Pope faces Muslim calls for unequivocal apology

Pope Benedict faced a growing chorus of demands on Tuesday for an unequivocal apology for remarks seen as portraying Islam as a violent faith, despite attempts by Western leaders and churchmen to defuse the crisis.

Even United States President George Bush got involved, saying on Monday the pope had been “sincere” when he said sorry to Muslims and that his words had been misunderstood.

But for many Muslims, the pope’s attempt to explain himself on Sunday did not go far enough and observers were waiting to see if he would speak about it again at his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

The pope enraged Muslims in a speech a week ago in Germany quoting 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything the Prophet Mohammad brought was evil “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

The leader of the world’s 1,1-billion Roman Catholics said on Sunday he was “deeply sorry” for the reaction caused—but stopped short of apologising for his words or retracting them.

After an al-Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq vowed war on “worshippers of the cross” on Monday, Italian media said an al-Qaeda group in Egypt called on Tuesday for him to be punished by strict Islamic sharia law for insulting their religion.

Workers at Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, petitioned for the arrest of the Pontiff when he makes a scheduled visit to Turkey in November.

They held banners saying “Either apologise or don’t come”.

The pope’s comments annoyed the Turkish government but there are no plans yet to cancel the trip.

In Iraq, where an effigy of the pope was burnt on Monday, Parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani called his apology “inadequate and not commensurate with the moral damage caused to Muslims’ feelings”.

The grand mufti of the Palestinian Territories, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, said the pope must make “a personal and clear apology to 1,5-billion Muslims in this world for the insult caused by his lecture ...”

But the cleric asked for an end to attacks on churches in the area, after seven were vandalised this weekend, to show “Islam is a religion of love, of justice and tolerance”.

In Italy, politicians and churchmen defended the pope and said his words were taken out of context and his explanation was quite clear. Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published it in Arabic on its front page to try to clarify his meaning.

But while some Muslim clerics say the alleged insults are the latest skirmish in a new Western “crusade” against Islam, some Catholic churchmen say the Pontiff’s words have been purposefully twisted by militant Muslims.

“We pray for the pope whose words have been maliciously interpreted,” Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe said in Naples at the annual “miracle” of fourth century Saint Gennaro, whose blood turns from powder to liquid in what is seen as a good omen.

The head of Australia’s 5,1-million-strong Catholic church went as far as to say that violent reaction “justified one of Pope Benedict’s main fears” about Islam.

Cardinal George Pell said this showed “the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence”.

Local Muslims called Pell’s comments “unhelpful”. - Reuters

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