Morons - Everywhere you look
Il Papa stands accused of insulting Islam, than which no sin can be worse in the eyes of the media these days, by referring, in his speech to theological students at Regensburg, to the words of a long-dead Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in his correspondence with a Muslim scholar of the time. The words used are, of course, the only words that anyone has bothered to cite (extremely honourable exception here). They were:
"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."
This has two meanings, only one of which has adequately been explored by the commentariat. The first, and most obvious, is that Manuel II was critiquing the Islamic habit of conversion by the sword. This has been described as Islamophobic, but given that Manuel was writing possibly from Byzantium already under armed siege by the armies of Islam and that his successor was to die fighting on Byzantium's walls his feelings can probably be understood. To deny that Islam was spread by force of arms in the early stages is fatuous and ahistorical. Islamic armies conquered the Christian Middle East, North Africa and reached as far as Toulouse in the West and Vienna in the East (as late as the late 17th century).
The other point Manuel was making is that, when Islam was first encountered by the Byzantines, it was assumed to be a new form of an ancient Christian heresy - the Arian heresy. This, which essentially denied the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, had been extremely popular in the 7th and 8th centuries. Theoderic had conquered Italy under its auspice, and Arian baptistries and churches can still be seen in Ravenna, Theoderic's capital. Islamic worship, with many of its accoutrements, seemed to be nothing more than a new version of this Christian heresy. What was different was its violence in the cause of conversion - and it was probably with an eye to this that Manuel made his "brusque" question.
It is a side-issue to the lecture, however, which, if read carefully, can be interpreted as a far greater challenge to Islam than the echoed cry of a besieged Emperor. Benedict, who whatever else he may be is one of the most formidably intellectual of the modern popes, works to identify Christianity within a framework of Hellenic philosophical rationalism. Benedict's criticism of Islam is that it explicitly removes the figure of God from the rational - and thus inhibits the growth of humanity within theology.
What is extraordinary is that the reaction to a lecture in theology and philosophy should have been transformed into a rationale for the burning of churches and the killing of nuns - and that so many in the Western media are prepared to blame Benedict's lecture on the importance of rationalism and the centrality of non-violence within true faith for the irrational violence displayed by morons and idiots.