"[T]he real insult to Islam is not a line from a papal speech or a cartoon about Mohammed. It is the violence, terror, and bloodshed that Islamist fanatics unleash in the name of their religion -- and the unwillingness of most of the world's Muslims [which I read as referring primarily to influential Muslims, not the average Muslim who's not in much of a position to do much -EV] to say or do anything to stop them."
It's been in the news, so I thought I'd pass along the text — I had decided that I ought to read it, and I thought others might want to as well. Here's the most relevant excerpt:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
I read the whole piece, and it struck me that it would have been more apt if it had also discussed why it was that the Christian world had on many occasions turned to "spreading the faith through violence." But of course the reaction to the speech would have been more apt if it hadn't included calls for silencing the Pope through violence; and the difference between these two inaptnesses is quite vast.
UPDATE: Stuart Buck, in comments, pointed to a post that pointed to what seemed to be a more accurate, and nontrivially different translation (note the inclusion of "a brusqueness which leaves us astounded").
FURTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, commenter Dylanfa reports that "Slate claims the 'which leaves us astounded' language was added to the transcript after the controversy as damage control, and was not actually in the speech as given, which simply noted 'brusqueness.'" UPDATE ON MONDAY: Slate has withdrawn this assertion.
YET FURTHER UPDATE: Stuart Buck reports that the speech as given did have the "astounded" language, and points to the German-language video/audio file (the Pope on YouTube — is this a great decade, or what?). Stuart doesn't speak German himself, but is relying on a translation provided by Prof. Horace Hodges. If there are German-speaking readers who can shed light on this, I'd love to hear about it. (UPDATE: I asked Sasha, who knows German, and he agrees with Prof. Hodges' translation.)
In the meantime, Ben Brumfeld points to a Wikipedia piece on the translation differences between the German and the English texts; the Wikipedia author appears to have verified at least one of the differences using the audio:
Commenting on a quote from the Byzantine emperor, Pope Benedict states in the English translation of his lecture, "he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness". According to the German text the Pope's original comment was "He addresses his interlocutor in an astoundingly harsh — to us surprisingly harsh — way" (wendet er sich in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form).
This difference was corrected on 17 September. The official (though still "provisional") passage now reads: "he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded". (emphasis in original)
Another difference involves the use of the word "jihad", which is present in the German version but not in the English one: the original statement "The emperor touches on the theme of jihad, holy war" (kommt der Kaiser auf das Thema des Djihad, des heiligen Krieges zu sprechen) became in the English rendition "The emperor touches on the theme of the holy war."
A third difference involves the emperor's quote employed by the Pope: "...things only evil and inhuman...". What the Pope said, and which is found in the German text and verifiable with the audio from the lecture, was "... things only bad and inhumane ... ". The word used was "Schlechtes" (bad/wicked), whereas the English word "evil" would have corresponded to "Böses", a word the Pope did not use. Similarly, the German word "inhuman" (inhumane) was used, and not "unmenschlich" (inhuman).
Last week, as I noted here, Slate reported that the Vatican had added something to the transcript of the Pope's controversial recent speech -- something that the Pope didn't actually say. It turned out, though, that it was the Vatican's original transcript that was mistaken, and the new transcript properly reflected the Pope's statement; the correction of the transcript was thus quite right.
I'm very pleased to report that Slate has corrected this assertion, here and here; they will also run something the next "corrections" column. Many thanks for clearing this up to my brother Sasha, to an unnamed German speaker that Slate consulted, and to an unnamed German speaker that I consulted.
Related Posts (on one page):