Is Pope Benedict XVI’s use of a provocative quote with reference to Prophet Muhammad a sign of the world’s orthodox Christian and Muslim elements pitting themselves against each other?Prasenjit Chowdhury KolkataOn September 12, in a speech delivered in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th Century Christian emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who said Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. His comments on religious radicalism, many say, are another sign of his intention to bring his voice into one of the world's most critical showdowns: Islam's internal struggles between moderates and extremists. The comments created a furore worldwide, as barely a day after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Islamic world saw in the Pope’s comments yet another provocative version of Samuel Huntington’s now-infamous ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory. There is a global tendency to portray that violence is somewhat inherent in Islam. The scale of this din seems a little bit Goebbelsian. The air is highly inflammable. Heresies and facts coagulate and we hear many such syllogisms: not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims. The role of a pontiff stands always to scrutiny. Take the instance of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939, who has been the subject of considerable public criticism and even vilification, for his alleged failure to speak out against Hitler during the Holocaust. Pope Pius' alleged ‘silence’ in the face of the worst Nazi atrocities has led some of his harshest critics to accuse him of being a Nazi sympathiser or an anti-Semite. John Paul asked for forgiveness for the past anti-Semitism of the Roman Catholic Church and tendered a more specific apology in 1998 for the Holocaust. Critics of the papacy still want a condemnation of Pope Pius XII for his perceived inaction in the face of Nazi genocide.Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was recently elected as head of the Catholic Church and is the ideological forbear of Pope John Paul. He was earlier known for his provocative statements about the Islamic world. For instance, in August 2004, the said that Turkey did not belong in the European Union, being culturally “in permanent contrast to Europe”. Although Ratzinger has not repeated his past complaints about Islamic inroads into ‘Christian’ Europe, he has pushed for better treatment of Christians in Muslim lands, and, in a reference to terrorism, stated last August that Christians and Muslims must ‘‘turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people.” Earlier, Ratzinger articulated a doctrine of “reciprocity,” which essentially holds that if the religious rights of Muslims are respected in historically Christian countries, then Islamic countries should offer their Christian minorities equal respect.But in this façade of this love for rationalism, there is an obvious reactionary face. The most glaring charge against him is that he is the one who has insisted inside the Church, that it is not acceptable to see other religious communities as equally valid ways of approaching God. That is, his consciousness is very much akin to the consciousness in the Church of ancient days that led to the Inquisition. As Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger is the 265th leader of the world's most powerful Christian institution with 1.1 billion members. He is the first German pope in a thousand years. He was briefly a member of the Hitler Youth, drafted into the army and eventually deserted. He served time in a POW camp. In 1951, he was ordained and became a Cardinal in 1977. In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed him head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, where he has served for the last quarter of a century. He is a fierce opponent of liberation theology, the increased role of women in the church, artificial birth control and homosexuality. He attempted to block moves by the United Nations for birth control and in effect, the growth of AIDS in countries, say in Africa, with inadequate birth control information. In May, when he visited Auschwitz, though he was expected to at least air a refrain of the Vatican’s shameful silence during the Holocaust, he didn’t offer any apology. His academic temper fails to explain why so many Christians signed up for the Crusades, and his Nazi past does not make him rant against a tacit sanction of anti-Semitism in the European tradition.The truth is that Christianity, like Islam, has been just as much a conquering religion. Spanish armies ruthlessly destroyed ancient civilisations in Central and South America to spread the message of ‘love’. Christians colonised the Americas and Australia, committing genocide as they went, while missionaries such as Livingstone converted most of Africa. Forcible conversions have always been the bone of contention in India as well.The trouble possibly is taking a sectarian view of both the Christian West and Islam. Christianity has been as aggressively proselytising as Islam, setting up ravages in its wake. But there is a growing fear that Christianity is losing out to Islam, as it is now the second religion not just in the US but also in Europe and Australia. Europe has 15 million Muslims, accounting for one in 10 of the population in France, where the government now estimates 50,000 Christians are converting to Islam every year. In Brussels, Mohammed has been the most popular name for boy babies for the last four years. In Britain, attendance at mosques is now higher than it is in the Church of England. Later in the day, the difference is that Christendom has – by and large – stopped conquering and converting, and indeed in Europe, simply stopped believing. Even President Bush's most trenchant critics don't believe he conquered Afghanistan and Iraq to spread the word of Jesus. It is ironic that by deposing Saddam, who ran the most secular of Arab regimes, the US actually transferred power to the imams. Seen in context, why is George W. Bush's utterly unremarkable evangelical Christianity so self-evidently risible? In an apocalyptic novel Glorious Appearing, based on Tim LaHaye's interpretation of biblical prophecies, a fierce Jesus appears to wreak carnage on an unbelieving world. Religious scholars relate evangelical influence and the relative decline of more liberal mainline Protestant denominations, and fears of terrorism, to Bush's discussion of ‘godly’ purpose behind US military actions. The neo-con-administered ‘justice’, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, has brought to the fore grounds for yet another Crusade in the third millennia, with radical Islam and the Christian West pitted against one another. Small wonder that the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organisation of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement on a web forum about the Pope’s remarks on Islam: “We will continue our jihad (holy war) and never stop…” the statement said. The groups said Muslims will be victorious and addressed the Pope as the “worshipper of the cross,” foreboding starkly that the pope and the West would be “doomed”. The group also accused President Bush of initiating the “new Crusades campaign against Islam by his invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq while…the Pope of the Vatican is continuing this path by his blatant attack on Islam, its prophet…”Pope John Paul played a major role in the collapse of Soviet and European communism. Many people regarded his support for the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland in the 1980s as a crucial factor in that country's peaceful transition to democracy and the subsequent collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and its former satellites. Radical Islam grew on the abyss of communism. If Ratzinger has such a historic role in mind, he must be aware of the excrescence.