AMMAN: May 7, 2009. (Reuters) Jordanian Islamist leaders on Thursday condemned Pope Benedict's visit to the Middle East, saying it was provocative because he has not apologized for offending comments implying Islam was violent and irrational.
They said the pope, who arrives in Jordan on Friday on the first leg of a tour including Israel and the Palestinian territories, still owed them an apology for hinting Islam was violent and irrational in a 2006 speech in Regensburg.
Jordan's Roman Catholic Church urged Islamists on Wednesday to welcome the pope despite their earlier criticism of his visit. A senior Amman official acknowledged some discontent but said the government would warmly welcome Benedict.
"The present Vatican pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims," Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest mainstream Islamist party, told Reuters.
"Ignoring Muslim sentiments will only block the healing of wounds his statements caused," said another Islamist figure, Jamil Abu Baker.
For many Arabs in the region, the pope's stated mission of peace and reconciliation is futile without a sufficient gesture to Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.
This was even more pressing in Jordan, a country where a large portion of its 5.6 million are of Palestinian origin, they or their parents having been expelled or fled to Jordan in the fighting that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948.
"It's the same pope who apologized to the Jews about the Holocaust and now comes to the region but says nothing about the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe)," Bani Rusheid added. Arabs call Israel's creation the "Nakba" (catastrophe).