(HOST) Commenator Olin Robison has been thinking about the Pope, Islam and the concept of reciprocity.
(ROBISON) Way back in September, in a speech given at the University of Redensberg in Germany, the intellectually inclined Pope Benedict reached far back in history to quote someone from the 14th century to the effect that the Prophet Mohammad had advocated spreading the faith by the sword.
Soon thereafter there were well organized massive protests in urban capitals far and wide leading some critics to observe that the Pope’s speech had become the subject of the “indignation of the month.”
I subsequently asked a friend in Europe who is something of an authority on this particular Pope whether the Pontiff’s speech in Redenberg with its historical references was calculated or were the quotations just a casual academic reference. My friend’s response was, “This guy doesn’t do anything casually.” Well, o.k. That takes care of that.
We are told that the Pope’s recent visit to Turkey had been planned for a long time and that, in fact, he was going there primarily to visit the old but small Christian community in Turkey. The Vatican says that the original and real purpose of the trip was to help smooth over the centuries old divisions between Western and Eastern Christendom. I take this at face value.
But even if this was the original purpose of the trip that was hardly the way it was portrayed in the media. It was presented as the Pope going into a predominately Muslim society. The visit was seen by some as conciliatory and by others as provocative.
On the very first day of his visit the Pope surprised his hosts by telling the Turkish Prime Minister that he, the Pope, now supports Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union. This is a big deal, even though the Pope doesn’t actually have a vote. It also represented a reversal of position on the part of the Pontiff. He had previously taken a public position against Turkish membership and had done so on religious grounds.
My personal view is that the Pope’s visit was both good and timely. I also agree with the Pope’s well known position of “reciprocity,” by which he means this: Even as mosques are freely built in Western, predominately Christian, countries, churches should be freely permitted in predominately Muslim countries. It is a reasonable position, easy to understand, and his remarks on his Turkish visit show that he is sticking with it. Good for him.
I also personally agree with the Pope’s new position on Turkey and the European Union. Of course I don’t get a vote either. But it seems to me to be patently clear that Europe either reaches out to Turkey now or it sets the stage for a long term conflict in which, in the end, no one wins.
The fear in much of Europe is that so many Muslims – 70 to 80 million – given free reign in Europe is a bad thing. I disagree. Europe is facing a dramatic demographic crisis in the near term owing to extremely low birthrates. The Europeans must, in my opinion, face up to this, and admitting Turkey to EU membership is a good way to get moving on this critical issue. Sooner is better, and the Pope almost certainly helped this cause along in a positive way during his visit.
Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.