September 30, 2006
The Pope and Muslim AmbassadorsBy Stefania Lapenna
The Pope recently met with ambassadors from Islamic countries. Although the meeting itself was widely reported, important details and contextual information have not been widely reported even in Italy, much less in the worldwide media. They provide important signals for understanding the Pontiff's strategy and intentions.
The Islamist reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on Islam led many skeptics to realize that what terrorists are waging is not just a war against the values of life and liberty. Not even a war on civilization. Rather, it is a war of religions and cultures.
The killing of an Italian nun in Somalia two weeks ago has been considered by Western media and public opinion as vengeance for the Pope's statements. Although there is a bit of truth in this assertion, what many fail to understand is that Islamists do not need pretexts and "controversial" speeches to kill non—Muslims.
Christians are continuously under siege in countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestinian terrotories, Egypt and the newly—established Talibanized Somalia, not to mention the recent execution of three Christians in Indonesia.
In his meeting with the ambassadors of the Muslim countries, Benedict XVI has not apologized. He has stated once again that violence must be rejected (a clear reference to the reaction to his remarks in Germany) and, more important, demanded the ambassadors that religious freedom be granted because dialogue must be based on reciprocity of rights.
It has been noticed that, after his speech to the Islamic ambassadors, the latter were not allowed to reply. As the Egyptian—born deputy director of Il Corriere della Sera Magdi Allam said in one of his latest editorials, this decision was taken on behalf of the Pope because he is aware of his right to criticize Islam and urge reciprocity. In other words, he did not need to know if the ambassadors agreed or not.
Benedict also met with the government—appointed Muslim Advisory Board. Before this important meeting, both Magdi Allam and several moderate members of the board worked hard to prevent the Union of the Italian Islamic Communities (UCOII) from meeting the Pope. UCOII is a radical Islamic front group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Last month, they paid for ads published in a newspaper in which they compared Israel's military actions in Lebanon to the Nazi war crimes.
Furthemore, UCOII — which claims to control most of the mosques in Italy — does not accept Israel's right to exist and supports suicide bombings in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Being a member of the Advisory Board, UCOII's representative Nouri Dachan has also met the Pope.
Nevertheless, the Italian television media failed to show the images of the Moroccan feminist and secularist Souad Sbai shaking hands with Benedict XVII and talking to him for several minutes. Sbai is president of the Community of the Moroccan Women in Italy, an association that campaigns for the rights of the Moroccan women who are victims of family violence. She is also very active in denouncing the risks of multiculturalism and is firmly opposed to the presence of Islamic schools on Italian soil.
During her unreported meeting with the Pope, she delivered to him a letter written by a group of concerned citizens, in which they explain who the UCOII really is and ask the Pontiff to isolate the extremists and promote relations with the truly moderate and secularist groups that so far have been ignored by the Italian government.
Souad Sbai said that Vatican's newly—appointed Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone (who speaks a fluent Arabic and knows the Islamic world very well) told her the Pope will be gladly willing to consider such advice.
It is more than appropriate to say that the Roman Catholic Church under the lead of former theology professor Joseph Ratzinger has opened a new era in the relations with the Islamic world.
While the late John Paul II appeased Islam to counter the then communist enemy, Benedict knows the Muslim religion and the Islamic way of thinking enough to not be afraid to criticize some negative respects and say once and for all that dialogue cannot be unconditional.
His meeting with the ambassadors and the Italian Muslim community showed the Vatican's refusal to apologize for using its right to freedom of speech.
Stefania Lapenna is an Italian political activist and blogger. She blogs at Free Thoughts. She has written for several newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, and in Italy, L'Opinione and Il Foglio, ands he is a contributor to Ragion Politica.