"I strongly reaffirm that the road to violence and hate can never solve the problems of humanity ! And to use the name of God to justify taking this route, employing these methods, is blasphemy." (Pope Francis in a letter dated 14th November 2015 to cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris).
The Argentinean pontiff is at loggerheads with the ideology of the Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group of Sunni Islam (the largest Muslim denomination) that inspired the Paris jihad. Despite the angry denial of the rest of Islam, the jihadists are convinced they are acting in the name of Allah, the same monotheistic deity the Christians call God and the Jews call Yahweh. This is an ideological dispute that has been going on for the past fifteen years.
Will of Allah or blasphemy? Who knows? Are the jihadists and the Pope referring to the same deity, that of Abrahamic monotheism? If so, who is authorised to interpret the will of Allah, God or Yahweh, if there is such a deity? Who can pretend to be the sole repository of the truth? That is an ideological dispute that has been going on for two thousand years.
According to the latest macabre statistics at the time of writing, there were about 130 people killed and 350 wounded during the attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November. Some of the jihadists blew themselves up. As they proudly declare : "we love death more than you love life".
That is what impresses me most. How is it possible to brainwash so many young people to the extent that they willingly transform themselves into human bombs? Moderate Muslims say that they are not true Muslims, that it has nothing to do with the Muslim religion. Yet I cannot imagine anything more powerful than to persuade so many fine, healthy, intelligent young people to kill and wound as many innocent people as possible before blowing themselves up or deliberately exposing themselves to a hail of police bullets. If it is not religion, what is it that motivates them?
My mind goes back to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001. I still have visions of those two hijacked aircraft crashing into the twin towers and seeing them collapsing down to the ground like a pack of cards, one after the other. It was a horrific sight I shall never forget. The force and energy involved must have been tremendous. Where did all that energy come from?
Certainly not from Osama bin Laden and his jihadist organisation, al-Qaeda. It came from the two Boeing 767s of the United and American airlines. All the hijackers did was to turn some of the might and power of America against itself and destroy nearly 3 000 innocent lives and a major capitalist symbol that dominated the New York skyline at the time.
The same strategy is now being applied by al-Baghdadi and his organisation, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), that has captured part of Syria and Iraq and finances its operations with the oil revenues of that territory ($1 million per day). While the Americans have developed sophisticated technology allowing them to operate unmanned drones against ISIS via satellite from bases in the US, ISIS has developed brainwashing techniques that allow it to deploy "human drones" composed of citizens of the countries they attack. It is using the insider knowledge and facilities of penetration and circulation of local citizens who are virtually undetectable in order to wage war against their own people.
In his recent televised broadcasts to the French people, president François Hollande, no doubt in anticipation of the need for legal justification of retaliation, heavily insisted on the fact that the Paris attacks of Friday 13 November were acts of war. The problem is that most of the jihadists were of French nationality and there were only eight of them. It seems a bit problematic to qualify that as war perpetrated by a foreign power, particularly since the foreign power in question is the so-called Islamic State which France does not officially recognise as such. The legal qualification of terrorism would appear to be more appropriate and if it could be proven that the attacks were under foreign direction then they would qualify as international terrorism. If not, they would represent domestic terrorism,
These vicious attacks were heavily charged with symbolism: an obscurantist religious ideology attempted to annihilate the "city of light" that promptly defended itself. The French "traitors" who were deemed to have collaborated with the enemy were quickly identified, tracked down and ruthlessly eliminated. The president then sent the flagship of the French navy, one of the world's most technologically advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the "Charles de Gaulle" (named after the head of the French resistance during the second world-war), to combat ISIS in Syria.
The Pope's accusation of blasphemy, allegedly committed by the Jihadists, and the French president's prompt reaction of dispatching the "Charles de Gaulle" to the fray, is reminiscent of the French rushing off to lead the First Crusade at the behest of Pope Urban II in 1095.
It is, indeed, a strange war, a war of obscurantist religious ideology waged against the diffusion, particularly among the middle and lower income classes, of ideas of tolerance, individual rights and freedoms, gender equality, scientific knowledge and social progress. It is a war of the merchants of death and contrition waged against the free exercise of ordinary existence in a modern secular democracy.