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Current Affairs

Opinion: Latest Clash of Cultures Should be Laid to Rest

The pope's apology Sunday was accepted by some Muslim leaders but outraged other radical groups even more. His words were a sign of human greatness to be imitated in this clash of cultures, writes DW's Peter Philipp.

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The latest events, which are on their way to becoming a new storm in the frequently mentioned and much discussed clash of cultures, should be buried as quickly as possible. The pope has made it clear that he didn't mean what some people in Istanbul, Islamabad, Tehran and other places heard in his Regensburg speech.

Rather than leaving it to a Vatican spokesperson, he gave a public explanation himself. And that should have been the end of the newest conflict between the Muslim world and the "Christian Occident."

The lack of comprehension, irritation and even agitation that became apparent in the Muslim countries was understandable. Even though the head of the Catholic Church only quoted a text that was several centuries old and called the antagonistic passages "surprisingly blunt," he should have realized that a shortened -- and therefore easily misunderstood -- version of the quote would be widely circulated.

And if it appeared so quickly on German television, how much more momentous was it in the Muslim world?

Poor counsel on both sides of the fence

The pope had been poorly advised to use this quote. But those who immediately engaged in official protests, condemned the pope or only demanded an official apology from him were likewise poorly counseled.

Some regularly take advantage of every possible opportunity to spread tales of Western arrogance toward Islam. This time, the outrage was even greater, which made it all the more important for the pope to achieve clarity.

It would be good if both sides also saw it this way -- especially the protagonists on both sides of the culture clash, who seek the opponent's submission rather than dialogue, understanding and compromise.

It would also be good if -- perhaps with the Church's help -- this "against each other" became "with each other."

There have been misinterpretations on both sides for centuries, which is evident from the objectionable quote. Too much blood has already been spilled for this very reason under the pretence of religion -- even when the deeds clearly contradicted the religion.

Pope's statement exceeded expectations of some

For the "infallible representative of God on earth" -- which is how Catholics view the pope -- Sunday's explanation and expression of regret were more than could have been expected.

It wasn't the prostration that had been demanded, but a sign of human greatness. Perhaps a sign to others to imitate the pope: to exchange intolerance and arrogance for humanity, modesty and reason? And to do everything they can to smooth the waves of indignation?

Peter Philipp is an expert on Middle East affairs and Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent.

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