The Pope’s Dangerous Reaction to Islamic Extremism

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Francis trivializes the problem of radical Islam by ignoring the need to develop a concerted response to terrorist acts

Pope Francis, never one to shy away from giving the media soundbites, has doubled down on a history of controversial comments on hot-button issues.

But unlike the “Who am I to judge?” fallout, the pope’s latest comments, this time about the nature of the current wave of religious terrorism, leave much less room for interpretation and contextual misunderstanding.

Unfortunately for Europeans and Americans looking to the Holy See for guidance, the comments only serve to trivialize one of the West’s most persistent threats, and give increased veracity to the claims of secularists and evangelical atheists who would argue that all religions are equally violent.

Pretending Won’t Work

“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right and it is not true,” the pope told reporters on July 31st.

Fair enough; identifying an entire religion with violence and painting exceptionally broad brushstrokes about the nature of the violence within Islam (ahem, Milo Yiannopoulos) exaggerates the root causes of why some people to kill in the name of Allah. Yet at the same time, Francis’ comments are disturbingly naïve and passé, a by-product of a post 9/11 mentality that would relegate Islamic terrorism to a few hundred guys running around the mountains of Afghanistan.

It’s a sentiment we’ve heard before—everyday, actually. And like President Obama, the American left, and Hollywood liberals, Francis seems intent to deny others the ability to make generalizations about Islam while making generalizations of his own.

“I know how they think. They look for peace, encounter,” Francis said. “One thing is true. I believe that in almost all religions, there is always a small fundamentalist group. We have them, too…When fundamentalism goes to the point of killing — you can even kill with the tongue. This is what St. James says, but (you can kill) also with a knife.”

I don’t doubt that some Muslims, even an overwhelming majority in many countries, do look for peace and chances to engage those outside their faith. I have Muslim friends who are among them. Yet polling reveals disparities within Muslims populations by country, further revealing that millions don’t look for peace and engagement with the Western world.

For instance, a majority of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan support the death penalty for apostasy. I wonder what Francis would say of these Muslims should one of them decide that the Catholic Church is his permanent home? At least 60 million Muslims (worldwide) view the Islamic State (ISIS) favorably; Seven percent of U.S Muslims (approximately 126,000 people) believe suicide bombings are “sometimes justified”; and 4,500 men and women from Western countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight on behalf of ISIS.

These numbers might be small when taken in light of a global Muslim population, but they are not insignificant. Are there 60 million Catholics who would have a favorable opinion of crucifying children who do not fast during Ramadan? Are there thousands of Christians who would give up their lives to join an organization that drowns and burns people in cages?

No, there aren’t.

And while polls tell part of the story, they will never be a complete substitute for a different kind of statistic: the statistic of blood. In a two-year span, attackers claiming to represent ISIS have killed 443 people in Europe—most recently, an elderly French priest who had previously worked for dialogue and understanding between religions.

Islam does not equate to violence—few people actually believe that. But viewing Islam and violence as some kind of linear equation oversimplifies the variable that Islamic theology does play in the formation of terrorist ideology and action. One recalls the seminal Atlantic article from March 2015:

“[T]he religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam…Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

The United States is not the only state to do so.

A False Comparison

Francis further showed his misunderstanding and naivety in attempting to draw a comparison to a traditionally “Catholic” country.

“I look through the papers, I see violence here in Italy,” Francis said. “And they are baptized Catholics. There are violent Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I also have to speak of Catholic violence.”

The entire statement rests on generalizations and assumptions, none of which hold up to scrutiny. For starters, he was referencing everyday (domestic) violence, not politically-motivated or ideologically-based acts. Not only has Italy not recently witnessed a mass terror attack under the banner of Catholicism or even a disgustingly altered representation of Christianity, but selected post-World War II examples yield equal incidents split between perpetrators expressing neo-fascists, Mafia, and anti-Israeli motives.

The point, however, is that none of the attacks have been part of the recent pattern of incidents in Europe. More importantly, by attempting to co-opt everyday Italian violence as a means of showing how Christian populations can succumb to violence, Pope Francis belittles the facts. Only half of Italians are Catholics (a fifth are atheists) and only 30 percent of those Catholics attend mass.

Of course, if I’m an atheist who finds vestiges of Christian morality burdensome, I’m a lot less likely to rationalize these differences, especially if the leader of the Catholic Church just said, in effect, that religion is part of the problem. For some (not all) agnostic minds, unwilling to dialogue on the differences between the Ten Commandments and Sharia Law, the entire notion of religion becomes tyranny.

It is as Archbishop Sheen once wrote: “Today those who do not have faith do not even know what they disbelieve. Having abandoned all certitudes, they have no standards by which to judge even their own agnosticism.”

In such a society, under which subjective interpretation becomes everything, the standards that differentiate a violent Islam and conservative, yet tolerant, Christianity erode. And a false comparison, unfortunately, becomes an oft-cited reason for political activism against the latter group.

A Needed Dialogue

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Francis’ comments are where he lays the majority of the blame for terrorist attacks.

“As long as the god of money is at the center of the global economy and not the human person, man and woman, this is the first terrorism,” he said.

Francis added that the attraction to ISIS that a non-insignificant amount of European youth feel is caused by a society that leaves people “with no ideals, no work, that end in the hands of drugs and alcohol, and then go over there [didn’t specify] and enlist.”

Once again, there are roots of truth in identifying the similarities between radical, violent manifestations of Islam and aggressive secularism. Both mindsets are heavily influenced by materialism, evolving representations of technology and violence, as well as the absence of a definitive moral code. Yet the comments, seen through a secular lens, reflect a Marxist understanding of the world. In reducing thoughts and ideas to causes that are largely material, Francis undermines the arguments of those who would do battle against extremist theological interpretations.

To understand and respond to radical Islam, the world, and Catholics across the West, must consider all the factors which feed the terrorist mind. A more complete understanding than the materialism exposed by the Obama administration is necessary to implement a thoughtful solution.

The Catholic Church has always been at the forefront of confronting global shifts and challenges. In 1891 Rerum novarum addressed the industrial revolution, as well as the injustices of unrestricted capitalism and socialism. Likewise, in Pope Francis’ own Laudato si’, Christians are called to join the world in caring for an environment that is experiencing upheaval and neglect. While an encyclical on terrorism may not be necessary, it’s time for Francis to guide his flock with a more thorough dialogue on the subject than the soundbites we receive from our politicians.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Adam Nettina is a freelance writer and graduate student studying creative writing at Abilene Christian University.

17 Comments

  1. I understand the initial confusion and surprise in the Pope’s comments. However when you read the full statement of the Pope, he isn’t saying that ISIS isn’t a threat nor prone to violence. He had said before that in dealing with ISIS, force may be required. I think people forget who the Pope is. He is the vicar of Christ in the world. He is supposed to be challenging our thinking and directing is towards the greater message. If the Pope just made statements like any other politician, then i think he’d be doing a disservice to the chair of St Peter. He’s directing us to look past the surface and really focus on what’s wrong in society. It’s not Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, politics, or money. It’s sin. It’s the disordered life. How do we fix this? Forgive our enemies. Pray for them. Care for the needy. Turn the other cheek. Accept persecution. Bear our suffering. Does that mean we just roll over and let ISIS kill innocents? Of course not. Justified action is necessary. But so is justified action as a result of our words.

    • “It’s not Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, politics, or money. It’s sin.”
      Yes, but what about a forced religion where one is called to emulate a man of sin. Not Buddha, not Christ, but Mohammad.

      Mohammad was a rapist, kept sex slaves, a pedophile and a man murdered people in horrific ways.
      A religion that calls everyone to emulate such a man as the “perfect example” is not sinful?

  2. You guys are sad, the pipe speaks of the individual. My mother prayed devoutly 12 or more houses a day in her late years. After 9/11 she was angry and asked God why he do not whips out this people. His response to my mother was because so many innocent Muslim pray devotedly to me. Ever since then I felt I could only pray for the innocent. You fail to see people through God’s eyes and make general statements because you pick them apart. Be careful we don’t pick get picked apart ourselves because of our bigotry. Pope Francis goal is to protect the innocent he will never choose war.

  3. John Connell on

    Naive? Your accusing the man who just lost one of his priests to the savages in France. Could it be that you’re choosing to only view the pope through an American polical lense, during a hyper-polical time? The Holy Father, as the vicar of Christ, is responsible for guiding the entire world, not just the West, and his words may be referenced for all eternity, not just here and now.

    Violence IS violence. Intentions and motivations vary widely but the violence among God’s children is all heartbreaking to the Father. Catholic Vote was wise to post the disclaimer, because you clearly have pent up angst against Francis. You cranked out this diatribe so fast, I wonder if you spent any time at all in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit (y’know, the one who chose the pope) for understanding before passing judgement.

  4. Robbins Mitchell on

    Frankie has clearly snapped one mackerel too many….he’s going to keep telling people how “peaceful” Islam is…until they blow his @$$ up

  5. Pope Francis bit the big one here.

    We;ll see how passe’ he is or how nuanced he wants to be if a priest at the Vatican gets butchered a’ la Hamel.

    But then, the Pope lives behind a wall, doesn’t he?

    …….and before someone decides to flame me, I’m Catholic.

    • The Pope is saying we should all show mercy to all just as Jesus showed mercy to us. It is easy to love your friends much harder to love your enemies. Imagine the Church which didn’t judge but only loved. It would grow all throughout the world. Forgiveness is the key. I love the Catholic Church.

    • Islamist terrorism precedes the ‘excesses’ and sins of the west, it precedes the west as evidenced throughout historic Christendom, and the now post-Christian west.

      Who would Francis blame for the bloody conquest of the formerly Christin ME, or the previous (up to WWI) and the modern Islamist aggressions throughout secular, socialist Europe, Asia and Africa?

      I have come to the conclusion that Francis is either stupid or evil. Either way, the Catholic Church is in trouble.

  6. Adam…You make the same error that Christ’s followers made when you expect his Vicar here on Earth to be a political or military leader. That erroneous argument is actually made by Muslim scholar Aslan Reza in his book Zealot. Again, I object to someone so young, so little life experience and so little education adopting the attitude you do toward the Holy Father. Also, since you’re so committed to the War Against Terror, have you considered joining the armed forces.

    • “You make the same error that Christ’s followers made when you expect his Vicar here on Earth to be a political or military leader. ”

      I see no evidence of this. I have not called for the Holy Father to endorse the use of force against ISIS. I have not called on him to impose immigration bans. Can you show me where I have asserted such political or military measures? I am calling for informed dialogue, which Pope Francis’ comments on the issue were not reflective of.

      If the Holy Father’s have long commented on world events a concerns of the faithful through the use on encyclicals, then is a call for more substantial “dialogue” not within reason? You seem convinced that I wish only to attack the Holy Father; however, what I have done is to show that this is a issue that cannot be relegated to the sidelines. Even liberal, secular commentators gave defended this notion.

      I don’t know you, Mr. Smith, and I don’t presume to have intimate knowledge of your education level and life experience. I will say that it strikes me as presumptuous to declare someone you don’t know as having “so little” of either attribute.

    • How about Francis just be a Catholic leader of our Church?

      How about Francis elevate the needs of Catholics above the needs of others?

      How about Francis not divide our Church between liberal (modern) and conservative (traditional), and then punish conservatives (traditionalists)?

      How about Francis admit he is in way over his head, and resign, ala Benedict?

    • Peter required correction, and guidance, and so does Francis.

      How old are you? What is your level and discipline of education? I know men in their 80s who have had little cognitive life experience, and I know men in their 20s who are brilliant ‘old sages’.

      You did little more than hurl ad hominem toward the author.

      Got anything more substantive to offer?

  7. Adam, I applaud your efforts to shed light on the Pope’s impromptu comments that the media is ready and willing to exploit. When I heard him call money “terrorism”, I too was deeply distrurbed. He life experience is in a socialist country. He has at least admitted, unlike Obama, that we are at war. I keep trusting that the Holy Father is being guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I trust in you! Thank you for your great insights.

  8. Delphin,
    You asking Pope Francis to resign is not in the code of canon law! St. John Paul II despensed with it for a reason. And he grew up in the Nazi and Soviet regimes. Fraud is always around the corner.

  9. This is not a Catholic website, and does not mirror the views of our congregation, the Holy Father, or the Scriptures. Shame on you!!!!!!

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