The second speech
I was rather surprised to learn, upon looking through the Belmont Club archives, that Pope Benedict's speech at Regensburg was not the first time that he spoke on the subject of Islam. The post was Domine, Quo Vadis? and written on August 21, 2005. It seems clear in retrospect that Benedict XVI was attempting very early on in his papacy to address the central question of the war from a theological point of. At the time I wrote:
Here's the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's speech to Muslims on the subject of combating terrorism in the world today. Benedict's verbatim speech should be read because it is almost certain to be misinterpreted and distorted in the coming days to suit competing political agendas. (Speculation alert) Benedict, in giving this speech on his first trip back to his homeland as Pope, may be deliberately reprising John Paul's first visit to his homeland Poland in 1979. On that occasion, as Peggy Noonan writes, John Paul asked the one question which any Communist regime is unwilling to answer or even discuss. But it hung in the air in despite of the commissars, and set the agenda for the coming decade. Eastern Europe was never the same again. And the issue, of course, was whether man had an inherent transcendence and a right to be free.
Is it possible to dismiss Christ and everything which he brought into the annals of the human being? Of course it is possible. The human being is free. The human being can say to God, "No." The human being can say to Christ, "No." But the critical question is: Should he? And in the name of what "should" he? ... You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. ... Never lose your trust, do not be defeated .... Never lose your spiritual freedom.
The erudite Benedict is certainly aware of the parallel. He asks in turn, 'can we survive, except as brothers?' Whether he has found the fulcrum of history, as John Paul did, remains to be seen. But like his predecessor he has put the unmentionable on the table and must now, as John Paul did, accept the danger that comes to all who do business with serious memes. Although the Pope's speech was delivered to Muslims, his real audience is inevitably going to be the West in general and Christians in particular. Realistically, Benedict's message will reach ordinary Muslims only at third hand in a heavily distorted way; it can hardly be expected to sway them. But the signal it sends to the West, at least to those who look up to him as a moral and religious leader, is that here is something we cannot look away from.
What Benedict said on the occasion of his first visit to Germany as Pope was this: "Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel decision which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil society. If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancor, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible." And like John Paul II before him who left the fatal interrogative where it could not be ignored, Benedict has left a question of his own. Can we survive, he asks, except as brothers? And if we are brothers, what part can intentional violence ever play in our relations? Islam may not answer, but it must face the question. And so must everyone; for our own sakes.