HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
September 25, 2006, Herald Journal

Pope’s words not an excuse for murder


A strange interpretation of religion has crept back into the news in recent weeks.

Many Muslims took offense at remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI during a recent speech in Regensburg.

The pontiff had the audacity to speak out against using violence to spread religion.

Some Muslims took his comments as an affront to Islam, and set out to prove that Muslims are not violent.

Their response took a variety of forms.

Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a 65-year-old Italian nun, was shot four times in the back near the entrance to a hospital in Mogadishu.

Her bodyguard was also killed. (The fact that a nun even needs a bodyguard is a sad commentary in itself.)

Seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza were set on fire.

In Iran, religious ceremonies were shut down in protest, and a leading cleric told students that the Pope’s remarks were inflammatory.

The Mujadin Army, an Iraqi insurgent group, threatened a suicide bomb attack on the Vatican.

In a threat addressed to “the dogs of Rome,” posted on a militant web site, the group is quoted as saying, “our minds will not rest until we shake your thrones and break your crosses in your homes.”

The Turkish government urged the Pope to cancel a planned visit to Turkey in November, on the grounds that it could not guarantee his safety.

Effigies of the Pope were burned in Pakistan.

But, remember, Muslims are not violent.

Nor are they clear thinkers, apparently. There is no evidence to suggest that the nun who was gunned down, or the other victims of this retaliation, had anything to do with the Pope’s remarks. They were just easy targets.

There has been much discussion about the source of the text quoted in the speech, and whether or not the Pope’s comments were appropriate.

What is lost in all of this is a clear analysis of what is really going on here.

The feigned indignation about the speech, like the response to the Danish cartoon a few months ago, is a smokescreen.

These people are bent on violence, and will use any excuse they can think of to justify it.

These are not the acts of men. They are the acts of cowards and thugs.

It is time to be clear about this. People who shoot nuns in the back, burn churches, and bomb public buildings are not martyrs. They are ordinary, garden-variety terrorists.

You won’t hear about these people executing a direct attack on those they claim have offended them. They prefer to sneak around attacking old women or children, or anyone they think will not fight back. Terrorists are real tough guys.

Obviously, not all Muslims engage in this kind of activity.

It is likely that the violence is perpetrated by a small group of fanatics.

But, for that reason, it is even more important for the rest of the Islamic world to stand up and expose the terrorists for what they are, rather than condoning these acts by their silence.

There are a lot of people hiding under the Muslim umbrella, and the cowardly acts of a few reflect on the rest.

People of all religions have a right to stand up for what they believe.

This does not mean that one group has carte blanche to be as critical and vindictive as it wants, while expecting others to maintain a respectful view of its position.

Nor does the fact that one disagrees with the words of another justify violent retaliation against innocent people. That is terrorism, and no amount of “spin,” or religious posturing can change that.

Regardless of the real or imagined provocation, we must ask ourselves, is the response appropriate?

We need to look beyond cultural differences and the wild claims of highly-strung fanatics, and use common sense as a benchmark.

The Pope has a special position, and his actions can be expected to be viewed more closely than the average person.

But do the comments of an 80-year-old man from Germany really justify murder and violence around the world?

Or, are they simply being used as an excuse for extremists to carry on their campaign of hate?