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"There's a Place for Satire, But Everything has a Limit"

While saying that It's too soon to talk about a "transitional pope," liberation theologian Leonardo Boff talked to DW-WORLD.DE about Benedict XVI, "Popetown" and the "clash of civilizations."

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Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff has had a difficult relationship with his church

As the main representative of Liberation Theology, Boff tried to commit the Catholic Church to defend human rights and protecting the poorest. His book "Church and Power" drew the ire of the biggest Catholic institutions. In 1985, the Vatican banned Boff from speaking and teaching. Joseph Ratzinger was then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time. Today, he is Pope Benedict XVI and has just completed the first year of his pontificate. Among other things, Boff spoke with DW-WORLD.DE about the new pope's record so far.

DW-WORLD.DE: I n Germa n y, the broadcaster MTV is pla n n i n g to tra n smit shortly a program called "Popetow n " a satire o n the Pope a n d the Vatica n . What do you thi n k of this ki n d of jokes about religio n a n d religious symbols?

Leonardo Boff: We live in a world that's full of conflicts and we search for common elements that allow humanity to live in this common home, planet Earth. All the values and practices that promote this goal must be given encouragement. Everything that divides and ridicules these sources of values, and that's what religions are, goes against this universal search. There's a place in society for satire and humor, but everything has a limit. Especially when that satire touches the values or figures that embody the sacred, like Mohammed, the Pope, or any other religious leader.

Could it be that the fact of criticizi n g Christia n ity or other religio n s would have repercussio n s i n eve n ts such as those we wit n essed whe n the cartoo n s of Mohammed were published?

Proteste gegen Karikaturen

Muslim protesters in London demonstating outside the Danish embassy

The fundamental law regulating societies is the market. Everything -- from sex to the Most Holy Trinity -- centers on negotiation. This horse trading of everything in society can lead to satires and expressions that ridicule the authorities being converted into a negotiation. A society must be able to criticize itself and ask itself where its limits are. When these are breached, we find there is crime and a breakdown of social cohesion.

I n that case, should there be ce n sorship or self-ce n sorship?

It's not a question of censorship or self-censorship, but simply of laws with which society can define for itself what is permitted and what is not. For example, today it's clear that you can't make any kind of Nazi propaganda or promote terrorism, discrimination against people of color or people with AIDS. All these are criminal actions which the law punishes and thereby protects society. It's important that the ability to criticize oneself be always present but there must always be censorship in societies.

Do you thi n k there is a n attempt at serious dialog betwee n the East a n d the West or that the word dialog is o n ly used to put out fires whe n there is a crisis?

The Western tradition is that of war against the Muslims. Christians launched crusades against the Muslims who always represented a threat for the Europeans. And there was always a fight for cultural or military dominance between the Muslim and Christian worlds. The basic remedy is not dialog. We must break with this tradition because not doing so could lead us into a wider conflict. A serious dialog with Muslims has to seek common ground and not heighten the differences between the two cultures.

Is this also the key to resolvi n g the problem of the lack of i n tegratio n of Muslim immigra n ts i n Europe ?

In the West, especially in Europe, living with that which is different is always very hard. It is a culture that accentuates identity with such force that it almost excludes difference. That was a tragedy for the world, because the colonial powers destroyed the indigenous cultures of Latin America. They enslaved black Africans, and submitted the Orient, and China, to their own economic interests. Western Europe never managed, in its hauteur, to recognize the other.

Unterricht türkische Schülerinnen mit Kopftuch im Schulzentrum in Bremen

Muslim schoolgirls wearing head scarves at a school in Bremen, Germany

But now, it's different. There are millions of Turks, Arabs, immigrants from Morocco, from Africa, who find themselves in Spain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland. The dialog has to be carried out on home ground. This is the test: to know to what extent Europe is capable of tolerating difference, multicultural or multi-faith societies, pluralist societies which are not really homogenous, white and Christian. The big challenge for Europe is to open itself and show that its culture is not dead, fossilized.

Is it possible to establish a n " Allia n ce of Civilizatio n s" i n a world of globalizatio n marked by co n verge n ce amo n g n atio n s, eco n omic blocks a n d eve n cultures?

We have to confront the challenges presented by Samuel Huntington in his interpretation of Globalization -- the hypothesis of the clash of civilizations. This thesis can and must be very polemical, but it contains elements of truth. For example, one cannot deny that there is a confrontation between Arab-Islamic culture and the culture of Western Christians.

It is possible, and we have no alternative, to sit down together and establish a few basic rules, a basic ethic of living together.

The n ew Germa n Pope has co n sta n tly stated throughout the first year of his po n tificate his i n te n tio n to establish a dialog with other religio n s. What adva n ces do you thi n k Be n edict XVI will bri n g about?

Pope Benedict XVI did something very significant when he visited the Muslim mosque in Rome. The gesture said: We need to have a dialog, because the standoff between Arab-Muslim culture and Western culture is very strong and reveals itself like an acute and dangerous situation in the confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis and like the war in Iraq. It is important that Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the world, takes the initiative and looks for an encounter with other religions as a basis for political accord. Religious peace must serve as a basis for political peace, for world peace. Possibly, this will be the way forward. I believe that is what Pope Benedict XVI wanted to make plain and we must support this initiative of macro-Ecumenism.

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