By Imam Zaid Shakir
In The Name of God, The Merciful, The Mercy Giving
On September 12, 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI uttered the following sentence, referencing a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith that he preached.”  There have been many explanations of what the Pope meant by this comment, and varying theories proposed as to what his motivation was. It is my contention that the Pope’s comments signaled a tacit endorsement of the evolving anti-Muslim agenda of the radical right.
To begin with, the Pontiff uttered these words in the context of an increasingly polarized world where religious sentiments are being manipulated by demagogues of various stripes to advance their nefarious agendas. That polarization is epitomized by the Danish cartoon controversy, in which offensive caricatures allegedly portraying the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, touched off a firestorm of protest throughout the Muslim world. At the height of that controversy, Pope Benedict uttered the following conciliatory remarks:
In the international context we are living at present, the Catholic Church continues convinced that, to foster peace and understanding between peoples and men it is necessary and urgent that religions and their symbols be respected…
Believers should not be the object of provocations that wound their lives and religious sentiments…
The only path that can lead to peace and fraternity is respect for the convictions and religious practices of others. 
Being only six months removed from that crisis, it would be difficult to accept that the Pope did not realize the sensitivity of his quoting the emperor’s remarks. This is especially true in light of the above pronouncements. Either the Pope was not being sincere when he made his remarks about religious tolerance and understanding, or he subsequently abandoned the principles they articulate.
It is not coincidental that the Pope’s remarks occurred a day after America commemorated the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. That anniversary is being seized upon by the radical right to galvanize popular support for the so-called “war on terror.” It is also not coincidental that the underlying tone of the Pope’s remarks dealt with an interpretation of Islam that implies it is a religion of irrational violence. Here the Pope went even further than Mr. Bush, who confined his indictments of violence-prone Muslims to the “Islamic fascists.”  In lockstep with the radical right in America and Europe, he implied that Islam itself is an irrational faith, inspired by an irrational god, and instituted by an irrational prophet, who urges the spread of the faith by violence, the epitome of irrationality, as, in the words of the “erudite” emperor, Manuel II: