In his address before theological students at Regensburg University, Pope Benedict warned that cutting off faith from reason can have the horrific effect of causing believers to engage in violence. Catholic League president Bill Donohue, not known for pulling his punches, condemns the “ironic” violence that has followed in the wake of the Pope’s warning against violence in the name of religion:

Ironically, the violent reaction…on the part of some Muslims underscores the pope’s point. The response of violence to non-violence is barbaric.

In Somalia, Muslims were urged by a cleric to ‘hunt down’ the pope and kill him. ‘Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim,’ said Sheik Abubakar Hassan Malin. No doubt that this ‘man of God’ must be happy now that a nun was shot outside a children’s hospital in the nation’s capital. The Mujahideen Shura Council referred to the pope as ‘the worshipper of the cross,’ and pledged to ‘break the cross and spill the wine’ in the ‘house of the dog from Rome.’ The group, which posted its call to violence on the Internet, also said that God will enable Muslims ‘to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen.’ Seven churches were firebombed in the West Bank and Gaza by gun-wielding Palestinians, using lighter fluid to burn the churches. And today, in the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir, Muslims took to the streets chanting ‘Death to the Pope,’ burning him in effigy.

The fact is that Islam must change. There can be no true dialogue with Muslims until they repudiate the brutal destruction of innocent human life as well as calls for such destruction. Moreover, as the Pope has repeatedly stressed – and as Daniel Johnson explicates with theological sophistication – Muslims must allow for “reciprocity” – they must give to non-Muslims the same religious freedom that they themselves are accorded in liberal democracies. 

Donohue correctly observes that “the scene of Muslims calling for Jews and Christians to be murdered with impunity is all too common, as this latest demonstration of hate proves.” And the Pope has shown moral leadership and courage in calling upon Muslims to engage in reasonable debate about the morality of violence in the name of religion and in demanding freedom of religion for non-Muslims living in Islamic lands.