Popes, priests and Islam

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Do you remember when in 2006 Pope Benedict said:

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”?

He was only quoting a mediaeval Byzantine emperor but, despite his apologies, the words were widely taken as his own or at least reflecting his views.

Affronted by the idea of Islam being linked with violence, the ummah responded with violent protests around the Muslim world. Several people were killed including a nun shot dead in Somalia and a priest beheaded in Iraq. Calls were made for the death of the Pope from various groups including, of course, Anjem Choudary and his gang.

Slightly more subtly giving the message that if you hurt Muslim feelings then you can expect trouble, the Pakistan Parliament issued a statement saying “The derogatory remarks of the Pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Muhammad have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions”. Their Foreign Ministry declared that “Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence.”

Abandoning subtlety altogether, Al Qaeda gleefully announced “We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose the jizya tax, then the only thing acceptable is conversion or the sword…. God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the Mujahideen.”

From among Catholics Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was quoted as saying “Pope Benedict’s statements don’t reflect my own opinions….These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years.”

Taken aback at the reaction to his words Benedict spent much of the rest of his papacy attempting to restore good relations, visiting mosques and calling on Christians in western countries “to open their arms and hearts to Muslim immigrants”. That did not stop al-Azhar breaking off relations with the Vatican when Benedict called for greater protection for Egypt’s Coptic Christians in Egypt after a church bombing in Alexandria left 23 people dead. Sheik el-Tayeb, Al Azhar’s chief imam, called Benedict’s remarks “unacceptable interference in Egypt’s affairs”.

When in 2013 Cardinal Bergoglio became the first Pope Francis, Sheik el-Tayyib sent him a message of congratulation including the request that “Islam asks for respect from the new pontiff”.

Not surprisingly many doubted the good faith of Francis’s partners in interfaith dialogue.

When Francis said:

“My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced”

some remembered the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayeed Qutb’s use of the same metaphor:

“The chasm between Islam and Jahiliyyah [the society of unbelievers] is great, and a bridge is not to be built across it so that the people on the two sides may mix with each other, but only so that the people of Jahiliyyah may come over to Islam.”

In June 2014 Pope Francis held a Peace Gathering in the Vatican gardens where a Christian priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam prayed for peace in the Holy Land. Sounds like the start of a joke doesn’t it (1) and in fact things turned out quite like that. Along with his prayer for peace the unnamed Palestinian imam added the last 3 verses of sura 2 of the Koran (2). The last line of 2:286 says:

“You are our guardian, so make us victorious over the tribe of unbelievers.”

making it plain to Arabic listeners just what his idea of peace was. In fact this is completely in line with orthodox Islamic teaching that peace will ensue only after the defeat and subjugation of all unbelievers.

Not only did the imam stab Francis in the back but also managed to tweak Benedict’s nose at the same time. The last line of 2:284 says:

“And He will forgive whomever he wants and will punish whomever he wants, and Allah is able to do all things”

ie Allah does whatever he likes, ruling the universe by caprice. The imam was defiantly confirming what Benedict was trying to get at in his Regensburg address which, underneath all the brouhaha, was actually about the relationship between faith and reason:

“…not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature…But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”

The Vatican edited the offending suras out of the video it released of the gathering. They must have been fairly keen for the world not to get the idea that they were being taken for fools. Fortunately some tenacious counter-jihadists exposed the intended deception.

In November 2013 Pope Francis said “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.”

Is this not an astonishing statement for a learned man to make since the most cursory reading of the Koran shows it to be dripping with calls for violence? Where did he get such an idea? Not from any traditional Catholic understanding of Islam. Here is the the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908 edition):

“In matters political, Islam is a system of despotism at home and aggression abroad… The rights of non-Moslem subjects are of the vaguest and most limited kind, and a religious war is a sacred duty whenever there is a chance of success against the “Infidel”. Medieval and Modern Mohammedan, especially Turkish, persecutions of both Jews and Christians are perhaps the best illustration of this fanatical religious and political spirit.”

Nor from his own secretary Father Yoannis Lahzi Gaido, a Coptic Catholic Christian. Here he writes of the:

“…difficulties under which Christians must live in places with a Muslim majority. These difficulties are not caused by a few Islamists, but by a culture of death and violence that is based on very clear verses [of their scripture] that they quote, calling for violence and jihad, saying they should murder all who are different and killing [those who express] freedom of conscience. Just to think differently is enough to be sentenced to death.”

Lately, Catholic thinkers have started to come out flatly contradicting the Pope’s position. Here are three of them:

Rev. James V. Schall, ex-Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University

“The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur’an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right.”

Regis Martin, Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio

“The fact is, Islam remains fundamentally and unmistakably a religion of violence. The murderousness of Muslim theology is not an accidental or episodic affair, such as from time to time overcomes the better angels of their nature. It is entirely intrinsic to the beliefs all Muslims profess. How could it be otherwise when its founding document, the Koran, is replete with what can only be described as the poisonous rhetoric of hatred and intolerance?”

Rev. Martin Rhonheimer, Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Pontifical Santa Croce University in Rome

“You do not hear many official Muslim voices condemning Islamic State, and when it finally happens, it is usually only to condemn the bestiality because it harms Islam’s reputation. The Islamic State is no heresy, but a recurring pattern in the history of violent expansion. The model is Muhammad himself.”

So, Pope Francis does not mind being led up the garden path by his inter-faith dialogue partners nor does he see the obvious connection between Islam and violence. Neither of theses things would matter too much if it were not for the fact that they obviously inform his position on Muslim immigration to Europe.

After 366 people died in a shipwreck off Lampedusa in October 2013 Francis called the episode shameful and, in the land of lentocracy (slow government), the search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum started operating two weeks later. In the year since its inception the Italian Navy and Coastguard have rescued over 90,000 migrants and landed them in Southern Italy. In total, according to the Italian Interior Ministry, 120,000 people have made it to Italy since the beginning of 2014 as opposed to 42,000 in 2013. What does that suggest for 2015 and 2016? Since there is confusion about whether Italy will continue funding Mare Nostrum and whether the EU will pick it up, the likely outcome must be either a great many more immigrants or a great many more drownings.

The Italians feel very virtuous about what they are doing, leaving only the Northern League, one of whose leaders used to sport a Mohammed cartoon T-shirt, to cry “Basta!” By law all the immigrants should be processed in Italy but in practice the authorities look the other way when they slip away from the reception centres. Few of the new arrivals stay in Italy where benefits are slim, most heading north in particular to Germany and Sweden. A proportion can be seen any day besieging the port of Calais.

If you think that the new arrivals will add to the harmony and well being of Europe then you will applaud Francis’s efforts. If you think that, on balance, they will add to the welfare burden, criminality and hostility to be found in the no-go areas of Malmo and Paris, and the areas in England where the authorities turn a blind eye, then you might well take another view. If, even worse, you expect ever greater occurrences of sectarian violence, anti-Semitism, subversion and random jihadist attacks on the unbelievers as called for by IS, then you might view his stance as not only irresponsible but grievously damaging to European civilisation.

I take the latter view, partly because of the figures and partly because of what we all see around us on a daily basis. We were all shocked a few years ago when a slew of polls came out showing just how radical many Muslims in the West really are but there are three recently surfaced figures which seem to clearly spell out our likely future. The first is that 5% of the British population are Muslim. The second is that 10% of under 5’s are Muslim. The third is that there are more British Muslims fighting against Britain with IS than there are fighting for her in the armed forces. As regards what we see around us, just a few days ago four British Muslims, one of them recently returned from Syria, were charged with plotting to murder police officers or soldiers on the street. Just today, as if we did not know that there is a world wide jihad going on, comes the news that a Muslim convert has run down two soldiers in Canada.

Where exactly is the Pope in this unfolding drama? The answer is right at the centre of the developing conflict. IS have digitally raised their flag over St Peter’s Square and, according to the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, intend to assassinate Francis. It would be a major propaganda coup if IS were to achieve this. They have shown already with their atrocities in Syria that they go with the maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity. And yet this seems puzzling since, by lulling the masses with the fiction of a peaceful Islam, Francis is unwittingly the best friend of Islamic supremacism outside Westminster and Capitol Hill. Perhaps the answer to that lies in the two kinds of Islamic supremacism, the Muslim Brotherhood kind which relies primarily on demography and subversion to spread Islam and the IS kind which longs to smash the “Roman Crusaders” by military means – apparently so different yet with a common destination, 7th century Medina.

Still in the early stages of this great game between civilisation and Islam, we have barely seen the pawns move yet. It will take more pieces lost to atrocities before the King wakes up. The grim reality is that with each IS beheading or other act of barbarism, the more threadbare become our leaders’ platitudes and the more people in the West start to realise that this is for real. Suppose IS did assassinate Francis. It would not be difficult as he refuses to barricade himself behind security. It would be the biggest possible wake up call to the world’s Catholics in particular and the rest of us in general. That is why, horrible as it is to admit, it would be good news for civilisation. Think of it as a bishop (of Rome) sacrifice.

———————————————————————————————————————————
(1) A rabbi, a priest and an imam enter into dialogue.
The rabbi says I will agree to show respect to Christianity and Islam.
The priest says I will agree to show respect to Judaism and Islam.
The imam says great, so we all agree to respect Islam.

(2) Sura 2:284 In the name of Allah the beneficent and merciful. To Allah belongs everything that is in heaven and on earth. And whether you show what is inside you or hide it Allah will bring you to account. And He will forgive whomever he wants and will punish whomever he wants, and Allah is able to do all things.

Sura 2:285 The messenger has believed in what was sent down to him by his Lord, and the believers all have believed in Allah and his angels and his books and his messengers. We don’t make any distinction amongst the messengers. They say: “We hear and we obey so that you forgive us, our Lord, and towards you is the destination.

Sura 2:286 God will not burden any soul except according to its capacity. It will earn what it gains and to him will be what he earns (of evil). Our Lord, don’t blame us when we forget or make mistakes. Our Lord, and don’t put on us same kind of burden that you put on those before us, and don’t burden us with what we have no capacity to bear. And pardon us and forgive us and have mercy on us. You are our guardian, so make us victorious over the tribe of unbelievers.

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