Monday, September 25, 2006

Papal Bull

GATE of hell, called JASENOVAC.

and a couple who met earlier.
April 20, 1939, Berlin, Papal nuncio(ambassador) Cesare Orsenigo with the birthday boy.

ON September 16, 1982, Falangist Christian forces operating as allies of the Israeli military entered the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon and butchered between 800 and 2,000 or more Palestinian and Lebanese Muslim civilians, mostly women, old men and children.

It is hard to establish the precise number of victims, or the extent of Israeli involvement, which is said to have included bulldozers burying masses of corpses. Under international law an occupying army is responsible for the protection of civilian lives under its dominance. The camps were surrounded by Israeli forces, and Israel's own Kahane commission found General Ariel Sharon, who had ordered the army back into Beirut and sanctioned the fascists' entry into the camps - a supposed hunt for "terrorists" - culpable. This did not prevent his ultimate rise to political power in Israel to commit further crimes, while the Israeli authorities which had taken no action against him after the inquiry fought successfully with US help to prevent legal actions being taken in other countries.

Of one thing there is no doubt. The main force which carried out the slaughter in Sabra and Chatila consisted of people who call themselves Christians, adherents as were their commanders of the Maronite Church which though indigenous to the Middle East and maintaining its own rites and traditions,is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Of course their motivation was to maintain political power rather than further religious zeal, and it is likely their Palestinian victims would have included Maronites, as did the Lebanese Left parties which fought on the side of the Palestinians in the Lebanese civil war and more recently against Israel's second invasion.

All the same, I was disappointed some years ago, having helped draft a leaflet on the Sabra and Chatila anniversary which mentioned Israeli involvement, for a commemoration event in which my friend Rabbi Mike Feinberg participated, to hear that the person presiding over this ecumenical event - a Catholic priest as it so happened -had insisted that nothing be said about responsibility for the massacre. At a meeting afterwards of the Joint Committee on Palestine only myself and a young Palestinian woman questioned this forgiving silence.

In May 1997, before setting out for his visit to Lebanon Pope John Paul II urged its people to "find in the love of your country the energy necessary to conquer divisions and to overcome all the obstacles that face you,"
and called for "national reconciliation and social reconstruction."
The previous month he had paid a visit to Sarajevo, preaching his message of reconciliation and forgiveness. This was just four years after the atrocity at Ahmici where Croat nationalist forces slaughtered 116 Bosnian Muslim villagers, on April 16, 1993, burning women and children in their homes. Evidently that was how the special units of the HVO were to implement their part of the Owen-Vance partition plan, by ethnic cleansing what they saw as their part of Bosnia. Having destroyed the mosque, they raised a triumphant cross, as in other places they conquered.
But the Pope spoke of the "Queen of Peace", alluding to a vision of the Virgin at Medjugordje, which militant Croat Catholics had made their inspiration.

There were protests in Serb-held areas of Bosnia when Pope John Paul II came to visit the city of Banja Luka, on Sunday, June 22, 2003. This was because he was to hold a mass at the Petricevac monastery, a Franciscan monastery from which came Tomislav Filipovic, a priest who led Croat Ustashe killers to massacre 2,730 Serbs, including 500 children, in 1942. Filipovic went on to be a commander at the infamous Jasenovac concentration camp which the Ustashe ran for the Nazis. He acquired the nickname "Father Satan". As many as 600,000 people were butchered at Jasenovac - Serbs, Jews, Roma, and also Muslims and Croats if they resisted the fascists. After the Second World war the Vatican provided an escape route for Ustashe leaders fleeing justice, and received its share of wealth stolen from their victims.

In 1998 Pope John Paul beatified Cardinal Stepinac, wartime Archbishop of Zagreb whom Tito's postwar regime jailed for his support to the Ustashe state. On his visit to Banja Luka the Pope once again appealed for forgiveness, explicitly mentioning crimes committed by Catholics. After his death Bosnians, Croats and Serbs alike paid tribute. But not all Catholics have accepted the message in good grace.
"The top ranks of the Catholic Church in Croatia have refused to pay reverence to the victims of Jasenovac and are openly against the policy promoted by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent visit to Auschwitz". (Croatian bishops spiting the Pope over Jasenovac, report by Robert Bajrui,

John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, a Bavarian police officer's son, joined the Hitler Youth in 1941 and later served in the German army. There is no evidence he agreed with Nazi ideology or committed any atrocities. He is a conservative in church matters and in politics, wanting Europe to return to "Christian values". Claiming both moral and intellectual superiority for Christianity he declared a few years ago that "The Enlightenment is of Christian origin and it is no accident that it was born precisely and exclusively in the realm of the Christian faith.... "

This outlook ignores the vital part of tolerant Islamic civilisation in carrying on intellectual development from ancient and Classical learning. It also convenientlyy forgets the Church's long history of persecuting and destroying those like Galileo who thought differently. It was the seafarers, pirates and merchants who circumnavigated the globe, undermined the Church's old order, and laid the basis for Western modernity.

On September 12, lecturing on "Faith, Reason and the University" at the University of Regensburg, Benedict asserted that "reason and faith go hand in hand", but that Islam had become unreasonable when the Prophet ordered followers to spread their faith by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul? To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus claimed to have debated with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:
"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".

In fact, as the Pope himself acknowledged, though with less notice taken than his admonition against jihad, the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

So why quote a Byzantine allegation about a non-existent command? True, Mohammed did lead followers to battle Jewish and Christian tribes in Arabia, but as Uri Avnery has pointed out (see article reference below) this was for political hegemony, not an attempt to forcibly convert them. As for jihad, Muslims would argue that there are strict rules as to when it can be justified (e.g. against oppression), and that even then it can take many, not just military forms. If it can be argued that Muslims do not always behave so impeccably that is another matter. Much Christian history is a far cry from turning the other cheek and loving-thy-neighbour-as-thyself, and religious Zionist settlers don't exactly follow the often-repeated Biblical injunction to "oppress not the stranger, for you were strangers", etc.

How does the Muslim tradition of jihad compare with that of the Crusade? Or the Papal Bulls granting indulgences to those who waged war on the infidel, as they had in the Reconquest of Spain? As for conversion at the point of the sword, let's not forget that even those who converted were not safe from torture and murder when the Inquisition got under way.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild". At that time, though Muslim armies had first entered Palestine some four centuries before, they had not sought to force Islam on its largely Christian people.

On the contrary, it was the invaders from western Europe who brought the sword of persecution and massacre of innocents to the Middle East, often pausing to plunder and murder Jews and others, including fellow- Chistians, on the way.

In November, 1202, the army of the Fourth Crusade besieged and sacked the port city of Zara(Zadar) on the Dalmatian coast, ransacking its Christian churches. They did this at the behest of the city state of Venice, to which they were indebted, to destroy a rival. The Pope initially excommunicated them, but reinstated them when they explained that they needed the money to proceed to war on the Muslims. Within a couple of years the Crusaders had sacked Christian Constantinople, looting and destroying churches and monasteries, and killing thousands of innocent civilians.

By the end of the 14th century, power relations had changed. The Crusader kingdoms had gone, Manuel II's Byzantine empire was shrunken to a few provinces, and the Ottoman Turks had advanced into Europe. On May 29, 1453, a few years after Manuel's death, Constantinople (Istanbul) had finally fallen. But before this Manuel toured Europe, asking rulers for support, promising to reunite the church, and trying to incite Christians to a new crusade.

It is five years since the head of modern Empire, George Bush II, promised "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile." His use of the word "crusade," was "most unfortunate", said Soheib Bensheikh, Grand Mufti of the mosque in Marseille, France. "It recalled the barbarous and unjust military operations against the Muslim world,"

George Dubya is no professor of theology, unlike Pope Benedict XVI, nor that smart at anything by all accounts. He may have been no more aware than most Western politicians and journalists that the word "crusade" arouses horrific visions in those conscious of their history, But the use of high-flown phrases like "clash of civilisations" and "war on terror" to disguise a sordid and savage grab for wealth is nothing new. Could it be that the Pope, supporting a "Christian Europe" (and opposing Turkish entry to the EU) and alliance with US imperialism (and its born-again Protestant fundamentalists), did not stumble into offending Muslims, but took a deliberate step?

Two interesting articles commenting on the Pope's remarks: -
The Pope, Islam and History - Editorial from the New York-based Jewish Daily Forward.
The Sword of Muhammad - by Uri Avnery



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