By Jeff Jacoby September 20, 2006
AS SHE LAY dying in a Mogadishu hospital, Sister Leonella forgave her killers. She had lived in Africa for almost four decades and could speak fluent Somali, but her last words were murmured in Italian, her mother tongue. ``Perdono, perdono," she whispered. I forgive, I forgive.
She was 65 and had devoted her life to the care of sick mothers and children. She was on her way to meet three other nuns for lunch on Sunday when two gunmen shot her several times in the back. ``Her slaying was not a random attack," the Associated Press reported. It ``raised concerns" that she was the latest victim of ``growing Islamic radicalism in the country."
Raised concerns? Sister Leonella was gunned down less than two days after a prominent Somali cleric had called on Muslims to kill Pope Benedict XVI for his remarks about Islam in a scholarly lecture last week.
``We urge you, Muslims, wherever you are to hunt down the pope for his barbaric statements," Sheik Abubukar Hassan Malin had exhorted worshippers during evening prayers at a Mogadishu mosque. ``Whoever offends our prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim. Sister Leonella was not the pope, but she was presumably close enough for purposes of the local jihadists.
If it weren't so sickening, it would be farcical: A line in the pope's speech suggests that Islam has a dark history of violence, and offended Muslims vent their displeasure by howling for his death, firebombing churches, and attacking innocent Christians. One of the points Benedict made in his speech at the University of Regensburg was that religious faith untethered by reason can lead to savagery. The mobs denouncing him could hardly have done a better job of proving him right.
In his lecture, Benedict quoted the late Byzantine emperor Manuel II, who had condemned Islam's militancy with these words: ``Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
In the ensuing uproar, British Muslims demonstrated outside Westminster Cathedral with signs reading ``Pope go to Hell" and ``Islam will conquer Rome," while the head of the Society of Muslim Lawyers declared that the pope must be ``subject to capital punishment." In Iraq, the radical Mujahideen's Army vowed to ``smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome" and the Mujahideen Shura Council swore to ``continue our jihad and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks." Arsonists in the West Bank set churches on fire, and a group calling itself ``The Sword of Islam" issued a warning: ``If the pope does not appear on TV and apologize for his comments, we will blow up all of Gaza's churches."
In fact, the pope did apologize, more than once. Whether the studied frenzy will now subside remains to be seen. But it's only a matter of time until the next one erupts.
This time it was a 14th-century quote from a Byzantine ruler that set off -- or rather, was exploited by Islamist firebrands to ignite -- the international demonstrations, death threats, and violence. Earlier this year it was cartoons about Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. Last year it was a Newsweek report, later debunked, that a Koran had been descecrated by a US interrogator in Guantanamo. Before that it was Jerry Falwell's comment on ``60 Minutes" that Mohammed was a ``terrorist." Back in 1989 it was the publication of Salman Rushdie's satirical novel, ``The Satanic Verses."
In every case, the pretext for the Muslim rage was the claim that Islam had been insulted. Freedom of speech was irrelevant: While the rioters and those inciting them routinely insult Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, they demand that no one be allowed to denigrate Islam or its prophet. It is a staggering double standard, and too many in the West seem willing to go along with it. Witness the editorials in US newspapers this week scolding the pope for his speech. Recall the State Department's condemnation of the Danish cartoons last winter.
Of course nobody's faith should be gratuitously affronted. But the real insult to Islam is not a line from a papal speech or a cartoon about Mohammed. It is the violence, terror, and bloodshed that Islamist fanatics unleash in the name of their religion -- and the unwillingness of most of the world's Muslims to say or do anything to stop them