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Pope's comments on Islam hit 'civilization clash' fault line

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The pope has since explained that he ardently wants dialogue between the religions. But his choice of figures to quote, at least, was provocative. At the time Manuel wrote the passage, he was urging European powers to help defend Constantinople from the expanding Ottoman Muslims.

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Al Qaeda formally refers to itself as the "Global Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews" and its propaganda seeks to convince Muslims that there is a new, US-led crusade against Islam.

While still only a small minority of Muslims buy into this worldview, their visibility has seemed to grow recently. On Monday, the Mujahidin Shura Council, the chief mouthpiece for Al Qaeda in Iraq, said Bush was leading a "new crusade" and, addressing the pope, said: "We will destroy the cross... then all that will be accepted will be conversion or [death]."

Most Muslim doctrine rejects conversion by force, but some of the schools of the fundamentalist Salafy brand of the faith call for the execution of people who reject the faith. Others call for the murder of those deemed to insult the religion.

While outbreaks of rage were limited, they were a measure of the fact that some people respond to this kind of intolerant thinking. Over the past two days, seven churches in the Palestinian territories suffered arson attacks, a nun in Somalia was murdered in an attack that wire services speculated was linked to the pope's comments, and the pope was burned in effigy in Pakistani Kashmir and in Basra, Iraq.

Also distinctly uneasy were Christian leaders in the Arab world. In Egypt, where up to 10 percent of the people are Copts, a branch of Orthodox Christianity, leaders said they feared the pope's remarks would spur on extremists, which have been involved in a number of attacks on churches in recent years.

Coptic leader Pope Shenouda called on Pope Benedict to apologize in a more forthright manner. "I hope the remarks will not undermine interfaith dialogue,'' he said at press conference. "He knows exactly what he needs to do."

The pope's words

From Pope Benedict XVI's address at the University of Regensburg:

"[Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus] turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: '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.' The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.... The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality."

From Pope Benedict XVI's apology:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.... [T]he true meaning of my address ... in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."

• For the full text of the papal address: