JO - When the 'anti-Turkish pope' visited Turkey
When the 'anti-Turkish pope' visited Turkey
Sunday, December 03, 2006
ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) - A spectacular gesture of peace to Muslims and an apparent change of heart about letting a Muslim country into the European Union turned Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey into a major event, many analysts agreed, but some took it all with a grain of salt.
Just 11 weeks after he outraged Muslims by appearing to equate Islam with violence, the pope made a stunning conciliatory gesture Thursday, assuming an attitude of Muslim prayer while facing Mecca in Istanbul's Blue Mosque.
Istanbul, Turkey - In this picture released by the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper, Pope Benedict XVI (right) and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, exchange a sign of peace, during a mass celebrated at the St Esprit Cathedral, the cathedral of the holy spirit, in Istanbul on Friday, December 1, 2006, during the last day of the pontiff's four-day visit to Turkey. (Photo: AP)
The moment was "even more meaningful than an apology" for the remarks made in September in Regensburg, Germany, said the mufti of Istanbul, Mustafa Cagrici, who was the pope's guide during the mosque visit.
"It is a great gesture of peace," commented Dalil Boubakeur, a moderate French Muslim leader and rector of the Paris Mosque. "One can only see in it a profound indication of the fraternal ties between Islam and christianity.""It is an act of great symbolic and theological - even historic - significance," he said.
The pope's words and gestures about Muslims "turned the page on the sorry episode of Regensburg", agreed Algerian academic and thinker Mustapha Cherif, who had a private audience with the pope on November 11."We have turned a fresh page in relations between Islam and Christianity," Cherif said.But Turkish researcher and religion expert Aytunc Altindal, scoffed at reports that the pope had "prayed" at the Blue Mosque.
"Like everything in the pope's trip, it was very well orchestrated," he said. "He adopted the prayer stance that all early Christians did until the year 325, the same as the Jews, with hands crossed across the waist."In any case, he pointed out, the pope did not cross his hands the way Muslims do, right hand clasping left wrist with fingers joined, but "with three fingers spread, in the sign of the Trinity".
Even before the controversy over his remarks on Islam, Benedict XVI had earned the sobriquet of the "anti-Turkish pope" for having said, while still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that allowing overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey into the EU would be "a grave error ... against the tide of history".
He made what was widely perceived as a stunning U-turn moments after arriving in Ankara last Tuesday, saying he backed the candidacy in remarks to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who reported the conversation to journalists.
Most analysts were pleased, but cautious."If Benedict XVI maintains his support for Turkey's EU membership after he leaves Turkey, it would be a historic turning point," commented Cengiz Aktar, an Istanbul academic and a specialist on the EU."Turkish diplomats have been trying for decades to get a (positive) word from the Vatican, but to no avail," he said. "Considering the weight of the Pope's words on Christian-Democratic parties and public opinion in Europe, this is revolutionary."
"I noted with great satisfaction that he changed his stance on Turkey's EU membership," said Fouad Alaoui, a radical Muslim leader from France. "I hope this progress is not simply a requirement of his position, but a personal conviction as well."
"He said extremely friendly things about Turkey," Boubakeur said. "It is a country all Muslims hold dear because we remember that Turkey controlled the destiny of Islam and of Muslims during the Ottoman Empire."The only sour note again came from Altindal.
"The Prime Minister (Erdogan) misled us" when he said the pope favours Turkey's EU membership, Altindal said."In fact, there was no change. He does not want to see Turkey in the first circle of the EU," the researcher said."There was only one reason for the pope's visit," he said, "and that was to proclaim the Ecumenic nature of the Orthodox church and take it under the wing of the
Vatican. In that, he succeeded."