Return to the dark ages

“The Pope’s response to the anger his statements sparked in the Muslim world was more offensive than the statements themselves. He apologised not for what he said, but for Muslims’ failure to grasp the intended meaning.

“That the Pope should have quoted from a Byzantine text on Islam is hardly surprising. The line of continuity between Emanuel Paleologos’s conception of Islam – quoted in the papal speech – and Benedict’s has never been severed. The massive body of terms, images and narratives on Islam which the church inherited from the middle ages survives intact. There, Islam is depicted as a false creed propagated through violence and promiscuity, with Muhammad as scoundrel, magician, heresiarch, and precursor of the anti-Christ…. The Reformation further developed this literary corpus and ensured its transmission into modern Europe. In a 17th-century Christian text, Muslims are described in the most chilling of terms. They are ‘poison, scabies, venomous snakes … the dogs in the church’.

“Even if this metaphorical language has retreated in favour of the profane language of reason and subjectivity, its structural foundations remain. Islam is still perceived as the other, the embodiment of evil. Only in this context can we make full sense of the Pope’s statements, and indeed of much of what is said today on the subject of Islam. We must defend freedom of expression, but freedom of expression should not be used as a disguise for the incitement of hatred of other races and religions.”

Soumaya Ghannoushi in the Guardian, 19 September 2006