Is it true?
Back in 2006 Pope Benedict XVI urged that the concept of holy war or conversion at the edge of the sword be repudiated. Immediately the summons went out for Muslims to kill the Holy Father. Even the more liberal critics were surprised at the apparent millions of enemies of Western civilization and our cherish rights and freedom. The call went out for the execution of the Pope. Many moderate Muslims remained quiet or on the sidelines. Salman Rushdie could go into hiding, but Pope Benedict XVI could not. He showed his courage, with an abiding faith and confidence in Christ.
It was not a few words taken out of context that caused all this turmoil. This was a volcano growing beneath us for some time. Christianity and Islam never made a true peace, but rather had maintained a truce centuries long. The problems and conflicts remained. Both are missionary faiths. While they share certain religious elements, with each other and the Jews, they are in their core identities quite different. The Church has learned the hard lesson of tolerance and patient endurance; many in world-Islam have not. A Christian martyr dies for the faith loving and forgiving his murderers. A Muslim martyr sacrifices his life as well; however he is driven by hatred to take his enemy with him. There is a physicality and coarseness to Islam that distresses Christians, especially things like the seven virgins that wait to be despoiled in the afterlife as a reward to righteous Islamic male adherents. There are many personal things about Mohammad that repulse Christians, and yet any honest historical appraisal (not to mention real criticism) earns immediate rebuke, threats and maybe even death. This makes dialogue very difficult, if not impossible.
The Pope spoke about the Muslims as our brothers and sisters, and fellow sons and daughters of Abraham. He said that violence cannot be used in the cause of furthering religion. There was no way radical Muslims could agree to this. The signs they carried in protest said it all, Jihad was a basic tenet of Islam as they understood it. Despite the naysayers, the worldwide protests seemed to indicate that it was this form of Islam, and not the tempered version we usually see in the U.S., that was the true face of this worldwide religion.
Despite apologies from the Holy Father for any misunderstanding, events escalated. There was no more pretense. While men gathered at the mosque in Southern Mogadishu, a powerful Islamic cleric of Somalia, Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin, declared on a Friday night at prayers: “We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion. Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim. We call on all Islamic Communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the pope.” The Mujahideen Army of Iraq threatened a suicide attack on Pope Benedict XVI. They wanted revenge for his daring to quote a historical figure that criticized their religion and the violence of Jihad. Their website posted this command, “smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome.”
Given current tension and this crisis of a decade ago, is Pope Francis right in his assertion? What is his evidence in a terrorized world that “Muslim terrorism does not exist”?