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Pope's Visit Overshadowed by Confrontation With Islam

For me, this is about liberation - liberation from fear. Lazaro Vargas steps up to Home Plate. The game is a stroll through the furnace of the night: at the top of the fifth inning, Industriales are romping towards an massacre. He drives a lusty curveball past second base, for a single - for love, for glory, for Cuba.

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On the concrete steps, the crowd dance and sing. They love Lazaro Vardes with all their warm Cuban hearts. But they do not share his love for the Cuban order of things. Here, they are not intimidated by fear, nor are they charged by Oswaldo Paya's faith so much as by carefree defiance. People's revolt challenges Castro Ed Vulliamy in New York Sunday May 12, The Observer Fidel Castro faces the most serious non-violent challenge to four decades of communist rule in Cuba in the form of 11, signatures demanding democratic reform.

The petition - the Varela Project, named after Felix Varela, a priest and hero of Cuban independence - was collected by a loose organisation put together by the man emerging as Cuba's most effective grassroots opposition leader, Oswaldo Paya, an electrician from a Havana shanty town. The campaign is seen as the biggest home-grown effort to push for reforms in Cuba's one-party system.

Presented to the National Assembly on Friday, the petition proposes a referendum asking voters if they favour civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly, and amnesty for political prisoners. The move came two days before the arrival of former US President Jimmy Carter, who is expected to urge democratic reforms. Paya, who gives his first major interview in today's issue of the Observer Magazine, devised a way of challenging the Cuban system from within: two articles in Fidel Castro's own constitution providing that if 10, signatures can be gathered around any demand or set of demands, it must be put to referendum.

In , the Varela Project duly set about collecting names to back five essential demands, for freedom of expression and association, free and fair elections in a multi-party system and an economy incorporating 'private, individual and co-operative enterprises' observing 'the rights of citizens and workers' - in effect, the end of communism in Cuba. One clause demands that the rest become law should they be carried in the vote. This is an attempt to do this, through the ballot box We are asking that the Cuban people be given a voice in a popular vote, so that the sovereign people are those that decide to begin change for the good of our children.

As a young activist, he served a sentence in a military labour camp. Fidel's parting shot Next month, Fidel Castro turns He has promoted a communist Eden in Cuba, but when the legend is dead, will the revolution outlive the man? Rumours of serious illness - heart trouble, brain tumour, Parkinson's, take your pick - have been gathering momentum for more than a decade.

The Cuban authorities have always played them down, but they could hardly discount Castro's recent televised collapse. Like the man, the regime Castro put in place more than 40 years ago, admired and loathed in equal measure and with equal passion, has looked shaky for some time. Not just shaky, Castro's critics would say, but as sick and grey as its creator, and they gleefully predict that with the demise of the man will come the collapse of the Cuba he made. They may be right. On the other hand, the Cuban leader has spent a lifetime confounding expectations. Nothing about Castro has been ordinary or expected; he is a man to whom the normal rules do not apply.

In , as an exile in Mexico, the year-old Castro publicly vowed to lead an invasion of Cuba to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was scolded by General Alberto Bayo, who was then training the guerrillas Castro would take with him: 'Don't you know that a cardinal military principle is to keep your intentions secret from your enemy? Castro's peculiarities are legion: monumental and, at times, bombastic self-belief is one of the more obvious. It's easy for his many enemies to portray this as buffoonery, as delusional and empty, but it has seen Castro through a host of obstacles that would have defeated a lesser man, and it has been central to Cuba's continuing struggle with the United States, the superpower neighbour that has borne the island and its six million people little goodwill for more than a century.

Wedded to the self-belief is an extraordinary and apparently invincible sense of optimism, important for the same reasons. When Castro's guerrillas strong reached the Cuban coast at Las Coloradas on 2 December , their rusting tub, the Granma, foundered in storms on the rocky shoreline.

The exhausted guerrillas scrambled ashore, losing equipment and arms, and began a horrific trek through stinking mangrove swamps, all the while harried by Batista's airforce and pursued by army units. The survivors scattered. At this point, the guerrilla army with which Castro proposed to overthrow the dictatorship consisted of no more than a dozen fighters and seven weapons, and they were surrounded by Batista's troops.

By any normal standards, the landing had been a disaster. But Castro was elated. Looking over the weary, wounded stragglers, he declared: 'The revolution has triumphed. Few would have given him any chance of success, and Batista declared on radio that Castro was among the dead. Yet little more than two years later, Batista was on his way into exile and, amid euphoric popular demonstrations, Castro and his 'barbudos' bearded ones swept magnificently into Havana. In achieving power, Castro defied all the normal rules.

To maintain it, he would continue to defy them for the next 40 years. Castro's upbringing was comfortable, in contrast to the poverty of most of the region's inhabitants. He says he was aware from an early age of his relative advantages, noting that he and his eight siblings did not go barefoot like the other children. The Franqui interview apart, Castro has said little about his private life or family; most of what is known of his personal habits comes from family members, including a sister, a daughter and a number of ex-lovers, who have defected to the US.

For them, the independence won in was a sham concocted by the Americans, who maintained a stranglehold over post-independence economic and political life, turning Cuba into an American colony in all but name. Cuban politics at this time resembled Irish politics prior to the rising. In both countries, passions ran high. There was popular antipathy for foreign manipulation, but some benefited from the relationship. And, as in Ireland, Cuban politics were never simply a matter of voting; the gun was very much part of the process, with political parties maintaining links with gunmen who would occasionally step out of the shadows to intimidate or assassinate rivals.

What he has denied is Batista's claim, never convincingly prosecuted, that he killed two men during his student days. Nevertheless, the Castro who emerged on the radical fringes of Cuban politics in the later s was rebellious, tough and determined, a street-fighter more than capable of standing his ground against equally tough opponents.

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As yet, however, he was still without a focus for his formidable energies, political ambitions and already highly developed sense of personal destiny. That focus emerged in March when Fulgencio Batista, with army backing, launched his palace coup. Such was the fragmentation of the political parties that they were unable to mount any effective challenge.

With democratic politics at an end, Castro set about planning an armed uprising to galvanise resistance. The assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago is pure Fidel. Like the doomed Easter Rising in Ireland, it was quixotic, epic, tragic and, like the Easter Rising, it was in its very failure that the seeds of a later, hard-fought victory were sown. The surprise attack took place at dawn on 26 July It was a daring conception.

The idea was for Fidel's odd force to bluff their way into the barracks, overpower the 1,strong garrison, seize the armoury and distribute the weapons to the crowds that would turn up in support. In the event, the poorly armed attackers were quickly rumbled and once the alarm was raised were easily outfought. At least 68 of the Fidelistas were tortured and executed, and most of the rest rounded up and put on trial. Castro was lucky to survive - his fair share of luck has over the years undoubtedly strengthened his sense of destiny - and only did so because he was caught by a humane officer who ignored orders to summarily execute prisoners.

Defending himself in court, Castro remained defiant in defeat. His steadfastness earned much admiration. The Irish revolutionaries who took on the British in revised their tactics in prison. So did Castro, whose natural robust health, energy and irrepressible spirit ensured he fared well in jail. He developed a guerrilla strategy: a few armed men in the mountains would engage the army in small-scale actions, recruit local peasants, receive arms and supplies from supporters in the towns, and gradually build up their forces until they were strong enough to break out of the mountains and march on the cities.

Castro got his chance to put the theory into practice when he and his followers were unexpectedly released from prison and sent into exile. From the beginning, there was extraordinary mutual appreciation. Gadea, like her husband already a convinced Marxist, thought Castro, with his short, curly hair, carefully trimmed moustache and dark suit, looked like a bourgeois tourist, but she, like Che, saw that beneath the outward appearance was the genuine article, a man who not only preached revolution but had taken up arms in its cause. Nevertheless, there is a telling contrast in the outward appearance of Fidel and Che.

In a photograph taken in , when the two men were briefly detained in a Mexican prison at the behest of Batista, we see a bohemian Che, bare-chested and hair-tousled, his white trunks visible at the top of his casual trousers, belt undone, while Fidel, carefully groomed and dressed in shirt and tie and polished shoes, is buttoning up his jacket as if going off for a business appointment.

It is not hard to guess from the picture which man would go on to make the politician and which the eternal revolutionary. If Guevara found in Castro a man worthy of his allegiance, a man he could follow to the end, Castro found in the Argentine a comrade of genuinely and deeply felt radical beliefs. The debate over Castro's communism - crucially, at what point he became a communist - still rages.

It seems unlikely that the uncompromising Guevara, who was nothing if not demanding in his political friendships, would have formed such a close bond had he not been convinced of Castro's left radicalism. Yet there is nothing in Castro's public statements or in the manifestos of his 26th July Movement after the date of the Moncada assault , with their vague promises of land reform, justice, and jobs for all, to suggest that he wanted to establish communism in Cuba. Nor was his relationship with the Communist Party of Cuba close; communist leaders were to remain highly critical of Castro's 'adventurism' for some time.

It may well be that when he and his 81 comrades set sail in the Granma, Castro was what he still claimed to be - a man of the democratic left who wanted to free his country from the evils of domestic dictatorship, foreign intervention and mass impoverishment, and was prepared to work with other groups to achieve that end. But, of course, political ideas change direction, and once the bullets start flying they rarely turn to the right. Though now thoroughly mythologised, Castro's campaign in the Sierra Maestra was, for the most part, a series of messy, small-scale encounters, rarely involving more than combatants on either side and usually many fewer.

It is unlikely that the total number of dead reached 1, Batista's much better equipped army should have been able to contain the guerrilla threat. That it did not was due to the army's demoralisation and incompetence, to the rebels' tenacity and to growing popular unrest, strikes and organised resistance in the cities. But Fidel's indomitable personality was also crucial. The Sierra saw Castro at his best. Like Shackleton, he kept private doubts to himself, aware that the slightest hint of demoralisation in the leader could have disastrous consequences for those he commanded.

He was courageous in battle, leading from the front, and was a shrewd judge of character. He also had the showman's instinct for propaganda. Matthews to be smuggled into the Sierra Maestra and hoodwinked Matthews into thinking the rebel forces were numerous and well armed. In fact, they were starving, with uniforms little better than rags, and had few serviceable weapons. Castro arranged for 'runners' to interrupt his interview with Matthews with urgent battle reports from fictitious rebel columns, and the men borrowed each other's weapons and shirts to give the impression of well-clad numbers.

Matthews wrote up his scoop, and the Castro legend was born. Gradually, as Castro had predicted, the rebels won over much of the peasantry, attracted recruits, and grew in confidence and strengh until, in August , Castro dispatched columns under Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos to begin a march on the towns. Guevara's successful attack on the strategically important town of Santa Clara four months later effectively brought victory to the rebel army. Batista packed his bags and fled on New Year's Day. Every revolution has its heroic phase and this was it. A starburst of violence and generosity, unqualified promises, delirium, idolisation, and general craziness.

Then comes the reality. In Cuba, it fell hard. Castro's triumphal entry into Havana in January , after barely two years in the mountains, set up impossible expectations. But Castro and his 'barbudos' were immediately confronted with a staggering array of problems. Many of those belonging to rival political organisations, who had played a part - often underestimated by the regime's historians - in toppling Batista, resented their displacement by the 26th July Movement and started to conspire against the new regime; landowners, businessmen and the middle classes including one of Castro's sisters and his mother were outraged by land reforms and the confiscation of the large estates including the Castro estate.

The economy, chiefly reliant on the sugar harvest, was in crisis; there were scores to be settled with, as Guevara put it, the eye-gougers, the castrators and the torturers of the Batista dictatorship the executions, presided over by Guevara, were brought to a halt after international protests.

And then there were the Americans. Although Castro visited New York soon after taking power in an attempt to win over American opinion, Washington wrote him off as a communist troublemaker and has never forgiven him for refusing to bow down and say 'Uncle'. The CIA organised numerous acts of sabotage, including blowing up a ship in Havana harbour with huge loss of civilian life, assassination attempts, and, of course, the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion in When these failed to bring Castro down, the Americans embarked on a vindictive campaign of economic embargoes.

The US actions had the effect of polarising Cuban society and increasing the internal repression which has been one of the more distasteful aspects of the regime. This led, in , to a rare tactical blunder when Castro allowed the Russians to establish missile bases in Cuba. President Kennedy's ultimatum that they be dismantled brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

Castro and the Russians were forced into a humiliating climbdown. It was Castro rather than Guevara who proved able to come to terms with the realpolitik of the post-missile crisis years as relations with the Soviet Union settled the Russians effectively bankrolled the Cuban economy until , providing Cuba with oil and with markets for her sugar.

By the mids, Guevara, who had been minister for industries and head of the national bank, had to admit he had failed to achieve his ideal of a communist Utopia in which greed and selfishness were banished and all cherished notions of sacrifice and solidarity. Fidel, by far the more pragmatic man, had different targets and he has been extraordinarily successful in achieving these. In spite of the difficulties created by the US embargo and the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union, the Cuban education and health care systems are still superior to those of the rest of the region; to be poor and sick in Cuba is infinitely preferable to being poor and sick in Guatemala or Honduras.

By the time Guevara left for his doomed expedition to Bolivia in , he was already an anachronism in Cuba. And Castro knew it. Unwilling to modify the ideals of the Sierra Maestra to the realities of day-to-day government, Guevara had no place in the ruling circle.

He couldn't stay, but, Castro knew, if he went he would probably be killed. There have been suggestions that the two men argued after a particularly uncompromising speech by Guevara, but if so it does not seem to have dented their personal affection for each other. When Castro visited Guevara's training camp shortly before the expedition got under way, the two men spoke fondly together. After they separated, witnesses observed Castro sitting alone, shoulders slumped, head in his hands. They thought he was crying.

Guevara's death in Bolivia the following year marks an important turning point in the Cuban Revolution and in Castro's own story. From then on, Castro, the man photographed in his Mexican prison cell wearing shirt and tie, polished shoes and dark jacket, may have swapped this more conventional politician's garb for the guerrilla's olive-green uniform, a reminder of the high idealism of the Sierra Maestra, but he made the leap that Guevara could not make of going from opposition to office.

A politician of acute tactical and strategic abilities, he will have read his political obituary a thousand times. Many expected him to fall after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Cuban economy was plunged into its worst ever crisis. The regime overcame this by liberalising the economy and by encouraging foreign tourism. Against the odds, Castro survived, battling against saboteurs, assassins, dissidents, embargoes and trade restrictions, and the implacable enmity of Cuba's powerful northern neighbour.

Many of those who have predicted his demise have been bewildered by his political longevity, often because they underestimated his popular support. That support has been said to be falling for more than 40 years now, yet still Castro hangs on. When he goes it is likely to be on his own terms. Fidel's extraordinary personality has shaped modern Cuba. With his departure, the question will be whether the Cuba he created can survive without him.

For the same reason, Castro must be hoping that after him, the floods hold off. July 26 Castro launches armed struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. But attack on Moncada Barracks fails. Sept Castro is sentenced to fifteen years, making famous 'history will absolve me' speech from the dock. May Batista grants amnesty to Castro, who goes to Mexico to plot invasion of Cuba.

Cuban army easily outnumbers and rout rebels, but survivors take refuge in Sierra Maestra mountains and launch guerrilla war. Batista troops end military resistance. Jan 1 Batista flees to Dominican Republic as the rebels take power. Castro's men pour into Havana Angry young Cubans take over. Jan 8 Castro enters Havana following triumphant procession through island from east of Cuba. Fidel Castro: profile. Oct 19 United States begins partial economic embargo. Jan 3 Washington breaks off diplomatic relations with Cuba. April 16 Castro declares Cuba a socialist state.

April 19 Bay of Pigs invasion. CIA-backed Cuban exiles are defeated. Feb 7 United States imposes full trade embargo on Cuba. Oct Cuban Missile Crisis. After thirteen day stand-off, Russians withdraw missiles from Cuba. Observer leader: a chance to save the world. Sept 1 Resumption of limited economic ties between Cuba and United States. Apr-Sept 'Mariel Boatlift'. Cuba allows mass exodus of about , citizens to the United States, many leaving from the Mariel port west of Havana.

Aug 14 Havana ends ban on use of dollars. Aug Raft Crisis. More than 30, Cubans flee island on flimsy boats, many perishing in shark-infested waters between Cuba and Florida. Washington and Havana sign migration agreement to stem exodus and allow minimum of 20, legal entry visas per year for Cubans. March 12 The Helms- Burton law - allowing the United States to penalise foreign companies investing in Cuba - is signed into law by President Clinton. Jan 1 Castro celebrates 40 years in power. Elian is eventually returned to his father in Havana. June 25 Castro has to be helped off stage after near collapse at open-air rally outside Havana.

July 27 Castro leads crowd, estimated at 1. Castro prepares to celebrate 75th birthday in August. Fidel Castro. Ashley Davies. Many year-olds are happy to accept a pension after a life of hard work, but not Mr Castro, who is steadfastly holding on to the communist regime he helped form. But the cigar-chomper has been getting a bit wobbly of late. He recently fainted during a televised speech. He returned after 10 minutes to say he was very tired, but not to worry.

It was just that he hadn't slept that night. Still, he is rumoured to have been losing weight faster than Geri Halliwell. But Castro is made of strong stuff. Something of a Latino Rasputin, there have been dozens of attempts on his life. The CIA reportedly tried to humiliate him by putting thallium salts into his shoes to make all his hair fall out.

There was also an embarrassing plan to kill him with an exploding conch shell.

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But he says this is rubbish , claiming no one in his family has a dollar account outside Cuba. Nevertheless, he has influential friends and has been known to enjoy a round of golf with the Latin American guerrilla leader and hero to s radicals, Che Guevara. Lenin would have been proud. In his youth, Castro was something of an athlete. He first came to political prominence when he led an attack on the Moncada army barracks in It failed, and nearly all his men were killed or captured.

At his trial he made his famous "history will absolve me" speech. After two years in jail, followed by several years of guerrilla warfare , he became president of Cuba in Unkind people say "you know you're in trouble when the leader of your country wears a uniform". Bearded, cuddly and grandfatherly, El Commandante is as important a myth for Marxists as Father Christmas is for children. Like the man with the big white beard, red fur-lined suit and black sack, Irish leftism's factions want to believe that their icon, and more importantly the ideology he embodies, actually exists.

And when they catch a glimpse of the political version of the toys hidden in the attic or the wardrobe - in Cuba's case, the hundreds of political prisoners, the thousands upon thousands of exiles - the true believers turn a blind eye lest such a sight might shatter their illusions. Gerry Adams has just been to Santa Castro's grotto where he asked for a socialist republic, a free health service and even a request that his fellow bearded one slide down the chimneys of west Belfast for a visit.

Whether he gets any of these things for Christmases present or future is doubtful given that his party first has to administer Stormont rule in Belfast while one of its Ministers tries vainly to save the NHS in Northern Ireland from breaking apart. Perhaps though his third request may yet be fulfilled if the Cuban people ever get the chance to elect their leaders and decide to send Castro packing. One of the most disturbing aspects of the coverage of Adams's trip has been the lack of criticism in the Irish media of Castro's one-party state.

It has always been hipper to throw your arms around Fidel than some of his old comrades such as East German despot Erich Honecker or the Czech tyrant Gustav Husak. Unlike the grey men of the eastern European politburos, that combination of rum, cigars, sand and sun always gave Castro's brand of totalitarianism a sort of sexy quality. The problem is the only sex that counts on the island today is the cheap kind that predatory Westerners pay for in dollars and pairs of Levis.

Cuba has become a magnet for sex tourism. Back Matter Pages About this book Introduction On November 17, , Mexico City police raided a private party and arrested 41 men, half of whom were dressed as women. Clandestine transvestite balls were not unheard of at this time, and a raid would not normally gain national attention. However, Mexican cultural trends in literature, art, the sciences, and in journalism were inciting an atmosphere of sexual curiosity that was in search of the right turn of events to ignite a discursive explosion and focus interest on what was not a new phenomenon, but what was about to become a new concept: homosexuality.

The editors treat the "nefarious" ball as a cultural event in itself and have assembled pictures, including the famous engravings by Posada, and have translated part of an historical novel about the event. At the same time, they uncover the underworld in Mexico City with essays on prison conditions, criminology, mental health discourse, and working class masculinities to create a rare and comprehensive slice of Mexican history at the turn of the century.

While Turkey is officially secular, the government recently closed the nation's only Orthodox seminary and restricts public worship by non-Muslims. Weigel said he hoped Benedict does not apologize for his September remarks and instead "lifts up for the attention of the world the very difficult circumstances in which the patriarchate is obliged to operate in Turkey.

But Ali Khan, executive director of the Islamic Council of America, said in a phone interview yesterday from Chicago that he had "great expectations" the pope would make a "significant gesture" toward the Muslim world. But, he added - perhaps more hopefully than accurately - the comments "did not do permanent damage. The highlight of this first day was a visit to the impressive Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey and the architect of its secular constitution and Westernized institutions.

Benedict's paying of respects to Ataturk was one strand of his attempt to soothe Islamic opposition to his visit. Both the pope and the Turkish government have spent the last few days exchanging expressions of goodwill and mutual respect. Everyone is seeking to lower the emotional temperature -- with the characteristic exception of the European Union, which has chosen the eve of the pope's visit to announce that Turkey will not be admitted to the EU unless it opens its ports to Greek Cyprus. If the extraordinary security precautions put in place by the Turks for Benedict's protection have to be activated today, Brussels will share a large dollop of the blame.

But as he stood before the tomb of Ataturk today, the pope might have reflected on how well and badly he dealt with religion and politics. In his day Ataturk gave far more offense to pious Muslims than Benedict has done. As part of his attempt to exclude Islam from a newly secular public life, Ataturk banned the public wearing of Islamic headgear, namely the fez. And as late as he executed 12 people for defying the ban on the fez. Turks accepted the exclusion of Islam from public life -- and many other reforms -- because Ataturk was a national hero who had saved Turkey from invasion and defeat after World War I.

An entire Kemalist political establishment has governed Turkey and kept it a secular democracy ever since. Turkey is a NATO ally, a growing economy and a bastion of genuine stability in the region. But most Turks about 98 percent are Muslim, and a large number want Islam to be given greater public recognition and expression. Their women wear the headscarf as a political-cum-religious gesture as once their men wore the fez. Moderate Islamists support the governing Justice and Development party; radical ones smaller parties. The Turkish armed forces, who see themselves as the ultimate guardian of Ataturk's secular constitution, hold both groups in suspicion.

And there are periodic rumors of a military coup to prevent ''creeping Islamicization. His remarks on Christianity, Islam and Reason in his Regensburg lecture have been distorted by the radical Islamists as an attack on Islam in order to embarrass both their moderate rivals and the Turkish armed forces -- and to whip up support for themselves. The pope is an almost innocent bystander, but one who might get caught in the crossfire.

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The obvious way forward is to make some concessions to the moderate Islamists -- allowing greater public expression of Islam -- but in a larger context of entrenching a secular constitution that embodies freedom of religion and free speech. Turkish membership of the European Union would make such a compromise both possible and permanent. To their credit, the governing moderate Islamists have pushed strongly for such an outcome. If Turkey is excluded and inevitably angered by its exclusion , the likelihood is that over time some form of Islamism is going to overpower the remnants of Kemalist secularism.

That, however, is a secondary question for both Europe and the pope. Whether or not Turkey enters the EU, the West is going to have to decide how to handle Islam and the millions of Muslims in its midst. A first step must be to separate out the radical Islamists from the great body of Muslims.

Even if we succeed in isolating and defeating radical Islamists, however, we will still face a problem: Islam is a strong faith that is uncomfortable both with a secular state and with full religious liberty. So was Catholicism in our recent history. Kemalism has shown that it cannot be permanently suppressed. The Turkish jury is still out on whether an unreformed Islam can be politically accommodated in a secular state. So the last question is whether Islam can come to terms with liberty and secularism at a deeper religious level.

That was the question raised in the pope's speech at Regensburg. He then asked Muslims to abandon any interpretation of jihad as a legitimate war against other religions and to re-examine their view of the proper relationship between God and Reason. Given that the Christian God appeals to reason, He rejects forced conversions, holy wars and the murder of apostates. That understanding has not always marked the history of Christianity, but it describes the Church of today.

Benedict was inviting Muslims to consider whether their own faith might not benefit from a similar re-examination. His words were misunderstood as hostile and evoked a hostile reaction. But unless the pope and other Christian leaders can freely raise such questions with leading Muslim clerics without inviting either the murder of nuns or threats of assassination, then we will be faced with long and needless conflict. It is time for some Muslim Benedicts to step forward and continue the dialogue. The pope visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic that Turkey is steadily shifting away from.

Erdogan said the pope told him. Much of that opposition is rooted in the increased tension between the West and Islam, including fears of more terrorist attacks in Europe and the already difficult integration of millions of Muslims into Europe. Admission talks, which began this year, have hit a snag over the insistence, by the European Union, that Turkey open its ports and harbors to vessels from Greek Cyprus, an internationally recognized state opposed by Turkey.

But officials in Turkey say they cannot do that until an international embargo that has been in place on the Turkish part of the island for more than 20 years is lifted. Since Benedict did not make any announcement himself, it appeared to some degree a concession won by Mr. As the leader of the only Muslim country in NATO , he left immediately after to attend a meeting of the Western military alliance in Latvia. A number of those interviewed did say they thought the new support was a decisive win for Mr. Erdogan, who has led the push for entry into Europe, at no small political cost to himself.

A pedestrian street in Istanbul, where women in miniskirts and head scarves mingle. After his plane touched down, the white-robed pope was met at the airport here with a red carpet and a small honor guard, but with none of the music, cheering crowds and waving banners of other trips. Erdogan, who unexpectedly greeted the pope at his plane, spoke too of the need for greater understanding. Several church officials said the Vatican had no such opposition. This government has a public here. On Tuesday night, officials from the European Union met to set conditions for the future of the talks.

Turkish officials expect certain topics in the negotiations to be suspended, but others to continue. Erdogan said at the news conference. After his meeting with Mr.

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Erdogan, Benedict visited the grave of Kemal Attaturk, the founder of the secular Turkish state after World War I, creating with much struggle the fullest democracy in the Muslim world. At every stop, he stressed the need for greater joint efforts to end terror, war and misunderstanding. Analysis: Many Turks don't trust Pope Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey this week is unlikely to be a smooth affair as many Turks view the pontiff as the personification of European hostility toward their country, Time magazine reports in this analysis.

Harsh words for Islam by the Pope in a speech earlier this year and difficulties over negotiations to join the European Union have soured many Turks on Europe and made them suspicious of the West, Time writes. Posted Monday, Nov. But they thought little of the inconvenience. This is unacceptable. We came to make our voices heard.

Huge, lurid posters linking Benedict to Crusader knights. Hundreds of young men, wearing white headbands inscribed with the message "We don't want this sly Pope in Turkey", chanted angry slogans. Militant protestors are a minority, but many Turks are deeply skeptical about a visit they view as part of a Western design against Turkey, which is mostly Muslim but officially secular. The Pope could not have arrived at a more sensitive time: Turkey and the European Union appear on a collision course over whether the bloc will admit Turkey and its 70 million citizens.

Support in Turkey for the EU has plummeted — a poll last week showed 60 percent in favor of suspending membership talks. And for many Turks, Benedict, who once warned that letting Turkey into the EU would be "a grave error against the tide of history," personifies European hostility towards them. Their chief grievance concerns the Pope's scheduled talks with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians.

The talks, many Turks believe, are aimed not just at healing the centuries-old schism between the two churches, but at paving the way for creating in Turkey a Vatican-like entity for the Orthodox. Every detail on the Pope's four-day itinerary is fraught with complications, including a planned visit to Hagia Sophia, a sixth century Byzantine church which was converted to a mosque in when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul.

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It was transformed into a museum in Nationalists believe the Pope's visit to Hagia Sophia, a major tourist attraction, is a sign of Christian desire to reclaim it as a church. Newspapers have speculated feverishly over whether he will pray while inside. With elections slated for next year, Turkish newspapers have speculated that being photographed with the Pope could alienate constituents of the ruling party — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used his attendance at a NATO summit in Latvia to excuse himself from meeting with the pontiff.

To prevent any protests turning violent, a tight security plan — similar to that used for U. President George W. Bush on a recent visit — will be in place. Thousands of policemen, including snipers on rooftops, are on duty in Istanbul, and the papal entourage will feature hi-tech scrambling devices and decoy cars. The Pope, Europe and Islam. Posted Sunday, Nov. Benedict has responded by saying he regretted the consequences of his misunderstood words, but he did not retract his statement--perhaps rightly so. After all, he had simply cited an ancient Emperor.

It is Benedict's right to exercise his critical opinion without being expected to apologize for it--whether he's an ordinary Roman Catholic or the Pope. But that doesn't mean he was right. Muslim attention has focused mainly on the lecture's association between violence and Islam, but the most important and disputable aspect of it was Benedict's reflection on what it means to be European. In his speech at Regensburg, the Pope attempted to set out a European identity that is Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason.

But Benedict's speech implicitly suggested that he believes that Islam has no such relationship with reason--and thus is excluded from being European. Several years ago, the Pope, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, set forth his opposition to the integration of Turkey into Europe in similar terms.

Muslim Turkey has never been, and never will be, able to claim an authentically European culture, he contended. It is another thing; it is the Other. As I have written before, this profoundly European Pope is inviting the people of his continent to become aware of the central, inescapable character of Christianity within their identity, or risk losing it. That may be a legitimate goal, but Benedict's narrow definition of European identity is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous. This is what Muslims must respond to: the tendency of Westerners to ignore the critical role that Muslims played in the development of Western thought.

Those who "forget" the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi 10th century , Avicenna 11th century , Averroes 12th century , al-Ghazali 12th century , Ash-Shatibi 13th century and Ibn Khaldun 14th century are reconstructing a Europe that is not only an illusion but also self-deceptive about its past. What the West needs most today is not so much a dialogue with other civilizations but an honest dialogue with itself--one that acknowledges those traditions within Western civilization that are almost never recognized.

Europe, in particular, must learn to reconcile itself with the diversity of its past in order to master the coming pluralism of its future. The Pope's visit to Turkey presents an opportunity to put forward the true terms of the debate over the relationship between Islam and the West. First, it is necessary to stop presenting this visit as if it were a trip to a country whose religion and culture are alien to Europe.

Selective about its past, Europe is becoming blind to its present. The European continent has been home to a sizable population of Muslims for centuries. While visiting Turkey, the Pope must acknowledge that he is encountering not a potential threat but a mirror. Islam is already a European religion.

Rather than focus on differences, the true dialogue between the Pope and Islam, and between secularized societies and Islamic ones, should emphasize our common, universal values: mutual respect of human rights, basic freedoms, rule of law and democracy. Though most of the media attention is directed at a marginal minority of radicals, millions of European Muslims are quietly proving every day that they can live perfectly well in secular societies and share a strong ethical pedestal with Jews, Christians and atheist humanists.

Let us hope that the Pope will be able to transform his former perception of the threat of "the Other," of Islam, into a more open approach--by strongly highlighting the ethical teachings the religions have in common and the ways they can contribute together to the future of a pluralistic Europe. Benedict XVI should be free to express his opinions without risk of impassioned denunciation.

00:00: FAIRMONT (Beachcoma, Canadá)

But the least one can expect from the Pope--especially in this difficult era of fear and suspicion--is that he help bridge the divide and create new spaces of confidence and trust. ROME, Nov. The pope would celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew on Nov. But for various reasons having to do with its complex relationship with Orthodox Christianity, the Turkish government protested. And Benedict now has two jobs. The trip is still aimed primarily at reaching out to the Orthodox. But after his apologies for the reaction to the speech mentioning Islam, expectations are high for him also to reach out to Muslims — if with measured words unlikely to express the full range of his complex concerns about Islam and the possibilities of meaningful dialogue with Christians.

Keith F. Pecklers, a Jesuit priest and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University here, referring to the city in Germany where the pope delivered the speech in September. It is impossible to know exactly what Benedict plans to say about Islam: His speeches, most often written by Benedict himself, are closely guarded until just before they are delivered. But there are at least two relevant events on his schedule. On Thursday, in an event announced over the weekend, he will visit the splendid Blue Mosque, built deliberately facing the Hagia Sophia, the magnificent sixth-century church that symbolized Byzantine Christianity, to show that Islam could compete with the best that Christianity could offer.

In this visit, Benedict will become the second pope known to have visited a mosque, after his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. But John Paul had a far different approach to Islam: He tended to emphasize the similarities of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and was fond of public displays of unity, like interreligious prayer services. Benedict is considered to be skeptical of stagecraft, with deep concerns about whether true dialogue is possible with a faith as decentralized as Islam. He has also worried, on several occasions, about violence committed in the name of religion, suggesting Islam.

Benedict has, however, expressed admiration for the role of faith in the Muslim world; conversely, he has been strongly critical of a West so secular that it sometimes shuts God out of public life completely. Several church experts suggested that this may be one area of common ground between the pope and his hosts. But on this trip, any mention too specific about religious freedom holds the danger of offending Turkey. Part of the problem between the state and the Christian community, Turkish experts say, is a fear among many Turks that Bartholomew seeks to establish a Vatican -like Christian mini-state in the heart of Istanbul, an assertion he denies.

Sensitivities are high enough that part of the reason Turkey denied the trip last year was that the invitation came from Bartholomew, a religious leader. Only a head of state, officials argued, can invite another head of state, like the pope, on a visit. Some experts say Benedict can go far in pleasing Turks merely by being friendly, and he seems to want to do that. Source : EU Observer, www. But Mons Georges Marovitch , the spokesman for the Vatican as well as for the tiny Catholic community in Turkey, estimated to number around 33, or 0. He added that the inter-cultural and inter-religious experience dating back to the Ottoman empire, as well as the core moral values of Islam being so close to Christianity mean that the country would be "a huge enrichment for Europe.

But he says the EU membership process has triggered a series of positive changes that could significantly change the life of those minorities. Mons Marovitch noted that many in Turkey actually oppose EU membership saying that instead of being "a last and looked-down-on van in the back" the country should become a "locomotive in a train consisting of Islamic countries. But he argues that they are well-known and are also shared in the Catholic community in Turkey, with other Christian denominations also expressing similar opinions.

Turks themselves acknowledge that there was a massacre of Armenians but it was not genocide. In any case, we should let the historians deal with this not politicians. Unlike some in Europe, he also disagrees that a future EU constitution needs to refer exclusively to the Christian religion and its values.

And so for me, it would be better not to use such words, " he said. The elaborate, last-minute choreography pointed to the deep divide that has festered within Turkish society since the foundation of the modern state. Should Turkey face eastward, toward its Muslim neighbors, or westward, toward Europe? In the past five years, Muslims here have repeatedly felt betrayed by the West.

It invaded Iraq and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The European Union has cooled to them. The pope made a speech citing criticism of Islam. Now, Turkey — a Muslim country with a rigidly secular state — is at a pivot point. It is trying to navigate a treacherous path between the forces that want to pull it closer toward Islam and the institutions that safeguard its secularism.

Others say the threat is overstated, but acknowledge that Turks do feel pushed east by pressures on their country from America and Europe. A poll by the Pew Foundation in June found that 53 percent of Turks have positive views of Iran, while public opinion of Europe and the United States has slipped sharply. It has been more than 80 years since religion was ripped out of the heart of the new Turkish state, which was assembled from the remains of the Ottoman Empire, the political and economic heart of the Muslim world for centuries.

But the portion of Turks who identify themselves by their religion, first and foremost as Muslims, has increased to 46 percent this year, from 36 percent seven years ago, according to a survey of 1, people in 23 cities conducted by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, an independent research organization based in Istanbul. That is a trend that has emerged in countries throughout the Muslim world since Sept. But in a paradox that goes to the heart of the nuances of modern Turkey —— a stronger Muslim identity does not mean that, as in Iraq, fundamentalism is on the rise.

Indeed, the number of Turks in favor of imposing Sharia law declined to 9 percent from 21 percent, according to the survey, which was released last week. Perhaps the most powerful factor pushing Turks toward the east has been a series of bitter setbacks in talks on admission to the European Union. To try to win membership, the Turkish government enacted a series of rigorous reforms to bring the country in line with European standards, including some unprecedented in the Muslim world, such as a law against marital rape.

But the admission talks have stalled. Even the pope, when he was still a cardinal in Germany, said publicly that he did not think Turkey fit into Europe because it was Muslim. That talk has begun to grate on Turks. We are Muslim, and we will remain Muslim. Oyman, the Turkish opposition politician, said that talk about Turkey was tougher than ever.

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