cAs Kipling knew when he wrote those words, East and West have long since met -- indeed, have they ever truly existed independently of one another? And yet the countinuing encounter of Orient and Occident is as important now as it has ever been, and perhaps a great deal more so. From Iraq to the Parisian exurbs, from China to Nigeria, there are few subjects more loaded with promise and danger for the coming century.
Pay attention, then, to Jane Kramer's article in the New Yorker, entitled "The Pope and Islam." This is far more than a quick rehash of the Reghensburg flap. It is a subtle and well-researched piece of writing, which implies more than it says, and which (blessedly) lacks the condescension, trivialization and outright ignorance of religious nuance that one expects from, say, the Times.
Kramer contrasts the styles of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their interactions with the Muslim world. She offers a quick analysis not only of what may be at stake for the Vatican but also for some of its partners in the conversation, especially Turkey.
Kramer's picture of John Paul is flawed -- she leaves a casual reader with the impression that he was all outgoing personality, unsupported by theological acumen. In fact, although certainly not a theologian of Ratzinger's caliber, Wojtyla was a well-regarded philosopher in his own right. Those grand gestures were not naive or impulsive, either; they were the calculated moves of a man with a plan.
She describes well what seems to be Benedict's contention, that Europe must reclaim its Christian heritage in order to understand, or be understood by, the Muslim nations. She only begins to touch on some of the weaknesses in this idea, but even her quick touches are provocative. What, for example, about the millions of Asian Catholics, many of them as hostile toward Israel as any [other] Palestinians?
Anyway -- click the link. It's a long article, and well worth reading.