Pope’s public scepticism of Islam’s role dates back to 1997

Nine years before Pope Benedict XVI delivered implied criticism of Islam in a speech last week and ignited angry Muslim protests worldwide, he expressed skepticism of the religion’s commitment to tolerance. Benedict, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, told an interviewer in 1997 that Islam is organized in a way “that is opposed to our modern ideas about society.”

“One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society,” Ratzinger said in an interview contained in Salt of the Earth, a book published by Ignatius Press in 1997.

In recent years, the pope reiterated doubts about Islam’s compatibility with Western-style modernity. According to an account of a seminar he held in September 2005, Benedict told theology students that Islam can adapt to democracy only if the Koran is radically reinterpreted.

Benedict’s suggestion that Western culture, based on Christian values, differs markedly from Islam underlay his controversial opposition to Turkey’s admission to the European Union. In August 2004, he told France’s Le Figaro magazine that Turkey should be excluded because “Europe is a cultural continent, not a geographical one.”

Bloomberg, 19 September 2006