The Fightin’ Pope

It begins to look like Pope Benedict is a fighter.

One week after Osama bin Laden accused Pope Benedict of helping in a “New Crucade”, the Pontif baptised a prominent Italian Muslim.

Italy’s most prominent Muslim commentator, a journalist with iconoclastic views such as support for Israel, converted to Roman Catholicism Saturday when the pope baptized him at an Easter service.

As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Magdi Allam’s head and said a brief prayer in Latin.

“We no longer stand alongside or in opposition to one another,” Benedict said in a homily reflecting on the meaning of baptism. “Thus faith is a force for peace and reconciliation in the world: distances between people are overcome, in the Lord we have become close.”

Vatican television zoomed in on Allam, who sat in the front row of the basilica along with six other candidates for baptism. Allam later received his first Communion.

An Egyptian-born, non-practicing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Allam often writes on Muslim and Arab affairs and has infuriated some Muslims with his criticism of extremism and support for the Jewish state.

This is no small thing. In Islam, abandoning your religion for another is interpreted as apostasy, which is punishable by death. Magdi Allam has already been threatened with death by Hamas, and entitled his last book “Viva Israel” or “Long Live Israel“.

In 2006, Allam was a co-winner, with three other journalists, of the $1 million Dan David prize, named for an Israeli entrepreneur. Allam was cited for “his ceaseless work in fostering understanding and tolerance between cultures.

To him I say, “Welcome!” And to Pope Benedict, I say “Wow! Bold move!” To bin Ladin, I say “You still alive? Really??”

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air agrees that Benedict is being gutzy.

InstaGlenn’s got the right read here, although flipping Osama the bird’s only part of it. Benedict’s playing an interesting game with the Muslim world, equal parts outreach and antagonism, which I suppose is his way of trying to coax them towards tolerance. Surely a man who’d hold interfaith talks at the Vatican can be forgiven the occasional baptism of an apostate, can’t he? It’s all part of the “understanding” process.

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