Anti-papal backlash spreads to West Bank
Anybody have any idea who the "Lions of Monotheism" are? From Newsday, Sept. 19:
Palestine's Christians face retalliation from Muslims over Pope's words
NABLUS -- The charred churches of this West Bank town were shuttered yesterday and circled by armed guards, while members of its Christian congregations hid in their homes and braced for more violence following papal remarks that have inflamed the Muslim world.
The weekend bombings of eight churches in the West Bank and Gaza have left the dwindling Christian community in the Palestinian territories terrified.
And nowhere is that fear more palpable than in the Muslim-majority city of Nablus, where five churches were targeted in the span of a single day following Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam.
"There is absolute terror in the streets," said Yousef Sa'adi, a Greek Catholic priest who ministers at St. John's Church on the edge of town.
On Saturday, a group of armed men calling themselves the "Lions of Monotheism" doused his church's doors in gasoline, pumped six bullets and set it ablaze before driving off.
The front archway is now singed black. Inside, one bullet shredded a wooden pew. Another pierced the marble altar.
Several nearby churches bear similar scars. Also hit were the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation and two Roman Catholic churches.
Yesterday, the Vatican tried to defuse tension by dispatching papal representatives to meet with Muslim leaders around the world to clarify the pope's position, but Islamic leaders continued to denounce him.
The pope has said he was sorry over any hurt caused by his comments, but stopped short of retracting his statements or apologizing for saying them in the first place.
While no one was injured in the West Bank attacks, they have damaged relations between Christians and Muslims beyond repair, say local leaders.
The violence threatens to further erode the Christian community, which makes up less than 2 percent of the population in the Palestinian territories.
"[The pope] is encouraging this vengeance. If this goes on, Christians won't feel safe here anymore. They will leave," Sa'adi said.
Normally, 50 people pack his church every day for his morning sermon. Yesterday, the ruined pews were empty.
He is quick to stress that historically, the town's 700 Christian residents have lived in peace with its 100,000-strong Muslim community. But that's changed.
These days, he says, you'd be hard pressed to find a Christian family willing to answer their front door, wear a cross on the street or speak of religion.
"We can't talk to you. The neighbors are watching. It's not safe," whispered one woman through the barbed-wire gate surrounding her home near the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd.
The doors to the Christian day care center are locked. The streets of the city's Christian quarter are totally empty.
Protests broke out in South Asia and Indonesia yesterday, with Muslims dismissing Benedict's statement of regret.
In southern Iraq, al-Qaida warned its war against Christianity and the West will continue until Islam takes over the world. Iran's supreme leader also called for further protests.
A Challenge, Not a Crusade
SEEN in context, Pope Benedict XVI’s citation last week of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who claimed that the Prophet Muhammad brought “things only evil and inhuman” to the world was not intended as an anti-Islamic broadside. The pope’s real target in his lecture at the University of Regensburg, in Germany, was not Islam but the West, especially its tendency to separate reason and faith. He also denounced religious violence, hardly a crusader’s sentiment.
The uproar in the Muslim world over the comments is thus to some extent a case of “German professor meets sound-bite culture,” with a phrase from a tightly wrapped academic argument shot into global circulation, provoking an unintended firestorm.
In fact, had Benedict wanted to make a point about Islam, he wouldn’t have left us guessing about what he meant. He’s spoken and written on the subject before and since his election as pope, and a clear stance has emerged in the first 18 months of his pontificate. Benedict wants to be good neighbors, but he’s definitely more of a hawk on Islam than was his predecessor, John Paul II.
The new pope is tougher both on terrorism and on what the Vatican calls “reciprocity” — the demand that Islamic states grant the same rights and freedoms to Christians and other religious minorities that Muslims receive in the West. When Benedict said in his apology on Sunday that he wants a “frank and sincere dialogue,” the word “frank” was not an accident. He wants dialogue with teeth.
Roman Catholicism under Benedict is moving into a more critical posture toward Islamic fundamentalism. That could either push Islam toward reform, or set off a global "clash of civilizations" — or, perhaps, both.
Personally, Benedict's graciousness toward Muslims is clear. For example, when Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a member of the powerful Guardian Council in Iran, wrote a book comparing Islamic and Christian eschatological themes in the 1990’s, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, swapped theological ideas with him in the Vatican.
Immediately after his installation Mass last year, Benedict thanked Muslims for attending an inter-faith meeting. “I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions.”
Yet Benedict has also challenged what he sees as Islam’s potential for extremism, grounded in a literal reading of the Koran. In a 1997 interview with me, he said of Islam, "One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of pluralistic society."
In the same interview, he accused some Muslims of fomenting a radical "liberation theology," meaning a belief that God approves of violence to achieve liberation from Israel. He also said he opposed Turkey’s candidacy to enter the European Union, arguing that it is “in permanent contrast to Europe” and suggesting that it play a leadership role among Islamic states instead.
Thus it’s no surprise that Benedict has struck a different tone from his predecessor. John Paul met with Muslims more than 60 times, and during a 2001 trip to Syria became the first pope to enter a mosque. He reached out to Islamic moderates. He talked of Muslims and Jews along with Christians as the three "sons of Abraham." And he condemned injustices thought to be at the root of Islamic terrorism.
Desire for a more muscular stance, however, has been building among Catholics around the world for some time. In part, it has been driven by persecution of Christians in the Islamic world, like the murder of an Italian missionary, the Rev. Andrea Santoro, in Trabzon, Turkey, in February. A 16-year-old Turk fired two bullets into Father Santoro, shouting "God is great." But perhaps the greatest driving force has been the frustrations over reciprocity. To take one oft-cited example, while Saudis contributed tens of millions of dollars to build Europe’s largest mosque in Rome, Christians cannot build churches in Saudi Arabia. Priests in Saudi Arabia cannot leave oil-industry compounds or embassy grounds without fear of reprisals from the mutawa, the religious police. The bishop of the region recently described the situation as "reminiscent of the catacombs."
The pope is sympathetic to these concerns, as several developments at the Vatican have made clear.
At a meeting with Muslims in Cologne, Germany, last summer, Benedict urged joint efforts to “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress toward world peace.”
On Feb. 15, he removed Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who had been John Paul’s expert on Islam, as the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sending him to a diplomatic post in Egypt. Archbishop Fitzgerald was seen as the Vatican’s leading dove in its relationship with Muslims.
That same month, Bishop Rino Fisichella, the rector of Rome’s Lateran University and a close papal confidant, announced it was time to “drop the diplomatic silence” about anti-Christian persecution, and called on the United Nations to “remind the societies and governments of countries with a Muslim majority of their responsibilities.”
In March, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for Rome, voiced doubts about calls to teach Islam in Italian schools, saying he wanted assurance that doing so “would not give way to a socially dangerous kind of indoctrination.”
And on March 23, Benedict summoned his 179 cardinals for a closed-doors business session. Much conversation turned on Islam, according to participants, and there was agreement over taking a tougher stance on reciprocity.
Through his statements and those of his proxies, Benedict clearly hopes to stimulate Islamic leaders to express their faith effectively in a pluralistic world. The big question is whether it will be received that way, or whether it simply reinforces the conviction of jihadists about eternal struggle with the Christian West.
There is no shortage of cant and obfuscation around this affair, which so desperately calls for clarity. For instance, the Western media are all claiming in their headlines that the Pope has apologized. Reading the small print indicates that he has not. In a typical example, the Chicago Tribune in a Sept. 19 editorial entitled "The Pope's Apology", writes:
After failed attempts by the Vatican to defuse the crisis, the pope confronted it squarely over the weekend. On Sunday, in an unusual move, he issued a personal apology. He said he was "deeply sorry" Muslims were offended and angered, stressing that the quotation at issue didn't "in any way express my personal thought."
Being sorry that other people were offended is not the same thing as being sorry for the remarks. On the contrary, it subtly places the blame on the aggrieved party.
Equally disingenuous is British MP George Galloway (perceived as a "leftist" despite his alliance with Islamic fundamentalism) who says:
"Unfortunately, the Pope is now setting fire, literally, to churches, and to Muslim-Christian relations around the world."
The Pope is "literally" setting fire to churches? Even if we are to assume that Muslims are mere automatons who are not responsible for their actions but have no choice but to torch churches in response the papal indiscretion, the Pope is still not "literally" setting fire to churches, but inciting others to do so. George Galloway is literally mangling the English language.
And just to make it all worse, he is called out on this vile noise by a website called Disturbingly Yellow, which merely exploits the whole sorry affair to score cheap jingoistic and Islamophobic points.