Pictured: Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burns as firefighters battle the flames, on April 15, 2019. (Photo by Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)
French authorities were quick to rule out arson as the cause of the devastating blaze at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15. Whatever the final investigation reveals, many extremist Muslims in Turkey were equally swift in their celebration of the fire that has demolished large parts of the historic structure.
The official Facebook page of the pro-government daily, Sabah, for example, is filled with praise for the destruction of the cathedral.
Reader comments included:
"While it was burning, I prayed to God, saying, 'Burn it even more, oh God, curse and ruin it.' You wonder why? One feels like rejoicing over the burning of the colonialist, brutal France, which shed the blood of about 1.5 million Muslims and then 1 million additional Muslims; which beheaded them and exhibited their heads at museums; and which falsely accuses Turkey of massacring Armenians.... What can one even say to France that mocks our prophet and wants to change the verses in the Koran?"
"If you don't respect my mosques, my holy book, my prophet, then you experience your punishment in a worse way. I am not sad at all."
"They've destroyed the monuments in the Middle East that belonged to us. Maybe this will be a lesson to them."
"Why should I feel sad? They destroyed Baghdad; so many mosques and madrassahs [Islamic schools] are gone. Let them [Christians] be in an even worse situation. I hope such beautiful news comes from the Vatican, God willing, as soon as possible."
"Who cares? So many Muslims were killed in New Zealand and are still killed. It is just a building. They can build it again. Or maybe they themselves burned it. Maybe they wanted to renovate it but could not get permission for that, so they burned it."
Others called for the destruction of other non-Muslim monuments and nations:
- "That is such a beautiful sight. May other places of icons meet the same fate."
- "Send me the ashes. I will plant beans. I can spread the ashes underneath [the beans].
- "Let's grab a few pieces of wood. [The cathedral] hasn't been burned to ashes completely yet. Let us help [the fire]..."
- "May the whole of France burn down. They're enemies of Islam, enemies of humanity."
- "May [the cathedral] be reduced to ash. Then may a storm break out and make even the ashes disappear, God willing."
Several described the fire as punishment for "crimes," such as the mosque attacks in New Zealand, France's military actions in Muslim countries, the French government's recent designation of April 24 as "a national day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide" and the French intellectuals' 2018 manifesto calling to declare violent Koranic verses "obsolete".
There is so far no evidence at all that this fire was the result of Islamic extremism. In general, however, if one tries to understand the theological basis of the underlying hatred that is so often seen, it is hard not to ask what extremist Muslims would do if they had enough power. After centuries of jihadist behavior that are still culminating outspokenly religiously-motivated attacks such as America's 9/11, Britain's 7/7, Spain's train bombings, Sri Lanka's church bombings on April 21 and on and on, are we really supposed to believe that it is it we who have genocidal motives or they? To many Muslims, it is always the kuffar [non-Muslims] who are criminal, murderous and corrupt. To them, Muslims are always innocent. Their understanding of history and current events often seems wholly self-referential.
Imam Suleiman Hani, for instance, a hardline Islamic cleric from Michigan, USA, claimed on his program in 2015 on Huda TV that the kuffar [non-Muslims] will suffer the "abode of hellfire. ... This is what they gathered from their evil." He stated that "the disbelievers, these are the evil people.... they will be beaten and hammered and turned to dust and then returned back. They will be given a bed of fire, full of darkness."
There are countless similar examples. Such views, sadly, are widespread -- and still encouraged -- across the Muslim world.
Moreover, there are several verses in the Quran about Allah's hatred for non-Muslims and the punishment that awaits them for their disbelief. The Quran, for instance, tells Muslims to "fight in the way of Allah" (verse 2:190), "urge the believers to battle" (verse 8:65), "kill them [disbelievers] wherever you find them" (verse 2:191) and "fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness," (verse 9:123), among many other violent verses.
While some other religious scriptures also have violent verses, those verses are historical in nature, referring to a specific incident, and are descriptive; rather than prescriptive. Also, as the author Bruce Bawer wrote:
Sometimes, when one points out these rules, people will respond: "Well, the Bible says such-and-such." The point is not that these things are written in Islamic scripture, but that people still live by them.
Many people evidently still regard these verses as divine instruction. Unfortunately, it seems from the frequent cries of "Allahu Akbar," and various Muslim opinion polls that many in the Muslim faith still support political violence in the name of religion and sharia law.
Sadly, Islamic supremacism not only targets churches of Western Christians. It targets Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Hindu temples too. These religious minorities in the Muslim world are completely vulnerable, defenseless and severely persecuted. Yet, their places of worship are seen by extremist Muslims as symbols of "idol worship" that need to be destroyed. In many Muslim countries, Muslim-on-Muslim violence is also quite commonplace; Sunni Muslim extremists attack Shia mosques and Shia extremists target Sunni mosques. The Islamic hatred of different religious groups is not about geography -- the East or the West. It is about religious faith.
In line with this worldview, the pro-government Islamist newspaper, Yeni Akit, headlined its gleeful report on the fire: "The famous Notre Dame Cathedral of France burning furiously," then attributed it to France's recognition of the "so-called 'Armenian genocide.'"
Other pro-government outlets, such as Haberturk and Gzt.com, implied that since the Notre Dame Cathedral was unable to be conquered and Islamized by the Ottoman Conqueror Sultan Mehmet, it eventually got destroyed as a result of the fire.
Targeting non-Muslim monuments has been a widespread Islamic practice since the seventh century, regrettably rooted in the Koran and hadith to prevent shirk, the worship of objects or anything other than Allah.
According to Dr. Bill Warner, founding president of the Center for the Study of Political Islam:
"The language of Islam is dualistic. There is a division of humanity into believer and kafir (unbeliever). Humanity is divided into those who believe Mohammed is the prophet of Allah and those who do not.
"Kafir is an actual word the Koran uses for non-Muslims. It is usually translated as unbeliever or infidel, but that translation is wrong. The word unbeliever is neutral, while the attitude of the Koran towards unbelievers is very negative. The Koran defines the Kafir as hated by Allah. A Muslim is never the true friend of a Kafir. Kafirs can be enslaved, raped, beheaded, plotted against, terrorized, and humiliated. A Kafir is not a full human.
"When you read the complete Islamic doctrine of Koran, Sira (the biography of Mohammed), and the Hadith (the traditions of Mohammed), you will find that Islam is fixated on the Kafir. Over half of the Koran is about the Kafir, not Muslims. It is the stated purpose of the Islamic textual doctrine to annihilate every Kafir by conversion, subjugation or death. Jihad can be waged against the Kafir."
It is therefore not surprising that radical Muslims in Turkey and elsewhere celebrated at the sight of the Notre Dame Cathedral in flames. What is heartbreaking is that arson and other forms of desecration of churches have been going on in France and other countries for centuries, with barely a mention by the media or any Western government.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.