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Amitai Etzioni David Katz Harsh Pant - Middle East Forum

Amitai Etzioni David Katz Harsh Pant - Middle East Forum

the ruling Islamist

the ruling Islamist Peace and Justice Party (AKP)has been a principal architect and cosponsor ofthe U.N.’s flagship program to promote a global“Alliance of Civilizations.” Diversity, cross-culturaldialogue, and opposition to isolation of“the other” were among the principles articulatedby Erdoðan in his attempts to present Turkeyas “the best panacea against ‘clash of civilizations’theories.” 16 The beheading of a seniorChristian cleric by aMuslim zealot could notPope Benedict but send an unmistakablemessage that thisendorsedvery clash was in fullthe Turkishswing on Erdoðan’sgovernment’s home turf.denial of aMoreover, at thereligious-political time of the murder,Erdoðan was both sendingthinly veiled threatsmotive.of Turkey’s growing impatiencewith the slow progress of its EU applicationand seeking to enhance his stature throughoutthe Islamic world with menacing anti-Israeldiplomacy in response to its interception of theTurkey-originated Gaza flotilla. 17 He thus hadnothing to gain and much to lose by generatingheadlines about Padovese’s execution.So did Washington and its European allies.If Western diplomats spoke at all about thebishop’s murder, it was in the same hushed tonesthat are used when referring to Turkey’s Armeniangenocide of World War I, its subsequentuse of terror against remnant Christian communitiesand Kurdish villages, its 1974 invasion ofCyprus and subsequent ethnic cleansing of theoccupied Christian population, and its blockadeof neighboring Armenia.Well aware of the absence of backing fromWestern powers, the Vatican acted swiftly toavoid confrontation with Turkey. Notwithstandingan early observation by Vatican spokesmanFederico Lombardi that the murder highlightedthe “difficult conditions” of the church in theregion, 18 the official explanation was swiftly harmonizedwith that of Ankara. In a statementbroadcast on Vatican Radio on the same day,Lombardi negated his previous comment by statingthat “political motivations for the attack orother motivations linked to socio-political tensionsare to be excluded.” He also stressed thekiller’s “mental imbalance” 19 as if solo psychopathsmight be a primary source of the church’sdifficult conditions in the Islamic world.The day after the murder, while en route toone of Europe’s hot spots of Muslim-Christiancommunal tension—the divided island of Cyprus—PopeBenedict XVI himself sought toquash speculation about its motivation. He admittedthat he still had “very little information”about the killing, yet endorsed—much to the bewildermentof Christians in Turkey—the Turkishgovernment’s reflexive denial of a religious-politicalmotive when he declared, “We must notattribute the fact [of Bishop Padovese’s murder]to Turkey … What is certain is that it was not areligious or political assassination.” 20THE LESSONSOF REGENSBURGWhy did the pope so swiftly deny political orreligious motives for Padovese’s murder when somuch about the crime was still shrouded in mystery?Benedict XVI provided a motive when heexplained, “We do not want this tragic situation tobecome mixed up with dialogue with Islam or withall the problems of our journey [to Cyprus].” 21 Aquarrel with Ankara at this particular juncturecould certainly have had damaging repercussionsfor the church, but behind the pontiff’s timidity,lay his keen awareness of how easy it was totrigger the destructive rage of the Islamic powersand the temporal weakness of his church.Indeed, a few months before his ascendancyin May 2005, the pope-to-be caused consterna-16 Recep Tayyip Erdoðan, statement, opening session, Allianceof Civilizations Forum, Madrid, Jan. 15, 2008.17 Ynet News (Tel Aviv), June 1, 2010.18 Associated Press, June 3, 2010.19 Radio Vatican, June 3, 2010.20 Ibid., June 4, 2010.21 Ibid.44 / MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY SPRING 2011

tion in Turkey by declaring his opposition to itsapplication for EU membership because “historicallyand culturally, Turkey has little in commonwith Europe.” 22 Upon Ratzinger’s election to thepapacy, Erdoðan opined that his “rhetoric maychange from now on … because this post, thisresponsibility, requires it.” 23Benedict XVI did lower his tone but not beforethe mass demonstrations, violence, andthreats that followed his now famous RegensburgUniversity lecture of September 2006—just twomonths before he was scheduled to travel toIstanbul for his first papal foray into the world ofIslam. At Regensburg, the pope broached one ofthe key issues obstructing harmonious relationsbetween the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds: thesensitive question of violent jihad as a legitimatemeans of advancing the Islamic faith. 24In his address, the pope overstepped a redline drawn by Muslim political elites throughoutthe world. Erdoðan joined angry Muslim clericsand statesmen, demanding that the pope apologizefor his “wrong, ugly, and unfortunate statements”and calling into question whether theplanned papal visit to Istanbul would take place. 25He was followed by Director for Religious AffairsAli Bardakoðlu—the overseer of the Turkishstate’s massive financial support for Islamic institutions,including those in Europe, especiallyGermany 26 —who condemned the pope’s messageas reflecting “anger, hostility, and hatred”in addition to a “Crusader and holy-war mentality.”27 The deputy chairman of Erdoðan’s AKPParty, Salih Kapusuz, announced that theRegensburg speech would place Benedict XVIin the “same category as Hitler and Mussolini.” 2822 Le Figaro (Paris), Aug. 13, 2004; CatholicCulture.org,Dec. 17, 2004.23 Inter-Press Service (Rome), Apr. 20, 2005; Agence France-Presse, Apr. 21, 2005.24 Benedict XVI, “Faith, Reason and the University: Memoriesand Reflections,” University of Regensburg, Sept. 12,2006.25 Yeni Þafak (Istanbul), Sept. 17, 2006; Middle East MediaResearch Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch, no. 1297, Sept.22, 2006.26 Ali Bardakoðlu, “The Structure, Mission and Social Functionof the Directorate of Religious Affairs,” accessed Dec. 31,2010.27 MEMRI, Special Dispatch, no. 1297, Sept. 22, 2006.Left isolated and exposed by Washingtonand Europe, the pope quickly succumbed to pressure.To be sure, he did not retract a single worduttered at Regensburg,and his apology wasmore of a regretful explanationthan an admissionof error, but his humbleand appeasing demeanorwas conciliatory enoughto salvage his church’sdialogue with Islam andkeep the door open toIstanbul. Since then, hehas taken extraordinarypains to temper his languageand make flattering gestures to avoid frenziedMuslim responses.Consider Benedict XVI’s November 2006 visitto Turkey—his first as pope to a Muslim-majoritycountry. While reiterating the Vatican’s customaryplea for religious liberty, his remarks wereovershadowed by his gestures of goodwill aimedat underscoring his esteem for Islam and Turkey’sIslamist government, notably his prayer facingMecca in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and his praisefor Erdoðan’s role in launching the Alliance ofCivilizations. 29The biggest plum for Erdoðan was the indicationthat the pope would now welcome Turkey’smembership in the EU. 30 Although the Vaticanmade no mention of it, the Turkish press announcedthat Benedict XVI had endorsedErdoðan’s plan to establish a bureau of Turkey’sDirectorate of Religious Affairs in Brussels to“counter efforts to inflame Islamophobia.” 31The Regensburg speech led to the harmonizationof the Vatican’s diplomatic language withthat of Turkey and the Alliance of Civilizations,on which the Padovese murder had no apparenteffect. Anti-Christian violence remains a powerfulfactor in influencing the language of the churchas it struggles to balance its fundamental, unwa-28 Ibid.29 Catholic News Agency, Nov. 29, 2006.30 The Sunday Times (London), Nov. 29, 2006.31 Today’s Zaman (Istanbul), May 14, 2009.Pope Benedicthas takenextraordinarypains to temperhis language toavoid frenziedMuslimresponses.Eibner: Turkish Christians / 45

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