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No one could have foreseen 9/11 in New York.  1/7 in Paris fourteen years later was a shock in the ferocity and extent of the blood-bath, but it was not entirely unexpected : the “Charlie Hebdo” offices were under (minimum) surveillance and protection, though a policeman’s pistol is no match for two fanatical brothers’ kalashnikovs.  American and French authorities have identified multiple possible future targets for terrorists.  But the warped brains planning the next attacks will display their diabolical ingenuity in choosing sites and victims we may not expect.  Lists of the Usual Suspects exist, though we cannot put a policeman on their every tail 24/7.  And then there are the dedicated sleepers, future martyrs, who shave, drink and hangout with infidel cronies, as well as the mass of individual potential terrorists who surprise even professional jihadists by taking personal initiative in totally unforeseeable suicide attacks.  I have no doubt that in the months ahead there will be other Charlie Hebdos, Café Lindts, and attacks on public transport, train-stations and airports, and in other places we have not thought of.  They are tragedies waiting to happen.  We will do our best to try to stop them  – Inch Allah ! – but know that this Unholy War is far from over.

There are other tragedies we could avoid but won’t.  The latest example is the current Hajj and the 1851 pilgrims trampled to death as they and two million others fulfilled their duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, to circle the Kaaba seven times and, if they can get near enough, to stone the Devil.  The tragedy has happened before and will happen again.  The daunting task of controling crowds of such unimaginable proportions is not impossible, but there is little hope that we will not witness similar disasters in the future.  The cynics and the realists will call them “collateral damage”.

But I have a dream !  Catholics, and in particular Franciscan friars of whom I was once one, dream of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to visit the site in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and to follow in Jerusalem the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, to Calvary where He was crucified.  Different from their Muslim brethren, for Catholics this is not an obligation, but an act of piety that would be the high-point in their life of faith.  Most Catholics do not ever get to the Holy Land.  So the founder of the Franciscans, St Francis of Assisi, came up with the idea of the Stations of the Cross.  Why not turn every Catholic church into a miniature place of pilgrimage,  with the fourteen major events of Christ’s Passion recalled by paintings or sculpture on the walls of the nave of the church ?  Rome offers these “pilgrims” the same Plenary Indulgence as that given to pilgrims to Jerusalem; they have to go no further than their local parish church.  If  we do it in our churches, why can’t Muslims do the same in their mosques ?

It’s just a suggestion (odd, you will admit, coming from a militant atheist).  Right there in the middle of each mosque would be a mini-Kaaba (a cube that is empty, to remind the faithful that there must be no graven image or other representation of Allah or His Prophet), around which the disciples of the Prophet could proceed, devoutly and safely, seven times.  (There could even be a spot with seven pillars where they can stone the Devil !)  I guarantee that no one will be trampled to death.

And you thought I was anti-Muslim !  Not at all.  I still think the whole thing is superstitious rubbish, but they are our brothers and sisters.  It’s pretty hard to get them to recognize their illusions, but at least we can help them to stop killing themselves and their fellow-pilgrims in a tragedy that does not have to happen.