The target of the Notre Dame Cathedral seemed a bit out of place. Every other Al Qaeda target listed by the captured Ahmed Sadiqui was secular in origin, be the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate and Alexander Platz TV tower in Berlin, or the United Kingdom movements of the British Royal family. Why Notre Dame (which means Our Lady in French i.e. the Blessed Virgin Mary) and why not any other churches like St Paul’s in London or St Peter’s or St Michael’s in Munich make the list which has caused world governments to issue terror warnings and travel updates? To understand this question one has to understand the mindset of Al Qaeda. To the tried and true jihadist, Western Europe was almost under their control until two critical events occurred; the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the Siege of Vienna in 1683, when Our Lady intervened and stopped the Islamic armies in their tracks.
Now some would falsely point out that the Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries were western victories and thus Islamic sore points, this is far from the truth. The Crusades actually were seen as a great victory in the Islamic World. Though we are now told by those in the mainstream media that the Crusades were a heinous act, they were in fact a small defensive action taken by the west to defend themselves against the Islamic armies who had been invading historical Christian lands for centuries. Long before they were Islamic lands, the Middle East and North Africa were filled with vibrant Christian centers and revelatory figures like Saint Augustine. The very argument that Christianity was not appealing to the masses was left empty by the need of the Islamic armies to have a military conquest. Now my colleague Joe Hargrave has written a great piece on the Crusades which I highly encourage you to read. It is not my intention to go into any further detail about the Crusades for this article. I would again refer to the above link for Joe’s article or a similar article I wrote entitled; A Review of Al Qaeda’s Little Reported On War Against The Catholic Church.
Getting back to the 1571 Naval Battle of Lepanto and the land battle outside the Gates of Vienna in 1683; they were the turning point for Islamic military conquest and military failure. Islamic armies would never again threaten the heart of Europe. The hoped for world Caliphate did not come to fruition. To the militant jihadist it must have seemed as if defeat was snatched out of the jaws of victory. For the faithful Christian, especially the faithful Catholic the Islamic defeats were miraculous seen as the Hand of God working through His Son Jesus Christ and specifically His mother Mary.
Perhaps a brief recap of these battles is in order. The Ottoman Turkish forces had superior forces both in land at Vienna and in naval power at Lepanto. Yet, somehow they lost. For the faithful Catholic, it was divine providence and has thus been celebrated as such for years. Our Lady of Victory and the Holy Name of Mary were once much bigger liturgical celebrations than they are now, but it is believed that the divine hand of God seen through the Blessed Virgin Mary instituted a stunning defeat for the Turks.
The defeat for the Turks at Vienna came about because of a last minute appearance on September 11 and 12, 1683, by the Polish cavalry under the leadership of Jan Sobiesksi. He had his men pray the Rosary before their lightning appearance. This appearance disoriented the Ottoman Turks and saved not only Vienna, but many feel Western Europe from the Islamic advance.
The Ottoman Turks had promised the Hungarian Protestant rebel leader Imre Thakoly that if he joined forces with him, his men would be given some of the conquering riches. However, many doubted that the marauding Ottoman Turks would give any Christian leader a share of their wealth. Many viewed this promise as subterfuge of the highest order. Though not often celebrated today, the Holy Name of Mary was a feast day of some renown in the pre Vatican II Catholic Church, celebrating the Victory in Vienna.
At the Naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the superior Ottoman Turkish naval forces were also defeated by events that seemed supernatural. Pope Saint Pius V had asked for all Christians to pray the Rosary for it was feared that once the Ottoman Turkish forces were free of any opposition they would attack the Italian heartland and Rome itself. Don Juan, Commander of the naval forces, carried the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the recent Mexican miracle that had left the image of the Blessed Mother in Juan Diego’s tilma. Before the apparition, few in the Spanish New World were Catholic, a few years afterwards almost all had converted.
The tilma still exists defying the laws of science that can’t explain how a tilma which should last fifty years has lasted nearly five hundred. In addition, scientific tests prove the image of the Blessed Mother is not paint. As for the battle, military tacticians still can’t figure out how the superior Ottoman Turkish Navy was defeated. No mystery exist for Catholics, the Blessed Mother had intervened and convinced her son Jesus that a miracle from Him was necessary. Our Lady of Victory (Our Lady of the Rosary) is still a feast day of great import celebrated every October 7th.
An interesting aside to this story; it was revealed by First Lady Michelle Obama that her husband President Barack Obama carries with him a Mary Help of Christians Prayer card. It seems this was given to him some time ago by the Salesians, a Catholic religious order that often works in the inner city helping the less fortunate. The Salesians have a special devotion to the Blessed Mother who they believed saved European Christianity on those fateful days of September 11-12, 1683.
The defeats at Lepanto and Vienna seem inexplicable to Islamic radicals. They wonder what went wrong and like the failed attacks of their own, they feel they must go back into time to change what in their minds should have been; the end result being an Islamic Europe. There is a school of thought that Al Qaeda attacks coincide with historical dates. For example, some believe the September 11, 2001 attacks were staged to avenge the crushing Islamic (Ottoman-Turkish) defeat suffered at the hands of the European forces and the famed Polish cavalry leader Jan Sobieski. There is a school of thought by those who study Al Qaeda and advanced in this article by none other than Christopher Hitchens, the famed atheist who has often spoke of his hatred for the Catholic Church, that Al Qaeda uses historic dates in their attack planning scenarios. One should note that the Battle of Lepanto occurred on October 7, 1571, from which we get the Catholic Feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. I am not saying an attack will happen at Notre Dame Paris on October 7th (of this year or any year,) but I also would not rule it out.
As I noted in this previous article, there have been many Al Qaeda planned attacks against the Catholic Church that have religious significance like the failed Christmas Day 2000 Strasbourg Plot. However, there have been other plots that have been targets of convenience due to a papal visit. For example, the 1995 Bojinka-World Youth Day Manila Plot in which at least five million came to see Pope John Paul II, the largest crowd to ever see him on a visit (a similar five to seven million came to Rome for his funeral.)
For Catholics there is a belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary has had a history of reaching out to Islam to bring those Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa back to the Catholic faith of their ancestors. Many feel this started with events surrounding Lepanto and continued with the apparitions of Fatima and Zeitoun. Fatima is unique in that it is the only town in Portugal with an Islamic name. The apparition of Zeitoun occurred in a predominately Muslim country of Egypt; during the time of the apparition in 1968 many were healed of illnesses and ailments, including Muslims. Many of the nearly one million who came to see the apparition were not only rank and file Muslims, but also from the leadership ranks like the famed Egyptian leader Gamel Abdul Nasser. One wonders if maybe another Cairo resident came to see the miracle, perhaps a young 17 year old Ayman Al Zawahiri. Young Ayman would become a physiciain like his father. However unlike his moderate father, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri would become an Islamic radical who was implicated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He would later, along with Osama bin Laden, become one of the founding members of Al Qaeda.
The apparitions at Fatima and Zeitoun have been approved as worthy of belief by the Catholic Church. Some Protestant readers may object since the Blessed Mother has little role in their particular church. Sadly this may be the case, but she has had large role in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches which date back to their founding by Jesus Christ. Mary was referred to in the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15) and in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 12 the Woman Clothed With the Sun.) In addition, for many Catholic theologians the reason Jesus never called Mary, “mother” was due to the fact that she is the Blessed Mother of the entire world. (If this paragraph interests than please read; At Marian Apparition Sites, Great Trials and Tribulations, Follow The Appearance of the Blessed Mother. )
While one doesn’t expect radical Islam to be familiar with Marian Apparitions or Catholic eschatology, it does appear that elements of radical Islam takes this all very seriously. Now some may say doesn’t Islam give great reverence to the Blessed Mother? Yes this is true. However, we have to look at the theology of the radical. In addition to being an Apostate faith, Christianity was in their eyes a failed religion. The rhetoric of Al Qaeda increasingly reflected a radicalized Muslim world. While the academics loved to reminisce about Islam’s cerebral side, the radicalized Islamic world quoted form the more militant parts of the Koran. They loved to remind the unbelievers of how Islam spread the faith with the sword farther in one century than Christianity had with kindness and love for seven centuries.
Dr Yossef Bodansky provides us with an interesting glimpse into this mindset. Dr Bodansky refers to a January 7, 1994 speech given by former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. The former Iranian president stated that Christ’s message had failed, because Jesus had been incapable of bringing man to God, so God had to send Muhammad to get the job done. In other words, the Islamic Conquest of the Middle East, North African and southern Europe was necessary, only because Christianity had failed.
This is an interesting statement because although Rafsanjnai is a Shiite and Al Qaeda is Sunni, the message is the same; Christianity failed and conquest was needed to bring man to God. However, even in their defense of the Islamic Conquest, these two radical wings of Islam are forced to admit that Christianity was alive and well in the Middle East and North Africa centuries before the arrival of Islam. One of the familiar themes on any Al Qaeda tape is the plea to remove the infidel from Islamic lands.
The radicals fail to mention the divisions in Islam. Some speculate that groups like the Mu’tazihil, who were rationalistic and seemed to take great pleasure in learning from the Hellenistic era, were eventually overtaken by a more deterministic group, some might describe as an Islamic form of Calvinism. The Caliphate was never as strong as it was before the Mongols sacked Baghdad in the 13th century, and the Lepanto fiasco in the 16th century. A few centuries later, Wahabism developed in the Arabian Peninsula; this was a belief so austere that it wanted Islam to go back to a life that existed at the time of Muhammad, before Islam and particularly Baghdad were far from their creative zenith. Had this school of thought developed in a remote part of the world, free from wealth and natural resources, it may have simply been academic asterisks. However, when oil was discovered in the Arabian Peninsula, the money it generated helped propel this radical belief system the world over. It became the driving force behind radical Islam.
Al Qaeda raised money in the Arabian Peninsula by sheer bribery and guilt. Many a rich Saudi, who spent too much of his oil riches on wine, women and song in Beirut, Monaco or some other lively locale has been bribed or made to feel that giving to Al Qaeda might help settle the account. In turn this money was used for planning and attacks. Providentially, many of the attacks, especially those directed at the Catholic Church would never see the light of day like the Strasbourg Plot in France and the Bojinka-World Youth Day Plot in Manila.
One of the mistakes of the Far Left or the Isolationist Right is to believe that if radical Islam is just left alone it will do the Christian, Hindu or moderate Muslim little harm. This is wishful thinking. Radical Islam has always been powerful when the West is weak. There have been countless waves of immigration to the Western world from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iran etc which resulted from pogroms aimed at the non-Muslim. Radical Islam becomes nervous when, in our case, the faithful Christian stands up for their faith. Radical Islam becomes powerful when we do not stand up for our faith.
In my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I note the increase in vocations and converts coming into Church, especially in Africa and Asia, and even US and European dioceses that are more orthodox in nature and not apologetic about the truths of the Catholic Church and it’s founder Jesus Christ. The only other church that is growing is Evangelical churches that have not changed their doctrines to appease the modern world, as have many of the mainline Protestant churches. Though this surrender to truth may make them popular with the mainstream media and save them from terrorist attacks, it hardly advances the Gospel. Sadly, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out, it makes these churches and their follower slaves to the Dictatorship of Relativism. If this last paragraph interests you, please read; If You Want the Political Left to Run Governments, Look at What the Religious Left Has Done to Religion, (Left It In Tatters,) along with my article, The Coming Open Rebellion Against God.
Al Qaeda knows that the Catholic Church is the only international Christian body that is growing. In their minds, what better way to eliminate the threat than to terrorize the competition? They must have thought they had nearly won when the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams recently stated that Britain must accept the coming of Sharia Law. The Archbishop and his liberal religious counterparts have become media darlings for changing their respective church’s doctrine to reflect the whims of the modern world. It might seem that the Anglicans and other liberal Christian bodies have little to worry about since to Al Qaeda, it would seem as if they have already surrendered. Fortunately, no such surrender is coming from Rome and for that the Catholic Church the world over must pay the price. Yet, Our Lady looks on and pleads to her Son, Jesus to save the faithful as has been done many times in previous centuries. Let this time be another.