While the MSM has been castigating the Pope for his heavy-handed ignorance in daring to criticize Islam, more sophisticated theorists are noting that the Pope is no fool. He meant to say what he did, and he did it very skillfully. At least, that’s what the analysts at Stratfor who, unlike the MSM, have a trackrecord of getting things right, believe happened. [I don’t have a link for this, since I get my analysis through email. Usually, a couple of days after I get it, you can find it posted at the Jewish World Review.]
First, the Stratfor team points out that there is absolutely no way that Benedict was guilty of a spontaneous utterance:
Let’s begin with the obvious: Benedict’s words were purposely chosen. The quotation of Manuel II was not a one-liner, accidentally blurted out. The pope was giving a prepared lecture that he may have written himself — and if it was written for him, it was one that he carefully read. Moreover, each of the pope’s public utterances are thoughtfully reviewed by his staff, and there is no question that anyone who read this speech before it was delivered would recognize the explosive nature of discussing anything about Islam in the current climate. There is not one war going on in the world today, but a series of wars, some of them placing Catholics at risk.
It is true that Benedict was making reference to an obscure text, but that makes the remark all the more striking; even the pope had to work hard to come up with this dialogue. There are many other fine examples of the problem of reason and faith that he could have drawn from that did not involve Muslims, let alone one involving such an incendiary quote. But he chose this citation and, contrary to some media reports, it was not a short passage in the speech. It was about 15 percent of the full text and was the entry point to the rest of the lecture. Thus, this was a deliberate choice, not a slip of the tongue.
From there, Strator analysts ask why the Pope would have decided to approach the matter in this way. The Stratfor team’s conclusion is that the Pope is obliquely expressing support both for the United States and for European Christians who are feeling increasingly beseiged. It’s oblique, because the Pope wants plausible deniability. It’s not yet time to come out with all guns blazing:
Thus, there are at least two ways to view Benedict’s speech politically.
One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He witnessed the recent success of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas’ political victory among the Palestinians. Islamists may not have the fundamental strength to threaten the West at this point, but they are certainly on a roll. Also, it should be remembered that Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was clearly not happy about the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, but it does not follow that his successor is eager to see a U.S. defeat there.
This perspective would explain the timing of the pope’s statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe.
There is an intensifying tension in Europe over the powerful wave of Muslim immigration. Frictions are high on both sides. Europeans fear that the Muslim immigrants will overwhelm their native culture or form an unassimilated and destabilizing mass. Muslims feel unwelcome, and some extreme groups have threatened to work for the conversion of Europe. In general, the Vatican’s position has ranged from quiet to calls for tolerance. As a result, the Vatican was becoming increasingly estranged from the church body — particularly working and middle-class Catholics — and its fears.
As has been established, the pope knew that his remarks at Regensburg would come under heavy criticism from Muslims. He also knew that this criticism would continue despite any gestures of contrition. Thus, with his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe’s Muslim community — without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. At the same time, the pope has not locked himself into any particular position. And he has delivered his own warning to Europe’s Muslims about the limits of tolerance.
Overall, the Stratfor guys are impressed with the Pope’s delicacy in bringing the issue of Muslim intolerance to the forefront of world debate:
From an intellectual and political standpoint, therefore, Benedict’s statement was an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open: He now can move away from the statement and let nature take its course, repudiate it and challenge Muslim leaders to do the same with regard to anti-Catholic statements or extend and expand the criticism of Islam that was implicit in the dialogue.
The pope has thrown a hand grenade and is now observing the response. We are assuming that he knew what he was doing; in fact, we find it impossible to imagine that he did not. He is too careful not to have known. Therefore, he must have anticipated the response and planned his partial retreat.
UPDATE: I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that my friend Patrick, who blogs so wisely at Paragraph Farmer, has written an article explaining that the Pope was fulfilling his pastoral duties, and being true to his intellectual creed, when he gave that speech. While Patrick doesn’t see the Pope’s motive as primarily political, and agrees with Stratfor that the Pope was anything but inept or naive.