Do you ever get the eerie feeling that the major public events of our day have been scripted by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay?
The story so far:
The pope, delivering an address at his old University, decides to use a quotation from a discussion between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian scholar, on the theory, presumably, that any discussion of contemporary moral values most usefully begins by examining obscure conversations in the 14th century. Pop culture references from medieval arcana, the Pope thinks, will help the issue seem more immediately relevant, and besides, a dash of the old Paleologus wit is always good for a few laughs.
Incredibly, Islamic fundamentalists misinterpret what the Pope is saying! Even though he hasn't actually said that he agrees with the statement, even though he's just quoted it and then made no comment about it, they imply that he actually believes it himself. Who would have thought that Muslim fundamentalists would prove so quick to provocation, so blind to the niceties of deductive logic? I mean okay, so we know that Islamo-fascist rabble rousers have used jokes by obscure Danish cartoonists to trigger violence, but who would have imagined they would try something similar when the official head of a major world religion quoted anti-Islamic statements in dead earnest?
Having recovered from the shock of this entirely unexpected response, the Pope and his advisors now find themselves in a bind. The rabble rousers are demanding an apology. But how do you apologise for something you claim not to have said? The Pope can't say "I'm sorry I said Islam was a violent religion" because he's already said that he never said that. He tries to weasel his way out of it by saying he's sorry for the 'reaction' his words caused.
But the rabble rousers aren't having any of it. Never mind that the first time around they blithely ignored the fact that quoting a statement by someone else does not imply agreement with it. This time they're more than happy to split hairs, pointing out that the Pope hasn't actually apologised for what he said, which, of course, he can't because he never really said it.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a parallel universe, Joseph Heller is laughing himself silly.
The irony of all this: The point of the Pope's speech was apparently that we in the modern world tend to rely too much on reason.