Williams Defends Pope Over Muslim Comments

The Archbishop of Canterbury has defended the Pope as he continues to face anger from some Islamic groups over comments he made on Islam in a speech last Tuesday.

|PIC1|Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of 77 million worldwide, welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's apology for the offence his comments had caused, but added that his comments should be taken in context.

"The Pope has already issued an apology and I think his views on this need to be judged against his entire record, where he has spoken very positively about dialogue," Williams said in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday.

The German-born Pope said on Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" for the offence caused by his comments and insisted that they were "a quotation from a mediaeval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought".

Critics continue to assail the Pope as even officially atheist China came out to say that its Muslim population had been upset by the Pontiff's comments.

Dr Williams said that all faiths could be distorted, and the Pope was simply giving an example of that.

"There are elements in Islam that can be used to justify violence, just as there are in Christianity and Judaism," Williams said.

"These religious faiths, because they are held by human beings who are very fallible, can be distorted in these ways and we all need to recognise that."

He added: "There is always a temptation for Christians to say to Muslims: 'I will tell you what your history is about', just as Muslims sometimes say to Christians. Sometimes they get it deeply wrong.

"The example the Pope took from the Middle Ages shows in its phrasing how in the Middle Ages people got it wrong on both sides and Muslim distortions of Christian history are just as laughable as Christian distortions of Muslim history.

"The big question that comes out of this for me is how much are we prepared to listen to the other person telling their story and how much are both sides prepared to be self-critical in discussing aspects of their history that are not pretty and not edifying."

The Archbishop said he understood Muslim sensitivity to comments which appear to misunderstand the nature of Islam.

"There is a sense that Islam in Western eyes generally is written off, is regarded as wholly unreasonable and violent," he said. "There is a sense of frustration among the most moderate and educated Muslims that they don't really get a fair hearing. It goes quite deep."

Some protests have been violent with Reuters reporting that in the southern Iraqi city of Basra around 150 demonstrators burned an effigy of the Pope, along with German, US, and Israeli flags.

Meanwhile, a similar sized crowd chanted "Death to the Pope" and burned another effigy in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir.