Muslim Sect leader threatens retaliation

July 1, 2010

LAGOS, Nigeria A leader of a radical Muslim sect that left 700 people dead in Nigeria allegedly has issued a videotaped threat calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack nears.

Imam Abubakar Shekau, whom police claimed to have killed during the July 2009 violence, told a Nigerian journalist that he had taken over as leader of the Boko Haram sect. Shekau told the reporter that he suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh during the fighting, but had been rescued by "fellow believers and protected by Allah."

"I have the intention to retaliate," Shekau said in the local Hausa language.

The Associated Press could not immediately verify the authenticity of the recording cited by Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper Thursday. Police officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The newspaper said a reporter got the 25-minute interview with Shekau on April 19 after being blindfolded and driven to a hideout near Maiduguri, the site of much of the violence last year. The interview took place with Shekau seated before a stack of religious books and near a Kalashnikov rifle.

Asked where the sect obtains weapons, Shekau answered: "We get them from where we get them. God said we should get them, the holy prophet said we should get them."

Boko Haram which means "Western education is sacrilege" in Hausa has campaigned for the implementation of strict Shariah law. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim-held north. A dozen states across Nigeria's north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

Boko Haram sect members rioted and attacked police stations and private homes a year ago this month, sparking a police crackdown. Authorities have been accused of killing Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf while he was in custody. Police officials said he was killed while trying to escape, but army officials said he was alive when he was arrested.

The group largely went underground after Yusuf's death. In early March, police arrested 17 officers suspected of taking part in filmed executions that later aired on international news channel Al-Jazeera.

In recent months, rumors about the group rearming spread throughout northern Nigeria. Violence between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria has left hundreds dead since the start of the year. Those deaths sparked calls from an al-Qaida-affiliated website for a Muslim uprising against Christians.

Threats of revenge on Pope

John Cornwell and John Follain
September 18, 2006

WITH two unfortunate words, "evil and inhuman", applied to the prophet Mohammed, the Pope last week in the sleepy confines of a Bavarian university lecture room set back relations with Islam several eras.

The comment has called down the wrath of Muslim extremists and the shocked dismay of Islamic moderates.

Threats have been issued not only to the papacy but the entire billion-strong community of Catholics. One popular jihadi website operated from Kuwait declared that Catholics "are doing everything in their power to extinguish the light of God" and called for violent retribution.

Last night, Benedict XVI told pilgrims at his summer palace outside Rome that he was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction sparked by his speech about Islam and holy war, and said the text did not reflect his personal opinion.

His words came after the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, read out an apology at a news conference, saying Benedict's position on Islam was in line with Vatican teaching that the church "esteems Muslims, who adore the only God". The Holy Father was very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers, it said.

But the statement has sparked outrage throughout the Islamic world and called into doubt the likelihood, not to mention advisability, of his planned visit to Turkey in two months' time.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday: "The Pope spoke like a politician, not like a man of religion ... In an era when a dialogue has been initiated between religions, values and civilisations, it is very unfortunate that these remarks have been made against Islam."

He added that he too was now uncertain whether Benedict should still visit Turkey.

The Pope has also, crucially, exacerbated deep divisions within his own church between traditionalist Catholics and moderate progressives.

Those Catholics who had come to feel comfortable with the mild and elderly professorial pontiff, relieved that "God's rottweiler" - his nickname when he was cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - was not about to declare jihad on the liberal wing of his own church, are utterly dismayed at this apparent show of Benedict's ageing teeth.

In the lecture last Tuesday at the University of Regensburg, Bavaria, where he had once been a professor, the pontiff had been addressing the relationship between faith and reason, a favourite topic of Catholic theologians ever since the Middle Ages.

In the intimate confines of the lecture room, the Pope inserted that single incendiary sentence, quoting a medieval text referring to a debate between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and a Persian Muslim.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new," he quotes the emperor as saying, "and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Defenders of the Pope's quotation, starting with Father Federico Lombardi, the official Vatican spokesman, have tried to emphasise the context rather than the offending words. But the words will be remembered long after the context has been forgotten.

The Pope had been pleading for all religionists to renounce violence, and arguing that there should be no gulf between religion and reason, suggesting that Islam was not a religion of reason - a theme he has stressed in the past.

But his damaging words contain a startling lapse in historical accuracy in the opinion of Muslim historians. It is commonly accepted that it was Islamic and Arabic culture that kept alive the philosophy of Aristotle through the Dark Ages and made the Catholic reconciliation of faith and reason possible in the work of Thomas Aquinas.

One senior Anglican source said: "If anything, Islam was the religion of reason ahead of Christianity. Mathematics and medical science were developed in the Islamic world. The clash between reason and medievalism has Muslims on the side of reason."

Moderate Muslim opinion is also baffled by the insensitivity of the Pope. Adnane Mokrani, a Rome-based Muslim theologian, said of the Pope's quotation: "To use polemical texts from seven centuries back is not a suitable starting point, given that the current situation between Christianity and Islam is different."

The Pope could have found ample texts that underlined Islamic respect for faith and reason, he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Islamic body in the nation, has demanded an immediate retraction. The extremist Muslim group Hizb-ut-Tahrir also condemned the Pope's words. Spokesman Imran Waheed said: "The comments follow consistently negative, violent and extreme descriptions of Islam: the use of the term Islamo-fascist by George W. Bush, and evil ideology by Tony Blair, and the gratuitous publication of the offensive Danish newspaper cartoons throughout Europe earlier this year."

Ever since 9/11, unofficial sources in the Vatican have voiced fears of a strike on St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican City. Pilgrims entering St Peter's now have to pass through X-ray checkpoints and last week al-Qa'ida-linked websites were indeed targeting the Vatican.

One carries an image of the black flag of Islam flying over the apostolic palace, the Pope's residence. A message posted by a senior al-Qa'ida figure said: "We are certain that the infidelity and tyranny of the Pope will only be stopped by a major attack."

Inside the Vatican it is being said unofficially that Benedict was trying to pre-empt an aggressive letter aimed at the papacy by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which was why he cited the debate in which there was a Persian participant.

The predicament of this Pope, however, is strangely anomalous. He was the theological backstop for so long that he presumably does not feel the need for advice. At the same time, there has been a significant shift within the Vatican's governance which has seen a weakening of the department responsible for international affairs, the Secretariat of State.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state under John Paul II and for more than a year under Benedict, might have been a restraining influence. But he has been something of a lame duck this past year in the expectation of his retirement at the age of 78.

Ironically, the transition to his successor, Cardinal Bertone, took place before the weekend in the midst of the uproar.

On Friday, while Muslim leaders united in outraged condemnation of the Pope, cardinals Bertone and Sodano and the pontiff were downing truffles and sparkling wine to celebrate the handover.

Yet by any yardstick Benedict's words have betrayed his long-term antipathy towards Islam.

Vatican watchers are now remembering the unprecedented privilege he granted last year of an extended interview to the late Oriana Fallaci, a rabid Italian Islamophobe. In three books and many interviews, she hurled abuse not only at Islamic extremists but at the religion itself.

A consistent theme of Benedict's preaching as Pope has been the erosion of Christianity in Europe, and, by implication, the danger of the spread of Islam. He is thought also to remain opposed to the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union.

The origins of the Pope's abrasive comments date back to a seminar at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in September last year. About 40 of his former students gathered to talk about Islam and Catholicism.

The Pope is reported to have said dialogue with Islam was difficult. A Jesuit professor, Khalil Samir, who took part in the seminar, says Benedict deplored the fundamentalism of Islam and its rigid reading of texts without room for interpretation. The prophet, the Pope said, was treated like a "tape recorder", as he expressed the word of God directly, "which is absurd".

The remarks are also set to have far-reaching consequences for the tensions between Catholics and the theological tectonic plates that have been grinding against each other within the church ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The church and especially the papacy have long had problems with the existence of other religions, let alone tolerance of them. It started with the crusades in the early Middle Ages, and continued with the Reformation (the memory dies hard that the Guy Fawkes plot was a Catholic conspiracy to destroy the establishment of Protestant England).

Through the 19th century, as secular nation states expanded in Europe, the popes set their faces against the notion of religious freedom and separation of church and state. A succession of pontiffs, notably pope Pius IX (1846-1878), declared that respect for other religions was a form of "insanity".

A stunning historic U-turn occurred at the reforming Second Vatican Council of the mid-1960s. The church, after a battle royal among cardinals, finally endorsed a model of respect for other religions that looked similar to America's respect for religious pluralism.

Catholic traditionalists, however, have never liked this tardy acceptance of religious difference: after all, how can you believe your pope is infallible and that Catholicism holds the full content of truth if you grant that other religions, and other Christian denominations, are also an authentic path to salvation?

John Paul II, whose views on religious freedom were honed in communist Poland, went along with the new religious pluralism of Vatican II while it spelt out the right of Catholicism to exist in an atheistic state. That is, until he saw what happened to his native Poland after the fall of communism: McDonald's, Western music, pornography and abortion swept through his beloved country.

Pluralism, the idea that people should be allowed to follow their own beliefs and value systems, or none at all, became in John Paul's view a recipe for cultural relativism: "a new form of totalitarianism", he called it. The answer was the single infallible magisterial truth proposed by Catholicism.

Through a quarter of a century of John Paul's reign the theological underpinning of his statements was nuanced by none other than Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In 1999, it was cardinal Ratzinger who wrote a document for the entire world, albeit signed by John Paul, stating that all religions were defective other than the Catholic faith. There was outrage, but there was no retraction.

Whatever the Pope intended to impart to his audience at Regensburg, the effect has been to alienate rather than forge connections with Islam by pointing up what he sees to be a striking contrast between the two faiths.

Crown Prince el-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan said recently: "Perceptions of the Muslim world are distorted beyond recognition. The general contempt that the Western media often display towards Islam exacerbates the situation."

The best that can be said of the Pope in this instance is that he has played unintentionally into the hands of Islam's critics, thus raising the likelihood of inter-religious violence.

Mokrani, the theologian, insists the Pope has made a huge error of judgment: "In today's climate it would have been much more productive to find common ground, inciting followers of both faiths to dialogue."

The Sunday Times