Over the past couple of days I've heard a decent amount of news coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey. Today's coverage included a CNN story about al-Qaeda's denunciation of the visit, saying that, in effect, the visit is an effort to "consolidate the crusader campaign against the lands of Islam after the failure of the crusader leaders (in Iraq and Afghanistan) ... and an attempt to extinguish the burning ember of Islam inside our Turkish brothers." The story goes on to also show the Vatican's point of view, which basically says that saying "no" to violence in God's name and having common commitment in that effort is paramount, according to Vatican spokespeople.
The situation in Turkey with Muslims protesting the Pontiff's visit, actually, was never intended to be the highlight of the visit per se. The main purpose of the visit was for Pope Benedict to meet with Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, in Istanbul. This meeting is one of a number that have taken place over the years that have been part of efforts towards the reconciliation of the East and West of Christendom. The issues with Islam and Islamic leaders, etc., have been highlighted due to the activities related to the War on Terror, as well as the issue of Benedict's remarks which were made in the past that Muslims took offense to; as it turns out, those remarks were taken out of context by those who registered their complaint.
My initial reaction was one of initial disbelief; I thought, "Here we go again. Can't everyone stop bickering for just a little bit??" But after a while, I sat down and thought about what I was hearing, and it made me realize something. Islam, especially that which could be considered "political" Islam, is not the "religion of peace" it makes itself out to be. That makes me sad; Islam originates from the same source that Christianity comes from, and they have the same common history. If you look at Arabic and Hebrew, they have a common linguistic root, which makes them "brother" tongues. So why are many of those that are of the Islamic tradition so hostile, especially toward Christians?
I actually should clarify that; not all of those who are Islamic are hostile toward Christians. In fact, many are not. I had made a comment about "political" Islam; my remark was directed at that group of Muslims. In fact, that same segment is pointedly anti-western in many of its views and beliefs. I know that also sounds rather "incorrect", but it is merely an observation that I am making, one that I believe to be accurate.
I read a book recently, entitled "Now They Call Me Infidel" by Nonie Darwish. Ms. Darwish is an Arab-American originally from Egypt. Her father was an intelligence officer in the Egyptian Army in the days of Gamel Abdel Nasser, and her family was living in Gaza as her father was posted there and was a leader of Fedayeen teams that raided Israel regularly. She was brought up believing that Jews were the root of all evil, and that any non-Muslim was an infidel and deserved to be killed. Three weeks before her father was due to be sent back to Cairo he was killed by what we know today as an IED, a letter-bomb brough into his office. Her younger brother, at age 4 at the time, witnessed the explosion.
From there her world was conflicted; she was educated in Catholic schools and received her college education at the American University in Cairo. She emigrated to the United States where she married a Coptic Christian who converted to Islam for her sake. They later divorced, and years later she married an American - after their marriage they (she and her second husband) both converted to Christianity.
It was an interesting read; she details her life and all of the changes she went through. She also made a strong case for why Islam is the way it is. It is where my opinion of "political" Islam came from, as I agree with her about why those elements of Islam that are considered radical are so dangerous. She commented (and I happen to agree with her) that the elements of Islam who hate the West and believe non-Muslims are infidels are actually a pretty ignorant segment of the faith. They are so focused on getting their agenda put out on the world stage that they lose sight of the basic tenets of their faith. That, again, is unfortunate. And it's not limited to Islam, as most people realize that there are segments of many groups, including Christians and Jews, that are also focused in similar ways for different reasons.
The reviews of the book were mixed; for any two or three positive reviews there was one that was negative, and the negative reviews were extremely negative. I personally felt it was thought-provoking. Her life-experience is one that would best be described as "well-rounded" mainly because she was able to look at the situations she was in from multiple perspectives as time went on. I admire her ability to have been able to do that.
As for Benedict and Bartholomew, I truly hope they have a productive and fraternal visit. I also hope that they're able to sow seeds that grow into trees which will ultimately bear fruit. With respect to Islam and the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I don't know what to say or think anymore. I simply hope for some resolution to all of the things that are happening over there.