As protests against the Pope continued to rumble around the Muslim world yesterday, Catholics began asking themselves if this highly intelligent man can really have been so crass as to have ignited the passions of millions of Muslims without realising that he was doing it.I guess I wouldn't be surprised if Pope Benedict Unit Number XVI really did want to inflame Muslims. I really wouldn't be.
If the alternative version is more credible - that he knew exactly what he was doing - then the next question arises: why? The gloomy conclusion of some Vatican experts is that there was no inconsistency in the Pope's choice of the words "inhuman and evil" - quoted from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus - to characterise Islam. Such a negative view, they say, is consistent with all his words and actions with regard to Islam.
Their claims make for a tragic contrast with the decades devoted by John Paul II to the challenge of bringing Islam, Judaism and Christianity closer together after many centuries of hatred and bloodshed. Now all that hard work, rowing against the tide of history, seems to be at risk.
But I do have an alternate theory: is it possible that many Muslims are just really, really easy to piss off? We all remember the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Where are the "moderate" Muslim leaders to speak out and say, "You know, guys, you're going to get criticized every now and then. Especially because our religion has its fair share of nutcases. I know we're not all nutcases, and I know Christianity has nutcases too, so thankfully we're not the only ones keeping bad company. But really guys, don't you think it's time to cool it?"
A Jewish group had it right when Iran announced an anti-semitic cartoon contest. They responded with their own Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest, to mock the stupidity of the whole matter. If only other religions and cultures could learn to be self-deprecating sometimes.