As the fallout from Pope Benedict XVI’s recent controversial speech continues to resonate across the Arab and Muslim world through street protests, official condemnations and even sporadic incidents of violence, radical Islamists have been busy waging their own attacks against the Vatican on Arabic language website discussion forums frequented by al-Qaeda sympathizers and websites linked to violent Islamist extremists.
There have been numerous explicit calls for the Pope’s assassination in a number of chat forums and websites, which have prompted heightened security measures at the Vatican and Catholic and Christian sites across the region. A September 15 post by a forum participant who goes by “Abu Bakr” stated: “He who was able to kill the dirty Dutch filmmaker can kill the Danish cartoonist and the Pope, God willing” (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk). Other forum participants have likened the pontiff to an extension of the Bush Administration and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, essentially claiming that the Pope’s controversial choice of words are proof of a violent U.S.-led Christian crusade against Islam. In a September 23 posting, a forum participant submitted a fictional dialogue between President Bush and what is described as the “Criminal Vatican” where Bush describes in detail U.S. plans for its dealings with Muslims: “My dear Pope, we want to invade these Muslims—we want to destroy them—we want to make them our slaves—we want to make their riches our own—and what we want above all else is to destroy their religion, which is the cause of their strength and honor” (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk).
In a statement posted on http://www.mohajroon.com, the owners of the website lament the current state of affairs and regional inaction in response to the pontiff’s statements: “the nation of Islam remains in silence and shame, and our Prophet is insulted, time and time again by the worshippers of the cross…they occupied our land, they raped our land, they destroyed our mosques…after all of this, what are we waiting for…condemnations and denunciations and demands for an apology? Is this all that we can do for our Prophet?” They also declare: “our merciful armies will break the cross.” A statement on http://www.althabeton.co.nr, a website representing Egyptian extremists with concrete links to al-Qaeda, including alleged members such as Muhammed al-Hakaima who are reported to have split with organizations that have renounced violence such as Egyptian Gama’a al-Islamiyya, interpreted the Pope’s recent speech as proof that he is “standing with Bush and his allies in their crusader war against our Islamic nation and our Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him…just like the first Crusade against the Muslims…we here call on our mujahideen brothers in the European nations in general and in Italy especially to unleash jihad against the hated crucifix which causes harm to God and his Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him…”
Like the Danish cartoon controversy, the desecration of the Quran and the Abu Ghraib scandal, among other incidents, the Pope’s controversial statements will prove to be an effective propaganda tool for radical Islamists to mobilize support for their cause for years to come. Given the Pope’s powerful religious credentials and international influence, his statements are likely to bolster the position of violent extremists and al-Qaeda even further. From the perspective of radical Islamists, the pontiff’s speech supports al-Qaeda’s narrative since one of Osama bin Laden’s stated goals is to inspire Muslims to defend themselves from what he often describes as a U.S.-led Christian crusade against Islam.