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November 30, 2006

Popes should not change their minds: Douglas Murray - author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - argues that the Papacy has been degraded by Pope Benedict's U-turn on Turkey's entry to the EU

Posted by Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray - author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - takes issue with Pope Benedict. Now is not the time - argues Douglas Murray - for the West to appease Islam. It is the time for us to take offence at the Islamists constant taking of offence at us.

It will be remembered that Pope Benedict got in trouble a few months ago for quoting someone who once said something critical of Islam. This Papal solecism drew a range of responses. Some of the cruder representatives of the "religion of peace" stood outside Westminster Cathedral during Sunday morning mass and called for a Papal beheading. Others, like Salih Kapusuz (Deputy Leader of the party of the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan) made do with more moderate expressions of distaste.

He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages,
Mr Kapusuz said of the Pope, before adding,
Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.
It is no surprise then that the Pope's current trip to Turkey has re-stirred passions. Even before arriving in the country, Turkey's top Muslim official, Ali Bardakoglu, demanded that the Pope should state for the record that Islam is as much a religion of peace as Christianity.

Like Mr Kapusuz, Mr Bardakoglu has at least reminded us that followers of Islam are not blessed with a sense of irony. But neither, it appears, do many of them seem to be blessed with a sense of manners. Pre-emptive attacks on their guest before he even arrived in the country have been considerable. And so it is even more to be regretted that Pope Benedict chose to use almost the first moments of his trip to make a private concession on the matter of Turkish entry into the EU.

For if Turkey's Mr Erdogan can be believed (and there are reasons to insert that qualification) the Pope is said to have told him in the first hours of his visit that he now backs Turkey's entrance into what the Pope had previously viewed as a "Christian club".

This is - not to put too fine a point on it - bemusing. Before becoming Pope, Ratzinger had been outspoken and uncompromising on this issue. Turkey doesn't belong in the club and should be kept out was the gist. Now we appear to have that rarest (and technically impossible) of things, a Papal U-turn.

A discussion of the merits or demerits of Turkish entry might be left for another day, but what cannot be left unaddressed is the signal the Pope has now given out.

How is it possible that he changed so much
asked a young Islamist girl called Merve Celikkol, who concluded to the New York Times reporters on the ground that the Pope is "a hypocrite". The answer to the charming Merve's question is clear. He has changed because he has been forced to pacify the Islamic beast, and because support for Turkish entry is clearly in the Pope's calculation the least he can offer.

As the numerous mea culpas given out by the Vatican after the summer's events made clear the Papacy does not want to antagonise Islam. And with good reason. The result of quoting a medieval source in a lecture at a German university was the murder of a nun in Africa, the torching of churches in the Holy Land and the murder and mutilation of Christians in Iraq . No leader of a billion believers could help reflecting that his flock may be equally if not more at risk from the consequences of any further scholarly citations.

This Papacy has, in other words, had its "Mit Brennender Sorge" moment. In 1937 the Pope dipped his toe into the political climate, found it too scalding for his taste, and withdrew. Pope Benedict has just had the same experience, and it is much to be regretted. He has signalled to Islam that there are concessions he can make, and reactions other than outrage in the face of intimidation and violence. It is a shame. We needed Benedict, and his withdrawal from the debate is a considerable loss for the forces of reason and Western preservation.

In the absence of religious guidance, when the Churches are unwilling - or to be charitable perhaps simply unable - to speak honestly, people will increasingly fall on their own gospels and their own commandments. And they will try to make do with some very strange and insincere rules. One in particular has been raised again by the Pope's visit to Turkey .

Voltaire is regularly and mistakenly cited as having said:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
It has become a liberal mantra - one whose popularity relies in no small part on the fact that it is more often preached than put to the test.

I thought of this phrase again when I saw photos of the anti-Papal protests taking place in Turkey this week. One banner held by a headscarved wonder proclaimed in large, professionally produced, letters:
Jesus is not son of God. He is a Prophet of Islam.
Now there are many things to be said about this Mohammedan obscenity, not least to once again point out the laughable, ahistorical and uniquely retrospective form of religious imperialism that Islam is (for more on which I much recommend Robert Spencer's superb new book, The Truth About Mohammed).

But the other thing which this woman's protest with a crowd of similarly veiled women again emphasises is that we in the West have become too sanguine, tolerant and unoffended for our own good. Against the amazing (and convenient) low-offence threshold which followers of Islam claim to suffer from, this might be a very good time for the West to signal rather louder to the Muslim world that there are things which we too find offensive. It may be blasphemy of the kind that the woman's poster displayed. Or it may be the blasphemy the holder's medieval desert-garb commits against at least half of the human race.

Defending to the death someone's right to say something you disagree with is a delightful enlightenment notion. But it comes against problems when a pre-enlightenment superstition enters the equation. I am very happy to defend the right of people with whom I disagree to say what they like. But the notion only survives if I can expect a degree of reciprocity. That deal of reciprocity has now broken down completely. I am certainly not going to give my life - in fact I wouldn't give a toenail - to defend an Islamist's right to offend me when I am fully aware that they would call for violence against me were I to offend them.

We are learning all the time at the moment. And the lesson that freedom of speech is a right for us, a luxury for many and a great advantage for our opponents seems to me one of the few fruitful things to have come from Benedict's otherwise degrading trip to Turkey.

Douglas Murray is the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.

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I think Douglas Murray may well be right on this one. But just as we would tend to discount anything said by George Galloway, however correct or logical it may be, simply because he said it, so there is a similar possibility here, simply because Douglas Murray is a neoconservative.

Why so? Because we have seen the performance of a Neoconservative administration in the USA. George W. Bush twice won the presidency of that country by a narrow margin. While the majority of voters may have been swayed by issues such as taxation, a significant number may have been persuaded to vote Republican by the prominence among the Democrats of those who wish to decouple copulation from related issues such as male-and-female, reproduction, etc. But now we see how, while that administration has had a crust of Christian-style righteousness, underneath there has been a mantle of Rumsfeldian brutality and a core of Cheney’s own Mammon-worship.

From one aspect, it appears that the main achievement of that administration is to have made life ten times worse for local Christians living in Muslim lands. So while here Douglas Murray may be saying the right thing, he’s the wrong person to be saying it.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at November 30, 2006 06:24 PM

I always enjoy your wing-nuttery Iain. This new innovation is marvellous. If I understand you right you say you'll defend anyone's right to disagree with you except those who fundamentally disagree with. Splendid.

Minor question - what is "obscene" about the her claim that Jesus is not the son of god etc.?

Worried you have been hanging out with the Yanks too long.

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at November 30, 2006 08:47 PM

You are not very far away from that girl who held that banner. You both belong to the middle ages. And don't forget Salih Kapusuz, he blongs to dark ages as well. I would not mind you fight each other over fantasies called religion but you try to bring the whole world down with you. Why don't you wake up and let the rest a chance?

By the way Enlightment happenned despite of people like you -putting yourself on the englightment's side is like buying an Yankees t-shirt and claiming to be player of the team.

Posted by: nyoped at December 1, 2006 04:35 AM

Excellent article. I can quibble only with the remark about the 'technical impossiblity of a papal U-turn' because, technically speaking, it is only when defining Faith and Morals, 'ex cathedra', and to the whole Church, that there can be no U-turn. My own feeling is that the Pope should not have gone to Turkey, though, of course, I hope I'm wrong. Many thanks.

PS: I have ordered the book -- which should make good light Christman reading!

Posted by: Frank Reilly at December 1, 2006 07:46 AM

"We needed Benedict, and his withdrawal from the debate is a considerable loss for the forces of reason and Western preservation."

Unfortunately, the Pope is a leader without an army, and the rest of the West, the guys with the guns who could easily back him up, have surrendered already.

Posted by: James G at December 1, 2006 09:30 AM

James G don't you think your statement sound a little ridicolous??

"the rest of the West, the guys with the guns who could easily back him up?!?!?!" In that case Western diplomats should consult Iran on how to mix religion with government. And you should consult the violant militants on how to call for armies for your own agenda (which probably was passed to you by an interest group)

Posted by: nyoped at December 2, 2006 03:23 AM

How is it possible that he changed so much

asked a young Islamist girl called Merve Celikkol, who concluded to the New York Times reporters on the ground that the Pope is "a hypocrite".

What is your proof that Merve Celikkol is an Islamist? The NYT report mentions her only thus:

Merve Celikkol, a 21-year-old physics student, was just as blunt, calling the pope a hypocrite: “How is it possible that he changed so much?”

It does not say where she is studying physics, but given that it is term time, if she was really an Islamist, she would likely not be studying it in Turkey as she would not be allowed to wear her hijab inside the college. She would be stuyding in England or elsewhere in Europe.

Perhaps you have seen other evidence that she is an Islamist; I could not find any. If you have, produce it.

Posted by: Yusuf Smith at December 2, 2006 01:14 PM

'Wing-nut' - is this term in use in the UK? I thought it was strictly a US Democrat thing, part of the tweedle-dum tweedle-dee of their polit cycle. Otherwise incoherent because it is fundamentally ambiguous. Wing?

Brits are usually more lucid.

This Fawkes guy (!) is having us on, right?

Posted by: Bruce at December 3, 2006 07:18 AM

I agree that the Pope could be more absolutist -- he is the pope after all, but I detected some diplomatic nuance in the words that he used, nuance that mobs don't really pick up on.

As far as I have heard it in the media (and I haven't heard and read everything on the subject), the words that the Pope chose to describe the issue of Turkey entering the EU, were along the following lines:

The pope said he supports Turkey meeting the criteria for EU entry.

I love this line. Frankly, I don't think that this is a concession. In fact, it is a veiled criticism of Turkey. All the pope said is that he agrees that Turkey should change, and that the parameters for its change (and improvement) can be found in its meeting the criteria for joining EU. He doesn't draw the conclusion that Turkey should in fact join once it does meet these criteria (unless he said that explicitly and I missed it), but merely that he reckons Turkey should change.

I think he's a skilled diplomat, but it's a new role for him, having been an academic philosopher and theologian before.

All in all, I still give him the benefit of the doubt. Remember, for example, the apologetic sounding non-apology that he delivered after the Regensburg lecture: he was sorry that Muslims felt that way. That's not an apology. " I'm sorry you feel like that " is zero concession.

Posted by: Benjamin Bilski at December 3, 2006 03:38 PM
Mr Kapusuz said of the Pope ... the author of such ... insolent remarks

That's not up to much, is it? Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have done much better, adding impudent and impertinent as well!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at December 12, 2006 06:25 PM
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