Benedict’s speech is not easily compressed into a 30-second soundbite, I grant you. And the print media must pluck the ripest phrases from any speechmaker’s text and build a story around it. But the headlines count. They matter. And some in the press – not all, but some – could not resist the urge to provoke precisely these violent and angry reactions and these predictable, camera-ready burnings in effigy from a people the press knows they can rouse to fury in less than three notes.
I mean, when isn’t the “Muslim world” furious, enraged, raising its sword and setting fire to flags or images? When isn’t some Muslim cleric demanding a retraction of what he perceives to he “harsh” words? When a few cartoons can be turned into worldwide protests, resulting in death to too many and literally cowing the media into relative silence, does the press not understand that a snarky headline or a careless phrase can cost lives?
This was not a crude anti-Islamic polemic; nor was it so at the end of the 14th century. It was a quest for peace and amity, then as now.
By turning the story back-to-front, so that what’s promised in the lead — a crude attack on Islam — is quietly withdrawn much later in the text, the BBC journalists were having a little mischief. The kind of mischief that is likely to end with Catholic priests and faithful butchered around the Muslim world. Either the writers were so jaw-droppingly ignorant, they did not realize this is what they were abetting (always a possibility with the postmodern journalist), or the malice was intended. There is no third possibility.
Naturally, the NYT edit board called on Benedict to apologize:
Most will lunge at the third paragraph but the whole piece is right there in the opening line. It’s an all-weather rejoinder to any criticism, however meritorious, of Muslims, who happen to be the source of most of that unspecified “religious anger” the Times is so wary of. Don’t provoke them, they’re saying; it’ll only make things worse. Not a word is wasted on the filth that pours regularly from the lips of Islamic religious authorities around the world. Instead they blame the Pope for having “fomented discord” and jeopardized interfaith relations by being a little too much of a stickler when it comes to “uniform Catholic identity.” The Pope. Not, say, the Saudis.
Finally, the Captain sums up the latest development in a headline: “Pope Apologizes For Being Prophetic.”