Palestinians attack churches as anti-Pope sentiment grows around world

September 18, 2006

* Iranian newspaper says Zionists behind pope’s comments
* Mujahedeen Army threatens suicide attack against “the dog of Rome”
* Effigies of Benedict XVI burned in demonstrations in Basra today
* Egyptian, Saudi religious leaders say pope’s apology “not enough”



1. Five churches in West Bank & Gaza attacked
2. Mujahedeen army threatens pope
3. Italian nun murdered by Islamists
4. European politicians defend pope; New York Times criticizes him
5. Arab media: “The pope’s comments may lead to war”
6. Iranian newspapers says U.S. and Israel behind pope’s comments
7. Christians blame media distortion for Muslim violence
8. Pope also offends Jews
9. “Why the Pope was right” (Times of London, Sept. 18, 2006)
10. “The historical truth” (Corriere della Sera, Sept. 15, 2006)

[Note by Tom Gross]


Palestinians wielding guns and firebombs attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza over the weekend. The fire bombings at Nablus’ Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches left trails of black scorch marks. Church doors were charred and walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. Separately, a group of masked gunmen doused the main doors of Nablus’ Roman and Greek Catholic churches with lighter fluid and set them afire.

A group calling itself the “Lions of Monotheism” claimed responsibility; they said the attacks were to protest Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks last week which some claim were offensive to Islam.

In supposedly impoverished Gaza, a Greek Orthodox Church came under gunfire from a car, this only a day after explosive devices were set off in the same church.

Palestinian Christians are already under great pressure from the Islamic-led Palestinian Authority, but the Western media (despite having many Christians among their readers) rarely report on this, preferring to highlight Israeli actions.

On Tuesday, in one small passage from a lengthy speech in German, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, as “evil and inhuman.”

The pope yesterday apologized, following the angry reaction to his remarks. At his summer palace outside Rome, he told pilgrims “these (words) were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.”

He continued “At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.”

On Saturday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone issued a statement explaining the pontiff’s remarks, apologizing and insisting that the church “esteems Muslims.”


Efforts by Pope Benedict XVI to assuage anger in the Muslim world caused by his comments appear to have had little effect. Over 1,000 people demonstrated in the Iraqi city of Basra today, and effigies of Benedict were burned.

The Mujahedeen Army, an Iraqi terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for scores of attacks in Iraq, threatened the Vatican with a suicide attack over the pope’s remarks about Islam. Addressing “the dog of Rome,” they threatened to “shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home.” The message, posted on a website also said “we swear to God to send you people who adore death as much as you adore life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has also demanded “a personal apology [from the pope]. We feel that he has committed a grave error against us and that this mistake will only be removed through a personal apology,” Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Leader Mohammed Habib told Reuters.

On Friday night, 2,000 Palestinians angrily protested against the pope in Gaza City, accusing him of leading a new crusade against the Muslim world. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sent a message to the protestors saying Pope Benedict XVI had offended Muslims everywhere.


According to the Turin-based daily La Stampa, a hard-line Somali cleric called on Muslims to “hunt down” and kill the pope. Following this call a 65-year-old Italian nun working in Somalia was shot and killed yesterday in Mogadishu. According to the leading Italian national daily, Il Corriere della Sera, the nun was killed by members of a pro-Taliban group as a response to the pope’s lecture in Germany. The nun had been working at a children’s hospital in north Mogadishu.

Lebanon’s most senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, told worshippers during his Friday prayers sermon: “We call on the pope to carry out a scientific and fastidious reading of Islam. We do not want him to succumb to the propaganda of the enemy led by Judaism.”

Salih Kapusuz, deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted party, said Friday that Benedict “is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini.”

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador to the Holy See in protest over the pope’s remarks. On Friday, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the pope for what it called “derogatory” comments about Islam.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq cited a hadith (a saying of the Prophet Mohammed) promising Muslims they would “conquer Rome ... as they conquered Constantinople.” Also on Saturday, an Iranian-based terrorist group threatened suicide attacks against the Vatican.

On Friday evening, 50,000 Israeli Arabs at the 11th annual congress of the Israeli Islamic Movement, in the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, heard Sheikh Raëd Salah tell them “Soon Jerusalem will be the capital of the new Muslim caliphate.”


While European Muslims were quick to attack the pope’s words, the continent’s political leaders declined to follow. “Whoever criticizes the pope misunderstood the aim of his speech,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. “What Benedict XVI emphasized was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion,” she explained.

Italian European parliament vice president Mario Mauro condemned as “monstrous” the manipulation of the pope’s remarks by Islamic leaders which he claimed were used to “hit out at Christians and the West.”

Some western liberal media though criticized the pope. The New York Times editorialized on Saturday that the pope must give a “deep and persuasive” apology for his remarks. “The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly,” it said.


Opinion articles in Arabic-language newspapers have been filled with strong rhetoric over the pope’s comments. Writing in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, Hani Pahas said “We fear that the pope’s statements may lead to a war that we, Muslims and Christians alike, are trying to prevent through dialogue between East and West.”

The pope has in recent days been compared to both Osama bin Laden and Hitler. Hussein Shabakshy, writing in al-Sharq al-Awsat, another London-based Arabic-language daily, commented that: “It is clear that such remarks only contribute to the fueling of the fire raging between Islam and the West. There is no difference between Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking from their caves in Tora Bora and the stage of an important Christian saint. Both parties contribute to the world verbal weapons of mass destruction.”

Shabakshy continued, “These are ignorant comments previously made by Adolf Hitler, who spoke of a supreme white race against all the other races, especially the African race,” he added, ignoring the fact that most of Hitler’s venom was directed at Jews.


The Iranian daily Jomhuri Islami claimed that Israel and the United States dictated the pope’s comments to distract attention from the recent war between Israel and Hizbullah.

The newspaper commented that “the reality is that if we do not consider Pope Benedict XVI to be ignorant of Islam, then his remarks against Islam are a dictat that the Zionists and the Americans have written (for him) and have submitted to him… The American and the Zionist aim is to undermine the glorious triumph of Islam’s children of Lebanese Hizbullah, which annulled the undefeatable legend of the Israeli army and foiled the Satanic and colonialist American plot.”

Another Iranian daily newspaper, Kayhan, argued that “There are many signs that show that Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks regarding the great prophet of Islam are a link in a connected chain of a Zionist-American project… The project, which was created and executed by the Zionist minority, aims at creating confrontation between the followers of the two great divine religions.”


Some Christian leaders and theologians have blamed certain sections of the Western media for distorting Pope Benedict’s comments. For example, Father David Neuhaus, professor of Scripture at the Roman Catholic Seminary in Beit Jalla, argued that the western secular liberal media “ripped” the pope’s statement about Islam out of context.

He said “The pope’s speech was about how there was no room for violence in the relationship between reason and faith, and his message was directed primarily at secularism, not Islam.”


Barely minutes after saying he was “deeply sorry” about the reaction to his earlier remarks on Islam yesterday, the pope cited a passage from the New Testament highlighting the gulf between Christian and Jewish attitudes to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Pope quoted St. Paul, the New Testament author most often accused of anti-Semitism, saying “We preach the crucified Christ – a scandal for the Jews, a folly for the pagans.”

In response, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, a member of the board of the Council of Christians and Jews, a group set up to oppose prejudice between different religions and races, said “The pope has every right to quote his own holy texts, but it may be unwise in the current climate to choose those which relate to other faiths.”

The rabbi added that “it is especially important that anyone who does protest does so verbally, not physically, otherwise they put themselves even more at fault.”


I attach two articles below. In the first, William Rees-Mogg says “Islam has only partially experienced the modern process of enlightenment and reform, which was, after all, resisted by a number of pre-Vatican II popes. Pope Benedict will have done Islam a service if he has started a debate within Islam and between Islam and the critics.”

The second article is written by Magdi Allam, the Egyptian-born deputy-editor of Italy’s highest circulation newspaper, Corriere della Sera. “Why do not Muslims, especially the so-called moderates, react with strength and intensity against the real and eternal desecrators of Islam – that is, the Islamic terrorists who kill other Muslims in the name of the same God, radical Muslims who legitimize the destruction of Israel and brainwash ordinary Muslims into martyrdom?” he asks.

-- Tom Gross




Why the Pope was right
By William Rees-Mogg
The Times of London
September 18, 2006,,1052-2362630,00.html

Journalists should not criticise Pope Benedict XVI for his lecture at Regensburg. He has done only what every sub-editor on the Daily Mail does every day. Confronted with a long and closely written text, he inserted a lively quote to draw attention to the argument. We all do it. Sometimes the quote causes trouble, but more often it opens up an argument that is needed.

The question is not whether the quotation from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus is offensive: it is.

The question is whether the emperor is justified in what he said. His main thrust was at least partly justified. There is a real problem about the teaching of the Koran on violence against the infidel. That existed in the 14th century, and was demonstrated on 9/11, 2001. There is every reason to discuss it. I am more afraid of silence than offence.

The Pope’s actual quotation is not just a medieval point of view. It is a common modern view; even if it seldom reaches print; it can certainly be found on the internet. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and then you shall find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Is it true that the Koran contains such a command, and has it influenced modern terrorists? The answers, unfortunately, are “yes” and “yes”.

The so-called Sword Verse from Chapter 9 must have been in the emperor’s mind: “So when the sacred months have passed away, Then slay the idolaters wherever you find them.

“And take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush.”

This does shock many Muslims: extremists are angered by the implied criticism of those who quote it, while moderates who cannot disavow the terms of the Koran prefer more evasive interpretations. The shock it creates shows the importance of the doctrine.

One man who does not question the meaning of the verse is Osama bin Laden. His attitude is discussed at some length in Chapter 14 of an excellent new book, The Qur’an, a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, who is the Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, North Carolina. Lawrence observes the use of this verse as a central argument for jihad in Bin Laden’s manifesto in 1996; that was a declaration of war against native and foreign infidels.

Lawrence makes several relevant points. Bin Laden selects only those verses that fit his message, and then cites them exclusively for his own purposes. He ignores both their original context and also the variety of historical differences between committed Muslims about how to apply their dicta. He collapses the broad spectrum of Koranic teaching into a double requirement: first to believe; and then to fight.

Lawrence also draws attention to the qualifications that surround the Sword Verse; particularly that those infidels who repent should be allowed to go free: “For God is most forgiving; most merciful.”

It is impossible to reconcile the consistent Koranic teaching that God is most merciful with suicide bombing, which is indiscriminate and murders faithfuls and infidels alike.

It is a mistake to think that all the major religions are identical: they have real differences of doctrine that have real impacts on human society. What is true, however, is that no religion shall survive for more than a generation or two unless it has a substantial element of truth in it. The diabolical cult of Nazism lasted for only one generation. It is natural for Christians of different denominations to love what they have in common without ceasing to be aware of their differences.

A Christian should also rejoice in the positive spiritual values of the other major religions. It is natural for a Christian to feel enriched by Judaism, which was the religion of Jesus; or by Platonism, the philosophy of the opening chapter of St John’s Gospel and of St Augustine. Yet Christians also find spiritual truths in Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam itself. There is a significant link between aspects of Islamic Sufi mysticism and the Christian mystical tradition.

When one lists these religions it becomes obvious that there are two problems: violence and the influence of reason, both of which Pope Benedict identified in his lecture. Violence is a fault from which no major religion has historically been free. St Patrick’s conversion of Ireland is sometimes given as a unique example of the conversion of a nation without the loss of a single life. It is one of the great scandals that so many persecutions have taken place in the name of Jesus.

This has been more or less true of all the great religions: human beings are the most savage of beasts, and they will kill each other in any cause, however noble.

Yet nowadays Islam is the only major religion in which violence is a serious doctrinal issue. It is true that tribalised Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland have only recently stopped killing each other and vengeful Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi in India, but neither the Catholic nor the Protestant churches believe in terror; nor do the Sikhs.

A significant proportion of the Islamic community does believe that suicide bombers are martyrs carrying out a religious duty. Suicide bombing causes Islamophobia. There are varying degrees of authority and uniformity in different religions; rather low in most cases. This pluralism has its own virtues, but in Islam they are outweighed by the disadvantages. Those imams who preach al-Qaeda’s view of the duty of jihad are not required to answer to any authority, even the authority of reason.

Islam has only partially experienced the modern process of enlightenment and reform, which was, after all, resisted by a number of pre-Vatican II Popes. Pope Benedict will have done Islam a service if he has started a debate within Islam and between Islam and the critics.



The historical truth
By Magdi Allam
Corriere della Sera
September 15, 2006

It is sad and worrying that Muslims have given birth to an international united front to attack the Pope and ask for public apologies. From Bin Laden to the Muslim Brotherhood, from Pakistan to Turkey, from al-Jazeera to al-Arabiya, the transversal and universal alliance, which has already come into being following the Danish cartoons affair, has reappeared. Reaffirming very clearly that the root of evil is like a blind and prevailing ideology which outrages the faith and darkens the minds of many Muslims.

Why do not Muslims, especially the so-called moderates, react with such strength and intensity against the real and eternal desecrators of Islam – that is, the Islamic terrorists who kill other Muslims in the name of the same God, radical Muslims who legitimize the destruction of Israel and brainwash ordinary Muslims into martyrdom? Why do they now believe they must start a kind of Islamic “holy war” against the head of the [Catholic] Church who has the right to respectfully express his views about Islam, all the while with clarity on the evident difference between the two religions?

The pope’s quoting the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, regarding the expansion of Islam through the sword, either during the time of Mohammed and on the Arab Peninsula and after him, elsewhere, underlines an undeniable historical truth. The Quran itself states it; furthermore, the forced conversion of the entire Byzantine Empire, to Islam in the East and South of Mediterranean, and the further expansion northwards in Europe and Eastwards in Asia, demonstrates the point made by the Byzantine Emperor. It is foolish to deny the truth, as it can only cause deranged reaction. In the mid-Nineties one of the most prominent scholars of Islamic studies, the Egyptian Mohammed said al-Ashmawi, told me that he did not approve the Arab tribes’ military conquest of Christian lands in the Mediterranean and that he would have preferred Islam to expand peacefully, like it did in South-Eastern Asia. The Pope is threatened because he has said things that every single honest and rational Muslim should accept: the historical truth.

Time has come for both the West and Christianity to stop thinking that they are the source of all that happens – good or evil – within Islam as well as around the world. The ideology of hate is an ancestral reality at the core of Islam; it has been so since its inception, due to its’ refusal to recognize and respect the plurality of religious communities – a natural thing since in Islam the relationship between the believer and God is personal and there is no unique spiritual guide who embodies the absolute dogmas of faith. In fact, since the defeat of the Arab armies in the June 5th, 1967 war, the situation has been worsening while Islamic extremism has been on the rise starting from Iran to Indonesia, to the point where the advance of global Islamic terrorism has turned the West into a “Kamikaze factory”.

This is the tragic truth of the ideology of hate which binds all Muslims who are obsessed with anti-Americanism, anti-West and the prejudicial denial of Israel’s right to exist. They are able to find many pretexts to rage – from Israeli occupation, to the U.S.-led coalition into Iraq, to the cartoons about Mohammed and even the Pope’s words. Nevertheless the problem is at the root of Islam itself, an Islam which extremists turned from a faith in God into an ideology aiming for a theocratic and totalitarian order to impose on everyone who is not like them. And I am really scared when I realize that even the so-called moderates have given in to a “holy war” where they will be the primary victims.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.