Vatican: Extremists Undermining Religion

United Nations - The Vatican's foreign minister said Wednesday that misunderstanding between cultures is breeding a ''new barbarism'' and expressed hope that reason and dialogue would stop those who use their faith as a pretext for attacks.

In a speech on the closing day of the U.N. General Assembly's ministerial meeting, Giovanni Lajolo said extremists are far from devout and undermine the very religion they claim to defend.

''Violent reactions are always a falsification of true religion,'' Lajolo said in a passage devoted to the pope's Sept. 12 speech at Regensburg University in Germany.

Benedict XVI quoted words attributed to a 14th century Byzantine emperor: ''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.''

Muslims angered by the remarks took to the streets in Indonesia, Turkey and Syria. Churches were attacked in the West Bank; an effigy of the pope was burned in Iraq; and a nun was shot dead in Somalia in an apparently related attack.

Lajolo reiterated the Vatican's view that Benedict's remarks were misinterpreted. He said the pope has sought only to promote rational dialogue and understanding.

Benedict has expressed regret for offending Muslims and said they did not reflect his personal views, but he has not offered a complete apology as some had sought.

Lajolo suggested that the anger may also lie in the lack of understanding between religions, and a schism between reason and faith.

''As the Pope affirmed, were reason to turn a deaf ear to the divine and relegate religion to the ambit of subcultures, it would automatically provoke violent reactions,'' Lajolo, who also serves as president of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State, told the assembly.

''It falls to all interested parties -- to civil society as well as to states -- to promote religious freedom and a sane, social tolerance that will disarm extremists even before they can begin to corrupt others with their hatred of life and liberty,'' he said.

Lajolo referred to the story of the Tower of Babel, saying the ''confusion of tongues'' in the Biblical city was a symbol of fracturing and hostilities in the contemporary world.

''Human pride hampers the acknowledgment of one's neighbor and the recognition of his or her needs and even more makes people distrusting,'' he said.

''Today, that same negative fundamental attitude has given rise to a new barbarism that threatens world peace,'' the Vatican minister said.

Terrorists bent on ''rejecting the best achievements of our civilization'' are one example, Lajolo said.

Major powers, in their attempt to make the world more fair, may also occasionally slide into believing that this can only be achieved by force, he said.

''It can go so far as to regard the possession of nuclear weapons as an element of national pride,'' he said.