Carnival of the Arabists

Just for fun I thought I’d collect the reactions of a number of Western bloggers, all of whom speak Arabic, and none of whom, to the best of my ability to determine are unfavorably disposed to the people of the Middle East or Islam to the recent brouhaha over Benedict XVI’s address at University of Regensburg.

Informed Comment

I found Juan Cole’s analysis pretty fair and reasonable. This is clearly work he was trained for:

Benedict was trying to stake out a position that Western godless atheism is actually unreasonable, and that hard line coercive religion that disregards reason is wrong (he incorrectly identified this position as that of Muhammad and the Quran). Thus, the Catholic Church, with its reasoned faith, becomes the ideal, avoiding the errors of the two extremes (Western secularism and Islam). To accomplish this positioning, Benedict XVI had to reduce to cardboard figures all three traditions– Western rationalism, Roman Catholicism, and Islam.

He goes on to note that Christianity has its own history of conversion by the sword and that some schools of Islamic scholars have held positions not dissimilar to those Benedict outlined in his address.

The problem with the Pope’s Regensburg lecture is that it laid out three intellectual traditions as unchanging, undifferentiated essences and then contrasted them with one another, to the edification of his own position. There aren’t any essences.

It is always better to put forward the virtues of your tradition on their own, without attempting invidious comparisons with, and put-downs, of others. If Christianity is superior, that can be perceived without it being necessary to brand Islam inferior.

Abu Aardvark

Marc Lynch is a little more critical, suggests that Benedict is playing right into Al-Qaeda’s hands, and presents a good round-up of reactions from the Arab language media.


The estimable Lounsbury’s reaction is, IMO, spot on and I’ll take the liberty of posting the entirety of his short post on the subject:

A very quick comment on the emerging Popish scandal regarding comments and the like.

First, I rather consider the whole thing absurd. Second, the choice of quotation was, well a bit on the queer side, but there it is. Third, the manner in which this is being reported in the Arabic speaking media is…well piss poor. Fourth, as a general matter, one finds in MENA that there is a strong popular sensation that “religion” should not be “insulted” – you find this even among fairly liberal people. Of course, it is all too human that people are particularly sensitive to slights against their own religion – or percieved slights – but it would be unfair to say it is only “own religion” as the general sacralness of the “religions of the book” remains a fairly strong sentiment.

There is also certainly no small aspect of “seeking to be offended” as the Islamist radical types pimp offendedness to feed off gut reaction.

This would all be less of an issue had not the Americans made the region such a bloody basket case of a mess with Iraq.

Iraq isn’t the only context to be considered here. There’s also the Danish cartoons of Mohammed kerfuffle and Islamist terrorism, well, everywhere.


Matthew Hogan, Lounsbury’s co-blogger in the group blog ‘Aqoul, is more critical:

I tend to think the Pope’s recent Islam-related comments, which were first addressed here by Lounsbury below, constituted an intentional opening salvo, or a water-testing, in Benedict’s un-John Paul II-like approach to non-Catholics, including Muslims. Though Benedict and his predecessor were bascially of one mind theologically, and also in terms of internal Church governance, when it came to relations to outsiders they had quite different outlooks. John Paul II was a city boy from a time and part of Poland that wasn’t quite as narrow and bigoted about, say, Jews and others, as the rest of Poland. It was a relatively secular and cosmopolitan Poland JP II knew and favored. He had friends of all stripes, including Jews, some of whom or their families died in the death camps. Benedict’s origins and approach are quite different, and the swipes he took in the yawn-inducing address were taken at more than just Islam as a target.

He goes on the wonder if Benedict’s background in Bavaria hasn’t made him a little more predisposed towards intolerance.

I think he’s underestimating Benedict and not taking the difference in the timing of Benedict’s and JP II’s respective elections into account. John Paul II was a mystic. Benedict is a pragmatist. When John Paul II was elected to the papacy communism was the greatest threat facing the Church, particularly in Europe. Today the greatest threat facing the Church is secularism, particularly in Europe. The papacy continues to be Euro-centric (insufficiently Euro-centric as some like old acquaintance Andy Greeley might say).

In recognition of ‘Aqoul’s continuing signal contributions in understanding the Middle East and North Africa I’m blogrolling it.

Crossroads Arabia

John Burgess, too, is right on the money saying that the Pope has, basically, stuck his thumb in the collective Muslim eye and that, if those who are upset about Benedict’s remarks took the time to read what he actually said, the reaction might be somewhat different:

Quoting a 14th C. document does not necessarily mean that the person doing the quoting agrees with those words. The words are being repeated because they shed some sort of perspective on the issue being discussed, not because they are necessarily correct. We can learn from the mistakes of earlier ages, if we choose to do so.

Choosing to take umbrage at the least perceived slight isn’t very intelligent. It shines its own light—a very unfavorable one—on those who get unduly upset. In fact, it plays into the stereotypes that the region and the religion are trying to avoid, that of being over-emotional, thin-skinned, and prone to violent reaction disproportionate to the cause.

He concludes with a round-up of Saudi media reactions.

If anyone can point me to comparable posts, I’ll be happy to include them in my little round-up. My three criteria are: 1) Western Arabists; 2) reasonably non-agonistic; 3) coherently written.

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