“The church decided to close itself off more, and to focus on its European roots” in choosing Cardinal Ratzinger, said Hussein al-Shobokshy, a Saudi columnist for the Pan-Arab daily Al Sharq al Awsat. “The neocons should be happy with this election. He is someone they can do business with.” ~International Herald-Tribune

One Saudi columnist does not represent a trend for the entire region, but it makes me wonder what in the world this columnist thinks a neocon is. It is hard to imagine someone more hateful to the neocons than a traditionalist German Catholic who, as it happens, also loves peace, and it is difficult to imagine any brand of ideology less congenial to a man who has chosen the name of the “peace pope” Benedict XV. First, he is German (Bavarian, no less!), and neocons, forever obsessed with WWII, reflexively hate Germans as a people and culture, and if that weren’t bad enough he is a Christian who has the strange idea that the Prince of Peace actually desires peace and love on earth. No one is worse suited for “doing business” with the neocons than such a Pope, if one could ever imagine a Pope friendly to the interests of such villains.

Not surprisingly, the Near Eastern world is not familiar with Pope Benedict’s rejection of so-called preventive war during the Iraq ‘crisis’ (speaking of neocons, I suspect that George Weigel was aware, but considered himself a better theologian than the new Pope), but one would have thought that remotely informed people in the Near East would know how close personally, intellectually and theologically Pope Benedict was to the late Pope John Paul as a Cardinal. Surely most people in the Near East were aware of the Vatican’s objections to the Iraq invasion (which were bolstered by then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s blunt, honest comments on the matter), or am I assuming too much?

At work here, though, is a far more bizarre assumption that frequently plagues political and cultural commentators: this is the idea that to define and vigorously defend one’s own heritage and one’s own part of the world, one is therefore an extremist bent on meddling in the affairs of others or keen on oppressing others, as Mr. Al-Shobokshy reasonably sees neocons doing. Thus, because Pope Benedict has spoken in the past of Europe’s Christian cultural identity, which as a matter of history is something so obvious even a neocon could see it if he wanted to, he must also want to conquer the Near East or cheer on those who are conquering it (if he had said that “the Near East should be Christian,” this might make a bit more sense).

In fact, one can show with great precision, or as much precision as the study of history allows, that those who are indifferent to the heritage of their land or civilisation are most keen to go to other lands to devastate their traditions just as they hope to eliminate the traditions back home. Nothing should be more reassuring to Near Eastern peoples, or more infuriating to the neocons, than the presence of a pacific traditionalist in the Vatican.