Twenty Years After the Fall

Western mass media have locked themselves into a fully ideologized view of the world. Take the way Pope Benedict’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is being treated in European medias. I have seldom seen in recent years such an obvious way of killing a big event by remaining almost totally silent about it.

Some people will tell us it has to do with this pope. Most Europeans — especially Germans — do not like him at all. In recent months he has definitively acquired the reputation of being a stubborn conservative, partly because of his being apparently unaware of the Holocaust’s denial by four "Old Catholic" bishops Benedict wishes to reintegrate into Roman Catholicism, and partly because of his controversial view about how to deal with AIDS in Africa.

If you have a closer look at it, you will at once identify the mass media manipulation: as far as AIDS therapy is concerned, the real point is not Benedict’s skepticism about the condom’s efficiency as unique preventive measure but the fact that he criticized the pharmaceutical industry’s refusal to make expensive therapy against AIDS available for the citizens of African countries who are too poor to get access to it. As for Bishop Williamson’s totally absurd denial of historical facts, it was revealed to German journalists by Catholics who are opposed to the traditionalist’s reintegration into the Church.

But the most important aspect of this Papacy is that Pope Benedict is a faithful continuator of Pope John Paul. You would hardly find a difference between them in their radical condemnation of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial, in their pleading for human rights and for peace, in their criticism of distortions in the international economy or in their conservative view of family and society.

There is only one difference: Pope John Paul was a very charismatic person. Pope Benedict is not so fond of public appearances. He is not the telegenic Pontiff that John Paul was, and his listeners — left to focus on the content of his utterances — are suddenly confronted with this pontiff’s nonconformist views spoken in a blunt, matter-of-fact style. Pope Benedict seldom smiles in the middle of a speech: this is a weakness according to our criteria about what a "great communicator" should be, yet his style has the virtue of clarity. He has a way of commanding our attention.

This is precisely the reason why so many people dislike this pope and why European sources of information (German media in particular) offer so few reports about the Pontiff’s visit to the Middle East. Just keep silent; that’s how the media kills an event in modern democracies — in the long term a much more efficient method than the too obvious censorship of totalitarian States.

Just have a look at his speeches during his one week’s trip through three countries in the Middle East and you will understand what’s behind the media blackout. Pope Benedict again asked his Muslim listeners whether their faith made enough room for human reason but he also condemned the "clash of civilizations" – a favorite theme of many in the West.  He reiterated John Paul’s commitment to friendship with Jews but he also suggested that the necessary condemnation of anti-Semitism should not divert people from criticizing Israeli policies toward Palestinians. Addressing the adherents of the two other monotheistic creeds, he pointed out that Christians are increasingly forced to emigrate from the Holy Land due the perpetual state of war in the Middle East. This is also a criticism of American policy, which allegedly the champion of religious liberty, but which, since 1991, has pursued a policy that has led to a massive emigration of Christians from Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

What I found to be the Pope’s most impressive appearance was his speech in Bethlehem.

"I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families," the Pontiff said, speaking to Palestinians. And AsiaNews is stressing the fact that "since the start of his Mideast trip, the Pope speaking in English has always referred to the barrier as a wall and not a fence, as Israelis are wont to do. As much as they might claim they built it stop terrorist attacks and that it might even be working, its effects on the Palestinian economy are devastating."

"In a world where more and more borders are being opened up — to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges," the Pope added, "it is tragic to see walls still being erected. How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace! How earnestly we pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built!"

When our mass media reported on the trip at all, it was to underline Benedict’s German nationality and regret that he had not spoken in the name of the German people to express his remorse over the Holocaust. As if the Pontiff had not very clearly spoken in Yad Vashem, while remaining faithful to his sober way of speaking about such tragic events — a way of honoring victims of the Nazi genocide’s victims much more appropriate and respectful of the victims of the Holocaust than the current way of totally emotionalizing the memory of the event (while also instrumentalizing it in order to legitimize today’s policies).

Benedict carefully chose the place where he would remind the world of his German experience. When a German Pope condemns a wall erected for political reasons, he knows what he is speaking about. The context is at first sight totally different, but the Pontiff wanted to remind his listeners that there will never be any legitimacy to the building of a wall preventing the free circulation of people in the Middle East. We Westerners are prompt to condemn the crimes of East German communism, which fortunately belongs to the past; but we are bereft of courage when we fail condemn the injustice of a barrier erected against international law by a democratic state, "one of us."

The Pope’s worldview is provocative, and even subversive, as far as the defenders of the current "global order" are concerned. That why they want their mass media to remain silent about his message. Just think what it means: the stubborn old conservative on the side of justice, and the defenders of "freedom" unable to abide by their own rules — stuck in their permanent condemnation of past injustices and too frightened to criticize today’s injustice. Pope Benedict is the only world figure who dares to say that we have no right to erect a new Wall less than a generation after the destruction of the Berlin wall.

Author: Edouard Husson

Edouard Husson is a specialist in 20th-century German and European history at the Sorbonne.