Why does what the Pope say matter to us here in Malaysia?
In a world which is regrettably becoming more and more Islamophobic day by day, His Holiness’ statement is a timely reminder that no religion preaches violence. Likewise, no religion is an instrument to cause unkind acts, cruelty, violence or murder. For which merciful God would advocate the senseless killing of His children ? The answer is simple : none.
Recently, on July 26th, an elderly Catholic priest was brutally murdered in a church in Saint-Etinne-du-Rovray, France.
The style of the assassination was extremely gory, and his butchering evoked an outpouring of sympathy and rage against the perpetrators. The priest’s throat was slit by two men who burst into the church during a service and forced him down to his knees. The Islamic State (IS) has since come forward to claim responsibility for this attack.
Pope Francis had gone to Poland recently for a five-day visit, and on a flight back from Poland to the Vatican, he was questioned by a reporter about the abovesaid attack; and his views on terrorism; Islam; and violence.
The reporter asked the Pope why he spoke about the attack but never referred to the religion of Islam when talking about the incident.
The Pope responded by saying that characterising Islam as “violent” was wrong. He emphasised that violence was something that every human being was capable of. It should not and cannot be attributed as belonging to any one particular religion.
His remarks were as follows.“ I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists”.
He went on to add, “When fundamentalism comes to kill, it can kill with the language – the Apostle James says this, not me – and even with a knife, no ?”
And on the committing of violent acts, he said, “If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence”.
He referred to Catholics as being equally capable of acts of terrorism. He said “we have them too”, referring to Catholics in Italy.
The Pope went on to say,“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother in law. These are baptised Catholics”.
According to Pope Francis, one of the main reasons and cause for terrorism springs from the desire for material wealth. He reiterated that it was wrong to identify Islam with terrorism, and that poverty, desperation, isolation, the lack of economic and job opportunities were some of the reasons why young people in Europe were to blame for terrorism.
These people, he felt, became angry, weary and disillusioned. Isolated and misunderstood, they then turned to “social ills such as drugs, alcoholism, or enlist in the ISIS”. This is what ultimately causes violence in society, he said.
Pope Francis opined that the killing of the priest and other attacks were testimony to the fact that “the whole world is at war” but that it was not caused by any one particular religion.
According to him,“Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person….this is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity.”
Whilst one may not agree with the Pope’s views on the causes of terrorism, his meaning and definition of the word is interesting. He spoke of “terrorism against all humanity”.
His Holiness said that “one can kill with tongue as well as the knife”. This a very broad meaning of terrorism, which includes unkind, cruel and immoral behaviour. It also covers acts / omissions that can hurt others, even without physical violence.
If one looks up the definition of terrorism, one will discover that there is no universal agreement regarding the meaning of the word; and that different legal systems and government agencies have used various definitions at different times. Furthermore, most governments have been reluctant to formulate an agreed upon, legally binding definition. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term is both emotionally and politically charged.
The international community has also tried to come up with an acceptable consensus on the meaning of the word. An example would be the 1996 non-binding United Nations Declaration (to Supplement the 1994 Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism), which described terrorist activities as
“Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”
In the UK, Section 2 of The Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism as: the use or threat designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public; the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
Action falls within this subsection if it: involves serious violence against a person, involves serious damage to property, endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action, creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public or is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
The above are just a few examples and are not exhaustive. At the end of the day, they show that terrorism covers a broad spectrum of acts and omissions; and contains no universal simple definition.
Further, there is no place for extremist thinking in a secular country like Malaysia and we must reject Islamophobia for the poisonous plague that it is. The Pope’s statement must be applied by all races in our country; and no particular religion must be targeted or persecuted in a discriminatory manner.
This is vital for all of us to remember and practice on a daily basis in order to maintain peace and harmony amongst the diverse races and religions of this nation.
Interfaith, respect and tolerance is the key to our peaceful future.