National Security & Defense

Something about the Crusades . . .

CNN with up-to-the-moment analysis of church bombings in Europe.


CNN News

April 5 2015 3:07 p.m.


ANCHOR: We return now to Vatican City, where earlier this morning — Easter Sunday, as it is known by the people who call themselves “Christians” — an explosion demolished Saint Peter’s, a basilica that many say symbolizes the gap between the wealth of the Church and the poverty of many countries. Jen Bleuper was at the scene when the explosion happened. Jen, what are you hearing about the explosion?

JEN [remote in Rome]: what

ANCHOR: I said, what are you hearing?

JEN: Not a lot, my ears are still ringing.

ANCHOR: All right, we’ll return to her in a moment. To bring you up to speed: Earlier today a seemingly coordinated attack on the structure was carried out by four men who ran a van through the crowd, emerged with shoulder-mounted missiles, and demolished the centuries-old structure. The death toll is unknown; it is not clear whether the pope, who was speaking on the balcony — angering some, perhaps, by restating some points of Catholic dogma many in the Church regard as out of step with the times — it is unclear whether the pope has survived, or whether this event might make the Church rethink some of its teachings. We — ah, it seems Jen’s hearing is better. Jen, what news from the scene?

JEN: Well, Ted, it continues to be a scene of chaos and shock, and if there is any question on the lips of those who gathered in this historic square, it is “Why?”

ANCHOR: Jen, I’m going to cut in for a moment to go to our expert on the Vatican City, Giancarlo Borgissimo. Do you agree with Jen?

GUEST: I do not. The question would be “perché,” which is Italian for “why.” I doubt the English word is on their lips.

ANCHOR: You resigned your position in the Church in 2010 to protest the Church’s refusal to ordain women. Could anger over the possible moves to ordain women, if this pope does indeed take that step — could it be a motivation in this attack?

GUEST: The law of averages suggests that Catholic extremists will do something like this eventually.

ANCHOR: Jen, do we have any idea who did this? Is anyone claiming responsibility?

JEN (remote in Rome): Witnesses say only that the black van had black flags with some sort of white squiggles and that the four men were masked, wearing checked scarves, shouting — and I wrote this down . . . here. They shouted, “All of Hugh Agbar.”

ANCHOR: Mr. Borgissimo, do you know of a Hugh Agbar? If indeed, as some suggest, Catholic extremists did this to oppose ordaining women, it would likely be that a man’s name would be shouted.

GUEST: Indeed. They may believe that credit for the attack is entirely his, hence “All of Hugh Agbar.”

ANCHOR: Jen — can you hear me? What’s that sound?

JEN: Ted, I’m hearing explosions elsewhere in the city. Not close — [crosstalk, video goes to static]

ANCHOR: It seems we have lost our link to Rome; we’ll work to get it back and of course keep Jen in our thoughts. Mr. Borgissimo, if indeed disaffected Catholics are to blame, and there are other attacks in Rome — we stress that those explosions might be completely unrelated, and could be a workplace-violence incident — if there are other attacks, what does this say about the ability of Catholics to mount coordinated attacks?

GUEST: Everything about Catholicism is based in coordinated ritual, from the Stations of the Cross to the Mass to the processions of Holy Days. It would not surprise me if someone found in these rituals the mental ability to plan coordinated acts of violence. The Crusades —

ANCHOR: Sorry, I have to interrupt, we have Jen in what was once Saint Peter’s Square. Jen, it’s more of a circle, isn’t it?

JEN: I have a man who was on the phone to someone who was present at another explosion. Sir, what did —

ITALIAN MAN: (Gesturing.) I bastardi stanno facendo esplodere il Colosseo! I bastardi facendo esplodere il Colosseo!

TWO-SHOT with JEN and GUEST; GUEST is shaking his head.

GUEST: He says that they blew up the Colosseum. This is an outrage.

ANCHOR: Of course, of course it is.

GUEST: The proper name is the Flavian Amphitheater. It’s appalling what people don’t know.

ANCHOR: This would seem to complicate initial suspicions that it was Catholic extremists, wouldn’t it?

GUEST: Not at all. The Colosseum was used as a church for many years. Of course there is the history of persecuting Christians there as well, what with the lions.

JEN: Ted, my sources say it was four men in a black van who shouted, “Aloha Apgar.”

ANCHOR: [Pauses.] Was there any indication this could be the work of Hawaiian separatists? It does raise questions about Catholic Polynesians.

GUEST: If I may, I think there may be an alternate explanation. The Crusades —

ANCHOR: Sorry, they’ll have to wait. Let us cut into Italian TV, which is showing scenes from the Colosseum . . . if you can see through the smoke, oh, oh. Horrible. The entire structure has collapsed. No — hold on, there’s one wall still intact, we can see that now — and there’s a black banner, it must be three stories high. It appears to have some sort of white writing on it, and from a layman’s perspective it could possibly be Arabic.

GUEST: I would also note that similar lines that seemed inscrutable to the untrained eye were used as secret marks on the walls of the catacombs in the early days of Christianity, intended as messages for those who knew the code.

ANCHOR: But those would be black marks on a white surface, not white marks on a black surface.

GUEST: This is true, but if you stare at that black banner long enough without blinking, then look at a white sheet of paper, you will see the exact opposite.

ANCHOR: We have on the line Harvard professor Peter Ubroc, who teaches architecture, and I believe he has a point of view worth considering. Thank you for joining us today.

[Insert picture of professor between split-screen images of demolished Saint Peter’s and Colosseum]

PROFESSOR: Thank you.

ANCHOR: Professor Ubroc, you teach a course on the intersection between architectural history and terrorism, do you not?

PROFESSOR: I do, and now I actually have an example to use in class. If I may advance a contrary theory: It’s entirely possible that this terrorist act was intended to strike fear into the hearts of those who have championed a return to the classical buildings’ styles — either the baroque of Saint Peter’s or the rather rigid Roman style. By destroying these famous examples, they may hope to inspire others to do the same, and to bring about a new era of contemporary architecture that rejects the past entirely.

ANCHOR: You’re saying these might be modern architects at work?

PROFESSOR: I want to stress that they may be architects who profess a twisted form of modernism. They have nothing to do with modern architecture as practiced by the vast number of draftsmen and structural engineers who practice peaceful urban renewal. This is a perversion of the teachings of the architect Mies van der Rohe, who was completely opposed to such wanton destruction, unless of course you had the proper permits.

ANCHOR: Have you heard of an architect named Hugh Agbar? He has been named as — oh, I’m sorry, I have to let you go — we are now receiving reports of similar attacks on Notre-Dame in Paris, and Saint Paul’s in London, and Our Savior’s Church in Stockholm. These are early reports, and I stress, I must stress, that the use of the words “Our Savior” is the name of the church, not the opinion of the network, I — hold on . . . okay, I’m hearing that CNN and other news organizations have been alerted to a video on YouTube that is taking credit for today’s action in the name of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Nebraska, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, the People’s Front of Judea, and other assorted groups; the list does go on. So. Mr. Borgissimo, back to you.


ANCHOR: You were saying something about the Crusades.

— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.

Editor’s note: In the comment by the man in the street, the Italian has been corrected since the original posting. 


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