Muslim leaders have accused the Pope of attacking the Islamic faith after a speech earlier this week in which Benedict XVI referred to the concept of jihad, or holy war.
In his address at the University of Regensberg in Germany on Tuesday, Benedict quoted from a book recounting a dialogue on the truths of Christianity and Islam between Manuel Paleologos II, a 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor, and an educated Persian.
"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the Pope said.
"He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached’."
Apparently aware of the delicacy of the issue, Benedict described the phrases on Islam as "brusque", and pointed out several times that he was quoting - although he neither explicitly agreed with nor repudiated the emperor's views.
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pontiff said.
But in the Islamic world this has been taken to indicate that the Pope straightforwardly endorsed Manuel Paleologos's views.
Some people are just waiting to be offended.
A statement issued by the Vatican last night to clarify what was meant and to apologise for causing offence appears only to have made things worse.
Because this isn't about peaceful co-existence. This is about imposing one's will on the spiritual enemy. In fact, the greater the apology, the less likely it is to be accepted - because it's taken as a sign of weakness, to be exploited further.
No religion has been mocked and vilified more in the last 40 years than Christianity. And it continues - because the consequences don't involve bodies with knives pinning notes to their chests, decapitation, explosions, burning buildings or trains.
Faced with such things, Western society retreats, draws back, self-censors - engendering a sense among the bad hats (and among those who share the aim even while having reservations about the method) that there is no limit to the retreat - no ground on which the enemy will turn, stand and fight.
They may well be right.