Muslims pray at the Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseilles, France, on Oct. 29 during a gathering to pay tribute to the victims of a knife attack inside a church in Nice. (Photo: AFP)
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse in 2020, three people were killed on Oct. 29 in a knife attack in a French church. France is now on its highest level of security alert.
“We are at war. This morning Islamo-fascism struck #Nice06 to the heart. Because we do not win a war with the laws of peace, we must convene Congress next week to give additional, exceptional and temporary powers to the chief of the army,” Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, said in a tweet.
Estrosi referred to the tragedy at Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice where a Tunisian man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded a worshipper before being shot and taken away by police.
The attack came two weeks after history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Muslim student just days after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of speech. His killer, an 18-year-old Russian-born Muslim refugee of Chechen descent, was shot dead by police minutes later.
The French didn’t stop here. Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were displayed for several hours on a government building on Oct. 21 as part of a tribute to the deceased teacher.
“President Emmanuel Macron should have dealt with the issue of the teacher’s murder with the legal procedures of the French law rather than connecting it to religion. This specific case should not be used as a scapegoat for the politicization of religion. Believe me, it is always hurting,” OFM Father Jamil Albert, a proponent of interfaith dialogue in Lahore, told me.
“I condemn the murder of churchgoers. No religion allows or justifies such brutal killings. Such acts are blasphemous in themselves and must not be defended.”
Unfortunately, the projection of controversial cartoons sparked a new controversy in a world already plagued with a virus never seen before. The “tribute” led to tragedy. Churchgoers in Notre-Dame Basilica were collateral damage in a war they were neither prepared for nor part of. The defenders of the republic should have taken their safety into account before the war cry.
In fact, all Christians, whether they pray at a church or not, are now at risk in Islamic countries where they are seen as connected to the West due to their faith, Gothic cathedrals and Western attire.
Sebastian Shaw, the archbishop of Lahore, has already pasted a banner to protect important sites such as Sacred Heart Cathedral and adjoining schools.
“Condemnation. We stand with our Muslim brothers and condemn the French president for displaying the blasphemous caricatures. Using religion for sectarianism is against humanity,” it states.
Earlier this week, the prelate held an interfaith press conference at the bishop’s house to dispel any association with Macron.
“I was very much worried since the news was aired. It was the first headline. I shared it with my companions. Suddenly the French president has engulfed all the world in fire. It is like a madman has been given a matchbox to play with,” said Archbishop Shaw, who also chairs the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism.
“He is not even a Christian and calls himself an agnostic. If he was a Christian, he could have acted on the teachings of Christ and brought people together in friendship. For many decades we have been saying that they have even negated the Bible and made films about Jesus Christ that hurt our faith. We appeal to the European Union to enact laws to punish those who speak against any religion and prophet. Such thoughts should be finished.”
Although the concluding statement risks legitimizing the blasphemy laws, the briefing itself was necessary to evade a violent backlash witnessed in the past.
Christians in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have been targeted to avenge anti-Islam acts in Europe and the US. No degree of higher education has been able to end the general perception that non-Muslims cannot be a friend of a Muslim and the resulting alienation. Textbooks in both Pakistan and Bangladesh define jihad as a "struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam."
Media reports trace such attacks to the early 1970s. In 2015, a Christian school in Peshawar city in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunhwa province was stormed by a mob in protest against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
In 2012, Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan along with St. Paul’s School and the houses of the bishop and two pastors were burned during protests against Innocence of Muslims, an American-made anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube.
In 2006, protest rallies were held across the country against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Two Christian colleges, a school and a Mission Hospital were ransacked in Peshawar. The list goes on and on.
According to Father Abid Habib, former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, the recent condemnation of the French president has diverted the Muslim world in reactionary mode.
“Instead we should be proactive and avoid actions without any reasoning. Whenever somebody is wrongly accused of blasphemy, people become irrational and many innocent people have lost their lives. It is high time that we all study and evaluate facts from all angles,” he said.
“Terrorists have made it their agenda to Islamize the whole world, especially Europe. Most of them want to introduce Sharia and the Khilafat through terrorism, the modern sword. They misquote the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith to inspire others.”
The Capuchin is right. Iteration of Islamic slogans during terror attacks ink blasphemous cartoons. Bans on private jihad can end escalating Islamophobia. I love Islam because of people like Abdul Sattar Edhi, a Muslim humanitarian, and Nusrat Fateh Ali, who has performed qawwali music for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences in various parts of the world. They represent the star and crescent of Islam.
Perhaps the Muslim world should send invitations of a dialogue and CDs of sufi songs as gifts of Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi to President Macron. The world needs music for peace on the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Happy Eid everyone.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.