For a sound-bite sense of the point Pope Benedict XVI wanted to make in his meeting with 22 African Muslims, think of it this way: A shorter version of Regensburg, without the poke in the eye.
Regensburg, of course, refers to the pope’s famous 2006 address at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria, in which he took up the relationship between reason and faith. Reason shorn of faith, he suggested, becomes skepticism and nihilism, which is the typical pathology of the West; faith divorced from reason, meanwhile, becomes fundamentalism and intolerance, which one sees in some currents in the Islamic world.
That carefully reasoned argument, however, was overshadowed by how the pope began. He opened the Regensburg address with a citation from a 14th century Byzantine emperor, to the effect that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “brought things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” That line triggered a firestorm of protest in the Islamic world, and in some ways the Vatican has been in damage-control mode ever since.