March 7, 2014
Like sheep to the slaughter
For the Herald
Pope Francis avoiding the biggest issue
The biggest problem facing Pope Francis, né Jorge Bergoglio, is not abortion, ecclesiastical paedophilia, homosexual rights, capitalist savagery or the no doubt sinister activities of conservative clerics who are conspiring against him in the Vatican corridors. It is what to do about the increasingly ferocious Islamic offensive against the millions of Christians who still live in the Middle East, Pakistan and North Africa. Every single day, dozens, sometimes hundreds, are brutally murdered by fanatics. But, as was the case when the holocaust took place in Europe, most Westerners prefer to look the other way. Genocide is less newsworthy than the self-indulgent antics of a stoned pop star and, in any case, it would be wrong to get upset about the treatment of members of one particular religious minority when so many others are suffering an equally grisly fate.
Francis does not like what is happening. He wants everybody to live in peace and harmony. He says he is saddened when Middle Eastern and Nigerian churchmen tell him that their flocks are being slaughtered by holy warriors who, to justify their atrocities, say they are simply obeying Allah’s orders and can quote chapter and verse from the Koran to prove it.
This puts Francis in an awkward position. Like all other Western leaders, he prefers to blame such horrors on abstractions such as violence, persecution, intolerance and terror. As his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, soon found out, suggesting that Islam might have something to do with mass murder is simply unacceptable in today’s enlightened world. It is far better to tell oneself that the killers do not represent “true Islam”, that they have hijacked an exceptionally pacific religion. History may tell them otherwise, but after the Second World War mankind — whoops, humankind — turned over a new leaf.
Westerners who are fearful of committing the thought crime “Islamophobia” also point out that in the Old Testament there are some bloodthirsty passages, like the one in which God orders Saul to wipe out the Amalekites to the last woman and child, plus their livestock, so it would be wrong to take too seriously Koranic exhortations to do much the same to Jews, Christians and other unbelievers. However, unlike the unfortunate Amalekites, Jews and Christians are still very much with us and are bearing the brunt of a relentless campaign of extermination in regions where they are vulnerable.
The Jews have Israel on their side; most have already found refuge in the only country in which they are welcome and which, to widespread disapproval, is fully capable of defending itself against aggressors. And the Christians? For much of the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth, they could rely on a certain degree of protection from the wicked colonial powers and the US, but now they are pretty well on their own.
When asked about the holocaust, Mahatma Gandhi reportedly said the Jews of Europe should have “offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.” In his view, that would have taught Hitler a salutary lesson. Is it what the head of the largest Christian denomination thinks his fellow Catholics and the rest should do when confronted by individuals who are eager to win a place in paradise by slaughtering them? As he, along with all other right-thinking Westerners, is strongly against any kind of military intervention in the Middle East, it would appear that he too believes that, all things considered, it would be better for them to go quietly into the good night, thereby saving people like himself a great deal of trouble.
Perhaps Francis and other leaders of what was once called Christendom think that by being nice and pretending that militant Islam is not much of a problem they will somehow shame the allegedly moderate majority into taking on the “extremists”. If so, they are fooling themselves. In Germany, thoroughgoing Nazis were always a minority, but when it became obvious that getting in their way could be very dangerous, most of their compatriots went along with them.
For similar reasons, in the Muslim world, which now includes bits of Europe, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. What is more, causes, whether religious or ideological, that provide their adherents with a licence to kill can be extraordinarily attractive to youngish people with a grudge; the jihadists who are doing their utmost to make Syria’s ruthless dictator Bashar al-Assad look benevolent have been supplemented by a foreign legion of European converts.
The high-minded weakness of Western elites whose members want to believe that war has been rendered obsolete by their own virtue has not only condemned many Christians to death. It has also spread despair among nominally Muslim democrats of a secularist disposition who would like their countries to become more like those of Europe or North America. They are the people who impressed optimistic Western observers in the early stages of what they dubbed “the Arab spring”. Like their counterparts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, they now feel betrayed by those they assumed were their natural allies. Their prospects are grim: many will die, gunned down, beheaded or tortured to death by religious zealots who know, really know, they are doing Allah’s work, because Westerners are simply too kind to do whatever it would take to stop them.