Bastille Day attack reignites terrorism and religion debate

Members of the Australian French community stand around candles during a vigil in central Sydney, Australia, July 15, 2016, to remember the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. (Photo courtesy of Reuters/David Gray)

Editor's note: Story updated throughout at 12:20 p.m. CDT, July 15.

Religious leaders around the world condemned terrorism and expressed solidarity with France after scores of people were killed when a truck plowed through crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

They included Christian figures such as Pope Francis and prominent Muslims including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Allam.

But the attack on France’s national day reignited an international debate about what part Islamic teaching plays in terrorist attacks by young Muslims whose violence is rejected by many mainstream clerics.

While world leaders condemned the attack, President Barack Obama and others received criticism from political conservatives for not being as explicit as French President Francois Hollande was when he said: "All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism."

In the U.S., where controversy still rages over Donald Trump’s proposal to ban immigration by Muslims, Newt Gingrich said in response to the attack only "modern Muslims who have given up Sharia" should be allowed to be U.S. citizens.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed revulsion over the attack.

"We condemn in the strongest way every demonstration of senseless violence, of hatred, terrorism and any attack against peace," said a statement issued by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's chief spokesman. "On behalf of Pope Francis, we join in solidarity with the suffering of the victims and of the entire French people this day that should have been a great holiday."

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, took to social media to comment on the killings: "As the French rejoice in their liberty, human evil kills the innocent cruelly. Let us weep with them, let us stand with them #PrayForNice."

The archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote on Twitter: "My heartfelt prayers for all who died or were injured in the #NiceAttack, their families and the people of France at this time of deep loss."

Sheikh Salman al-Auda, a Saudi cleric, said the attacker would be cursed by "God, his angels and all human beings," according to the Guardian. 

Allam, the Egyptian grand mufti, who is the country’s official interpreter of Islamic law, said people who commit such ugly crimes “are corrupt of the earth and follow in the footsteps of the devil … and are cursed in life and in the hereafter,” according to Egypt’s Ahram Online newspaper.

And Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, issued a statement saying such "vile terrorist attacks contradict Islamic teachings," Ahram reported.

In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the massacre and issued a plea:

"As we mourn the victims and determine how best to protect people of all faiths and backgrounds from such brutal attacks, let us not help the recruiting efforts of ISIS and other terror groups by blaming all Muslims for the murders in France," said a statement by its leader, Nihad Awad.

He rejected a proposal by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to deport Muslims in America, including citizens, who follow Sharia, or Islamic law.

"When Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggests that American Muslims be subjected to an Inquisition-style religious test and then expelled from their homes and nation, he plays into the hands of terror recruiters and betrays the American values he purports to uphold," Awad said.

According to CNN Politics, Gingrich had said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.”

“Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door,” he added.

However, on his Twitter account Gingrich said his words had gone through “amazing distortions” in the media.



Catholic News Service reported that Pope Francis condemned the attack on Bastille Day Celebrations in France, calling it an act of "blind violence."

The pope expressed his "deep sorrow" and "spiritual closeness" with the French people in a message to Bishop Andre Marceau of Nice, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. Pope Francis entrusted the victims and their families to God's mercy.

"The pope expresses his sympathy to those injured and to all those who have contributed to rescue efforts, asking the Lord to sustain each one in this trial," the cardinal wrote. He said Pope Francis imparted his blessing on grieving families while invoking "God's gift of peace and harmony" upon the people of France.

France declared three days of mourning and extended its state of emergency after the July 14 attack along Nice's seaside promenade; more than 80 people were killed and the death toll was mounting. The three days of mourning were to begin July 16.

In Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral scheduled a Mass July 17 for to commemorate the victims.

[Rosie Scammell and Jerome Socolovsky of Religion News Service and Junno Arocho Esteves of Catholic News Service contributed to this report.]


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