don't normally like to write about religion and politics. Both subjects are difficult to handle and I am not an expert in either one of them. However both do come to prominence every now and then and the last few days, the Pope and Islam has been the focus on every newspaper in the world.
Pope Benedict XVI caused so much anguish in the Muslim world and at first refused to apologise after his lecture at the University of Regensburg where he quoted a conversation between Manuel II, a 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor and an Islamic Persian; “‘Show me just what Mohammed 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.’” Though yesterday the Pope finally said that he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion. “These were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.”
I read his entire lecture and of course when you read things in entirety, you get the bigger picture. His intention to raise the issue of how to confront and combat the religious extremism that gives rise to terror and violence was commendable. Though I would still question his usage of that conversation and given the Pope's background of being a hardliner, I have the feeling despite his apologies, that he did it intentionally. He deliberately provoked listeners as to whether the current Muslim world has the capacity to be critical of itself. Though one can make the same argument over the Christian and Judaism world. Both have also gone through violent stages in the past. Think of the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Though I do worry that the current extremism in the world. The smallest of all words, the slightest of all actions, an eruption will occur. Are we not capable of being rational or self-critical? And at the same time, does religion have to be dragged in all the time when the underlying causes are not religions but something else altogether but fought in the name of the religion?
Yesterday, the Brunei Times led with an interesting article about the US State Department's report on its annual International Religious Freedom Report 2006 which listed Brunei among the 20 countries of 'significant list' of violators. This apparently is the second category. The first category is made up of 'countries of particular concern' of 8 countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The article rejected the accusation and focused on the Brunei constitution stating that '...All other religions may be practised in peace and harmony by the person professing them in any part of Brunei Darussalam...' and arguing that to be placed on such a list was a provocation by the US government.
Given the sensitivity of this, I am not so sure whether this ought to be even highlighted currently by either party or even by me raising it on this post. But I thought this was a particularly apt time to raise this in the context of the Pope's speech. Are we capable of being self-critical? But in this context, do we even have to be? Given that US has in itself been in violation of the things that they have accused of others, think of all the atrocities commited in the Iraq War and the curtailment of freedom of movement and speeches in the USA in their so called war against terror that they are no longer have the moral higher ground to accuse other countries. Given their intransigent nature, it's not even worthwhile to argue with them.
Perhaps the US might want take a lesson from the Pope.