“The pope’s speech is an embarrassment. He is mistaken on the factual level when he says the Koranic injunction against forced conversions appears in an early sura, when every beginning scholar of Islam knows it appears in a late one, whose prescriptive force is greater. He also erred by selecting, of all Christian comments made during Islam’s 1,500-year history, the particularly harsh and insulting statements of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. No Muslim (or Jew) could forget that the Byzantines had taken part in the Crusades 200 years earlier. The very term ‘holy war’ was coined by Pope Urban II, who sent his Christian soldiers off to massacre Muslims and Jews simply for refusing to convert to Christianity….
“Perhaps he was unaware of the consequences his remarks would bring. But maybe this was a calculated move. A few months ago, when the issue of Turkey’s accession to the European Union was mentioned, Pope Benedict opposed it in the name of preserving Europe’s Christian character. A few months ago he downgraded the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and merged it with the Council for Culture. Now the talk is of reciprocity: Europe cannot provide religious freedom to Muslims when the Muslim world does not give Christians religious freedom.”
Meron Rapoport in Ha’aretz, 18 September 2006
Tariq Ali poses the same question and concludes: “I think he knew what he was saying and why.”