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From the BishopsThe violence of terrorism and religion

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The March 22, 2016 brutal bombings in Brussels’ international airport and metro system killed more than 35 innocent people and injured more than 270 others. These cowardly terror attacks brought Europe to a standstill. They made Europe more keenly aware that, even as she strives for economic and political unity, Europe has within her borders and in her homes the enemy poised and ready to bring her down.

The well-orchestrated violence unleashed on Brussels brings home the frightening fact that ISIS has an extensive and well-established network throughout Europe of individuals who can communicate easily and securely with each other and their leaders. These are not just a few isolated individuals intent on overturning European values, but hundreds of people who have the expertise to manufacture bombs and are ready to give their lives at a moment’s notice for their cause.

History records the fact that, in the past, Europe has faced attacks from certain Muslims committed to using war as the means of conquest. Within 100 years after the death of Mohammed, Muslim warriors zealously conquered lands for Islam. In 711 A.D., Muslims invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Within 25 years, they managed to conquer what is today Spain and Portugal. Then, they expanded into France. In 732 A.D., Charles Martel stopped their advance at Poitiers. Years later, when the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were poised to take Europe, the Polish king Jan Sobieski stopped their advance at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Had he lost that battle, Europe’s landscape would be crowded with more minarets than steeples today!

Our tolerance toward people whose faith differs from ours makes living together in peace a reality. Our leaders, both political and religious, keep reminding us not to identify Islam with these horrible acts of violence. Certainly, not every Muslim endorses violence as a means to advance his or her religious beliefs. But this truth cannot blind us to the reality before us. Some Islamic jihadists do.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists turned commercial airliners into weapons of war, bringing down the World Trade Center in New York and hitting the Pentagon in our nation’s capital. In total, the terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 2,996. The nearly simultaneous 2004 bombings of Madrid’s commuter trains killed 192 people and injured more than 1,800. In 2005, the terrorist bombings of London’s Underground during the morning rush hour took the lives of 52 civilians and injured 700 more.

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In January, 2015, terrorists attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, killing 17 people and wounding 22. In November of the same year, more terrorists attacked France’s national stadium and then set off suicide bombings coupled with mass shootings in Paris. They killed 89 people attending the Bataclan theatre, 41 others at restaurants and cafés and injured more than 368 other civilians. The President of France, François Hollande, called it the deadliest attack on France since World War II.

Today’s war against Europe is dangerous and insidious. Radical jihadists want to undermine not simply Europe but Western civilization. America included! Because of Europe’s open borders, it is relatively simple to enter one country after another. Without careful screening, those bent on destroying the very people who welcome them enter their host countries, plot their evil with ease and then strike terror, leaving innocent people dead and civilized people questioning where will this all end.

The new war which Europe and America face is different than previous wars. The enemy has blurred the boundaries. They are already present within the borders of the countries where they plan their violence. Their methods are different. They neither recognize the laws that govern civilized nations nor the compassion that unites all peoples. For them, innocent lives count for nothing.

Present day terrorists have donned the cloak of religious ideology. But, by their violence, they renounce the very nature of true religion. For, “violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. God is not pleased by blood…and not acting reasonably…is contrary to God's nature” (Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address, September 12, 2006). True religion leads to tolerance and understanding. No religious person can claim to speak and act in the name of God and promote hatred and violence. Is this not something of the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

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