On the Pope’s Comments on Holy War

Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham college Oxford, in Ekklesia on Pope Benedict’s comments on holy war.

Any comments by a Christian leader that touch upon this wound are bound to be interpreted from every possible angle. The Pope must have known this. If millions of Muslims were offended by the scribblings of a few unknown Danish cartoonists, it’s pretty obvious the enormous potential for harm that might flow from a few ill-timed comments by the vicar of Rome.

Furthermore, the Pope has form on all of this. Just a few months before he was elected, he spoke out against Muslim Turkey joining the European Union. Christian Europe must be defended, he argued. It didn’t go down well at the time with Muslim leaders.

But what makes his comments from Bavaria doubly insensitive is that Munich and its surrounding towns are home to thousands of Gastarbeiter, many from Turkey, who are often badly treated by local Germans and frequently subjected to racism. It won’t be lost on them that Manuel II ran his Christian empire from what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul. And reference to that time, in circumstances such as these, has the unmistakable whiff of Christian triumphalism.

For the most part, the Pope’s address was a scholarly exercise that sought to challenge the idea that rationality is intrinsically and necessarily secular. We must “overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable”, he insisted. Most Christians would agree. But even here there was a sharp criticism of Islam buried beneath the scholarly rhetoric.