Pope′s Notorious Regensburg Talk Named Speech of the Year | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.12.2006
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Pope's Notorious Regensburg Talk Named Speech of the Year

Tübingen University has named its annual "Speech of the Year." This time, the honor goes to Pope Benedict's controversial homily in Regensburg, which outraged the Muslim world in September.

Was he deliberately misunderstood?

Was he deliberately misunderstood?

In the speech that went down in history as a milestone in cultural gaffes, the pope's references to the teachings of a 14th century Byzantine emperor unleashed a torrent of Muslim fury.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," he quoted.

The Vatican stressed that the pontiff had simply meant to explore the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity and the relationship between violence and faith. But his words caused grave offense across the globe. The controversy stoked hostility towards the pope within the Islamic world and even left staunch Catholics aghast at their leader's apparent insensitivity.

Controversy: part of the rhetorical process

Vertrauensfrage Bundestag Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer -- another great talker

But academics at the Seminar for General Rhetoric at Tübingen University know a good speech when they see one, and recently named this now infamous Regensburg talk their annual "Speech of the Year" -- one they say was "deliberately misunderstood."

"Our main criterion is how effective a speech was," explained Olaf Kramer from the institute. "We look at the ways in which a speech affected public debate and what sort of an international reaction it unleashed, whether it was positive or negative."

"This was a speech that really set a ball rolling," he added. "The discussion surrounding the pope's visit to Turkey in November was, in a way, a continuation of the same debate."

"Further criteria taken into consideration are content, style and rhetoric," points out Kramer. "Obviously, we expect our decision this year to come in for a certain amount of criticism, but controversy is an integral part of a good speech because rhetoric is based on the taking of sides."

Previous winners of the award, set up in 1998, have included then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in 1999 -- addressing the thorny issue of Germany's military involvement in the Balkans -- and journalist Heribert Prantl in 2004 on the rise of right-wing extremism.

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