A Bavarian Provocation
By Tariq Ali
Was Benedict's most recent provocation accidental or deliberate?
The Bavarian is a razor-sharp reactionary cleric. A man who
organises his own succession to the Papacy with a ruthless purge
of potential dissidents and supervises the selection of
Cardinals with great care leaves little to chance.
I think he knew what he was saying and why.
Choosing a quote from Manuel II Paleologos, not the most
intelligent of the Byzantine rulers, was somewhat disingenuous,
especially on the eve of a visit to Turkey. He could have found
more effective quotes and closer to home. Perhaps it was his
unique tribute to Oriana Fallaci.
The Muslim world with two of its countries---Iraq and
Afghanistan-- directly occupied by Western troops does not need
to be reminded of the language of the Crusades. In a neo-liberal
world suffering from environmental degradation, poverty, hunger,
repression, a 'planet of slums' (in the graphic phrase of Mike
Davis), the Pope chooses to insult the founder of a rival faith.
The reaction in the Muslim world was predictable, but
depressingly insufficient. Islamic civilization cannot be
reduced to the power of the sword. It was the vital bridge
between the Ancient world and the European Renaissance. It was
the Catholic Church that declared War on Islam in the Iberian
Peninsula and Sicily. Mass expulsions, killings, forced
conversions and a vicious Inquisition to police the cleansed
Europe and the reformist Protestant enemy.
The fury against 'heretics' led to the burning of Cathar
villages in Southern France. Jews and Protestants alike were
granted refuge by the Ottoman Empire, a refuge they would have
been denied had Istanbul remained Constantinople. 'Slaves, obey
your human masters.For Christ is the real master you serve' said
Paul (Colossians 3: 22-24) in establishing a collaborationist
tradition which fell on its knees before wealth and power and
which reached its apogee during the Second World War where the
leadership of the Church collaborated with fascism and did not
speak up against the judeocide or the butchery on the Eastern
Front. Islam does not need pacifist lessons from this Church.
Violence was and is not the prerogative of any single religion
as the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine demonstrates.
During the Cold War the Vatican, with rare exceptions, supported
the imperial wars. Both sides were blessed during the First and
Second World wars; the US Cardinal Spellman was a leading
warrior in the battles to destroy Communism during the Korean
and Vietnam wars. The Vatican later punished the liberation
theologists and peasant-priests in Latin America. Some were
Not all Christians joined in the crusades old and new. When Pope
Urban launched the crusades the Norman king of Sicily refused to
send troops in which Sicilian Muslims would be compelled to
fight against Muslims in the East. His son, Roger II, refused to
back the Second Crusade. In doing so they showed more courage
than the leaders of contemporary Italy, who are only too willing
to join the imperial crusades against the Muslim world.
'To make sure of being right in all things', said the founder of
the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, 'we ought always to hold to the
principle that the white I see I should believe to be black if
the hierarchical church were so to rule.'
Today most Catholic prelates in the West (including the Bavarian
in the Vatican) and politicians of Centre-Left/Right worship the
real Pope who lives in the White House and tells them when black
Tariq Ali is author of the
Street Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David
Speaking of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at:
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