The Pope is embarking on a dangerous course
Commentators trying to portray the Muslim reaction to the pope's latest pontifications as exaggerated are repeatedly claiming that his words were taken out of context, that indeed he intended no offence and was merely quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor he did not agree with. The full text of his address at Regensburg University, however, reveals that what he said is even worse than has been made out and shows not only that Papal analysis and politics are not infallible, but can be outright wrong and dangerous.
First of all, the pope tries to add to the American war against terror crusade by postulating that Islam is a violent religion. He makes the claim that the verse insisting that there be no compulsion in religion only applied during the early period of Islam when, according to those the pope considers experts in the matter, Muhammad "was still powerless and under threat". He claims that later those instructions were revised and replaced by the concept of "holy war", whereas the Christian emperor viewed conversion by violence as "something unreasonable".
For serious students of history this is, of course, quite a bold statement. The very emperor Manuel II Paleologus was amongst the war-mongers travelling the lands of Europe to incite their rulers to participate in the "holy" crusade against the Muslim and Jewish infidels. The Church has blood on its hands. As to conversion, the pope is blind if he is not aware of the unreasonable missionary activities amongst the "savages" by which the Church provided both rationale for colonialism and benefited from the spoils. For the pope to quote a crusading emperor responsible for violence against those of other faith as an advocate for non-violence in religious interaction seems rather ludicrous.
But the offence caused to Islam goes deeper. First, there is the mistaken Orientalist idea that the Qur'an was written to suit the politics of the time, thus disclaiming its validity as a sacred and revealed scripture. Secondly, there is his main argument that Christianity is a religion of reason which, together with the Greek concept of logos, created the basis of the modern world, whereas Islam is characterised by blind conviction.
Putting aside for a moment that rather the opposite holds true and Islam can be credited with having introduced reason and empirical science into the superstitious world ruled by Church during the dark ages, the pope is actually reversing the policy of his predecessor who had adopted the spirit of Lessing's ring parable by seeing the monotheistic religions as of a similar strand, each containing some truth. The new pope has displayed a true crusader mentality where only the Judeo-Christian tradition is worthy of reason-endowed mankind, Islam and probably the rest of religions are either conveniently engineered belief systems or irrational blind convictions worthy only of savages.
Viewing the other as inferior is in turn going to lead to the same violent excesses as Christian theology sponsored during the crusades and during the colonial conquests. With his lecture the pope has given his blessing to the "war against terror" or modern crusade against Islam, unlike his predecessor who repeatedly criticised the American adventure as lacking moral authority.