On the margins of the dramatic events worldwide, we saw a small, seemingly insignificant news story about the Pope exonerating the Jews of killing Jesus. On the face of it, this is a rather unspectacular story in the midst of a Middle Eastern storm, with regimes collapsing and the world changing right before our eyes. The preoccupation with who’s at fault for the death of Jesus appears archaic, academic and detached. Nonetheless, this headline is especially significant precisely at this time.
The formation of Islam in the 7th Century changed the world to a situation whereby two major religions exist – Christianity and Islam. Judaism remained a small religion in terms of numbers but nonetheless important and central for other faiths too, as in their view it was their source and root.
The world at the time was made up of religious frameworks to a greater extent than national and political ones. Identity and belonging were mostly religious rather than geographic and territorial. The global discourse was religious and so was the tension. The wars were holy wars.
Much has happened since then, and Jewish blood was spilled in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Some 1,300 years have passed since Islam’s emergence, and the world has shifted to political and national entities. However, global events in recent years that pertain to Islam and to Muslim states are taking us back in many ways to the Middle Ages.
The struggle against Israel
and Judaism is not just a political one. When listening to Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah talking about the Jews, the Americans, and the “infidels,” and when we hear the words of Islamic elements – ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to Turkey’s leaders and speeches at Cairo’s Tahrir Square – it’s not hard to identify Islam’s takeover of political frameworks.
This is not just a political dispute over territory or refugee rights. What we have here is a deep religious war between Judaism and Islam, with political arguments only constituting the outer layer of this religious war. Islam’s hate for Judaism is in some ways different than its hate for Christianity yet similar in other ways. In Islam’s view, both Jews and Christians are infidels and deserve the same fate.
For some 2,000 years, Judaism suffered Christianity’s hatred, which was premised on perceived Jewish guilt for Jesus’ death. Over the years, anti-Semitism of different types stemmed from this libel. And so, Judaism found itself facing Christian and Muslim waves of hatred that are not connected by anything with the exception of the shared loathing towards Jews and Judaism.
Islam has a clear mission, which it doesn’t try to hide – to take over the world. Europe is being conquered one step after another. London, Paris, Munich and many other European citizens are starting to look like the Kasbah in Nablus. Precisely at this time, the Pope’s words are significant. Billions view him as an authority. While 2,000 years of hatred do not disappear as result of one statement, and while we don’t need a kosher certificate from the Pope, his words are significant for the billions of his faithful.
The new world order taking shape right now under the auspices of Iran’s “big brother” – in the squares of Tunisia, Egypt,
Libya, Yemen and Bahrain – may be taking the globe back to religious wars: The Muslim world in the East and in Africa against the Christian world in Europe and in the United States.
The Jews, as usual, are caught in the middle. They get hit by both sides. Hence, precisely at this time when the world is resorting to religious and cultural wars – democracy versus monarchy and freedom versus coercion – the Pope’s words carry theological and political importance. Some 2,000 years of pogroms, inquisitions, and blood libels were fed by this libel. The Pope is now correcting the historic injustice, some 2,000 years late.
In the long run, the assertion made by the Pope may be proven meaningless and evaporate. Yet the opposite is also possible. At the end of the day, with the Muslim world reaching boiling point and reality quickly changing its face, the Pope’s statement may have greater importance than what it appears to have right now, in the framework of the political, diplomatic and religious processes undergone by the world.