Pope Francis and sins of omission on jihadism
As holy and wonderful as he is, Pope Francis is not currently providing the intellectual leadership needed to defend Christianity and its adherents against the onslaught of jihad. We should never tar all Muslims with the same brush, but, in one of the great modern day tragedies, Christians are being driven from their homelands in the Middle East, with little help coming from the West
Pope Francis is a holy man. He is exactly the type of man you would want to preside at your child’s wedding, or your parent’s funeral. He has a real pastoral presence and manifests great love for humanity.
He cares for the poor, has condemned antisemitism and affirmed the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. For these things we should rejoice and be glad.
But as holy as he is, Pope Francis is not currently providing the intellectual leadership needed to defend Christianity and its adherents against the onslaught of jihad.
In public statements, Pope Francis has discouraged Catholics, other Christians and even Muslims themselves from analyzing the relationship between the teachings and sources of Islam and violence against non-Muslims (and Muslims) in the Middle East, North Africa and in other parts of the world, including Europe.
A collective failure to address this relationship has led to policy decisions that have had catastrophic impacts on human welfare and dignity throughout the world. Christians are being driven from their homelands in the Middle East, with little help coming from the West.
Rules surrounding civil society and women’s rights are being violated in Europe in ways that would have been unthinkable up until a few years ago and free speech is hindered everywhere, including the United States.
Humanity is faced with a global crisis of violence emanating from within Islam and yet Pope Francis — one of the most influential figures in Western civilization — engages in evasive semantics that stifle honest discussion of the problem.
These semantics were on display on Friday, February 10, 2017 when he declared that “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist.”
One can argue, with some — but not complete — justification that the people who engage in acts of terrorism contradict the teachings of their religious faiths. One can also argue, as Pope Francis has, that the people who engage in these acts are extremists or fundamentalists who do not represent the highest principles of their religion.
But we live in an age of jihad, in which huge numbers of people have been killed, driven from their homes, kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery by people who invoke Muslim sources to guide and justify their acts. As they do these evil things, all too many Muslims have remained bystanders, and in some instances, apologists for these acts.
We live in an age in which significant numbers of Muslims believe that it is OK, necessary even, to kill apostates, execute women for adultery or engage in acts of violence to protect the reputation of the Muslim faith and its founder, Mohammed. The cartoon riots which resulted in deaths throughout the world a few years back were in fact, acts of Muslim terrorism.
These riots, which had the knock-on effect of making people afraid of speaking openly about the impact of jihad on their lives, are sanctioned by authoritative sources within Islam including the Koran, the Hadiths and the biography of Islam’s founder, Mohammed. The upshot is that jihadism is a Muslim phenomenon with roots in Islamic sources.
To be sure, many Muslims ignore or interpret the texts that promote Islamic supremacism and jihadism and practice their religion in a more compassionate, loving and merciful manner than their adversaries within the faith. Such reformers declare to their fellow Muslims that violence against non-Muslims is “un-Islamic” the same way many Christians have declared antisemitism “un-Christian.”
In the realm of intramural polemics such statements are perfectly legitimate, but on an empirical level, they do not hold up. The fact that reformers have had to declare antisemitism as un-Christian or supremacist violence against non-Muslims as un-Islamic means that there are such a things as Christian antisemitism and Muslim violence and that they needs to be eliminated.
Saying the words “Christian antisemitism” and “Muslim terrorism” or more to the point, “jihad,” puts Christians, and Muslims on notice that they have work to do and a legacy to confront.
Fortunately, many Muslims are taking up this work — just as many Christians have struggled with their faith’s legacy of antisemitism — but they have a long way to go and until the reform-minded Muslims achieve dominance, the Christian victims of jihad need their leaders to speak fearlessly and directly about this problem.
After the Holocaust, Jewish leaders and intellectuals did not mince words about the scriptural roots of Christian antisemitism. Why should Christian leaders mince words about the scriptural roots of jihad?
Speaking of mincing words, two years ago, Pope Francis declared, among other things, that “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Pope Francis’ call to avoid hateful generalizations is necessary and legitimate, but his assertion that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” is much less tenable. The qualifiers “authentic” and “proper” placed before “Islam” and “reading of the Koran” inject enough wiggle room to protect the assertion from refutation, but still leave us with a huge problem: Who decides what are “authentic” and “proper” interpretations of Islam and the Koran? Not Pope Francis.
The Muslim leaders with whom Pope Francis interacts in high-level inter-religious dialogue may have told him these things, but they have a lot of work to do when it comes to convincing Muslims worldwide. The fact is, the Koran offers some very specific and clear calls for violence against Christians (and Jews), which gives the fundamentalists within the religion a very clear advantage in debates regarding how the faith is to be practiced.
In the realm of human affairs, sacred texts have a stubborn and resilient influence. Arguing against the plain meaning of a text that has been regularly used to inform how Islam is practiced for centuries takes a lot more work than it does to skate over the issue of jihad in the manner in which Pope Francis has done.
The saddest part of Pope Francis’ statements is that they place Christians in the position of having to martyr themselves to demonstrate that jihad really is not part of the Muslim faith, when in fact, it is.
With his well-intentioned but off-base comments, Pope Francis has discouraged his flock from doing exactly what is necessary if Western Civilization is to survive and to pass on its benefits to future generations — get real about the the political threats posed by jihad and Muslim supremacism.
Dexter Van Zile is a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His opinions are his own.
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