Speaking Truth to the Pope; Speaking Truth to Muslims
A Polish Catholic wrestles with her pontiff.
On Wednesday, July 27, Pope Francis arrived in Krakow, Poland, in order to celebrate World Youth Day. As part of this trip, the pope commented on controversy surrounding Muslim migration to Europe. Many of these comments reveal an apparent ignorance of Polish history and current reality, a privileging of Marxist and culturally relativist worldviews that distort reality, and an abandonment of true Christian ideals. I write as a devout Catholic. I wish my pope would read what I write here.
Western Europe, typified by Angela Merkel’s Germany, has encouraged mass, unvetted, Muslim migration. Germany has openly acknowledged that it is doing this to fill labor gaps created by its low birth rate. Too, Angela Merkel’s “compassion” is meant to wash away stereotypes nailing Germans to the nation’s Nazi past.
England, France, and other Western European nations also want to refurbish their brands. They want to escape the image of themselves as arrogant colonizers of Muslim nations, and be christened as certified tolerant multiculturalists. They want to escape the image of themselves as Crusaders.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have all expressed overt resistance to mass Muslim immigration. Their resistance is expressed in unambiguous terms that would render the speaker radioactive in Western Europe.
Western Europeans, including, sadly, the pope, have addressed Eastern Europeans in insulting and patronizing ways. They have completely ignored the history and current conditions that affect Eastern Europeans’ approach. Worst of all, they have not said what needs to be said to Muslim migrants. Western European arrogant posturing is making the migration crisis worse.
Eastern Europe, long the poorer half of Europe, sees mass, unvetted Muslim migration completely differently than Western Europe does. Concrete historical and contemporary differences with Western Europe condition Eastern European perspectives and offer a sobering corrective to Western errors.
Germany has a labor gap it must fill. Poland has a high unemployment rate. Poland, unlike Germany, was on the right side in World War II, so it does not face the same need that Germany does to tinker with its image. Unlike England and France, Poland never colonized any Muslim nation. Poland does not need to prove it has overcome its colonial past vis-à-vis Muslims.
Poland, aware of its own history, feels no need to certify itself as a tolerant, multicultural nation. The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was, as Eva Hoffman wrote in her book Shtetl, “a long experiment in multiculturalism avant la lettre.” That is, Poland was multicultural before the term “multicultural” was invented.
During the Wars of the Reformation, Poland was a “state without stakes.” For centuries its population included Lithuanians, one of the last holdouts of authentic Paganism in Europe, Arians, atheists, Jews, and others. Poland’s current religious and ethnic homogeneity is the result not primarily of Polish choices, but of German genocide, Churchill and Roosevelt colluding with Stalin to rejigger borders, and the 1968 Communist scapegoating of Jews. This is why Poles become uncomfortable when Westerners, including the Pope, lecture them about their need to be multicultural.
Further, Poles did not significantly participate in the Crusades. In fact, Polish Muslims fought side-by-side with Polish Catholics and Lithuanian Pagans against Crusader knights, the Teutonic knights, at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe and perhaps the largest battle to involve knights.
Eastern Europe is the poorer half of Europe for a variety of reasons. One is that Eastern Europe abuts the landmass of Asia and the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, Poland has had to fight invaders for its very survival. Often those invaders were Muslims. The Crimean Khanate and Al-Andalus made use of millions of Polish and other Slavic slaves. Poles, under Jan Sobieski, famously played a significant role in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at Vienna on September 11-12, 1683. Bernard Lewis cites this battle as the end of jihad’s expansion, and the beginning of Muslim self-doubt, a self-doubt it attempts to correct with its current jihad. As Lewis wrote, “This defeat, suffered by what was then the major military power of the Muslim world, gave rise to a new debate, which in a sense has been going on ever since. The argument began among the Ottoman military and political élite as a discussion of two questions: Why had the once victorious Ottoman armies been vanquished by the despised Christian enemy? And how could they restore the previous situation?”
All nations have their favorite targets for ethnic slurs. When Poles indulge in ethnic slurs, their targets have most often been Jews, Germans, Russians, and Ukrainians – that is, their most significant immediate neighbors. Hatred and stereotyping of Muslims has not traditionally been a big part of Polish cultural baggage. In fact, Poles proudly mention that Muslims have lived and practiced their faith in Poland since the 14th century. The Lipka Tatars were invited into Poland and given the status of nobility. They served in the military. Polish Muslims were granted autonomy, had the right to practice their religion and to intermarry with Polish Catholics. They had representation in the Polish Sejm, or parliament. These Muslims largely Polonized, adopting Polish language and culture. Except in the 17th century, during the Ottoman Empire’s attacks, there were few reports of conflict between these Muslims and Polish Catholics. Rather, Polish Catholics tended to speak of these Muslims as an interesting part of the country’s history and evidence of the country’s multiculturalism and tolerance.
Too, during WW II and Stalinist population transfers, many Poles found themselves in Muslim Central Asia. Typical Polish refugee survivor stories do not include anti-Muslim stereotyping. One such Polish memoirist, Edward Herzbaum, wrote a picturesque account of his time spent in Muslim Central Asia:
“There is a bright moon and some wind. As we stop for a few moments, the exotic landscape is striking, like an intoxicating scent. The tall poplars wave and rustle; the clay walls of the hovels are lit up brilliantly by the moon and the small windows look completely black. Under some trees somebody is laughing or talking in a gentle voice and then there is silence again, but it is full of life. Everything which is dead in the heat of the day is now awake, a life so lush and vibrant that it is difficult to describe. There is also the wind, hungry and restless like a young animal, coming down from the mountains and blowing above the fertile, fragrant valley. It runs amok and then it’s silent again.”
It is true that anti-Muslim sentiment is strong and often expressed in Poland today. Current anti-Muslim feeling in Poland is a new development. Younger Poles are most likely to resist Muslim migration, according to the Christian Science Monitor. This new hostility to Muslims and Islam references current jihad actions and Western Europe’s apparent inability to address them. In spite of their history of being the targets of Crusader knights’ aggression, Poles have sometimes chosen the image of the Crusader knight to express their current disagreement with Western Europe’s migration policies, as did soccer fans in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2015, when they displayed a huge banner depicting Poland as a knight defending Christendom from invading Muslims.
In short, Eastern Europe is very different from Western Europe when it comes to historical interactions with Muslims, and when it comes to the contemporary economic and cultural forces affecting decisions about Muslim immigration.
If only Pope Francis showed awareness of these realities. Instead Pope Francis ignored both Polish reality and Catholic truth in his public statements. He told Poles that they must “overcome fear and to achieve the greater good.” “Needed,” the pope said, “is a spirit of readiness to welcome those fleeing from wars and hunger, and solidarity with those deprived of their fundamental rights, including the right to profess one’s faith in freedom and safety.”
The day before the pope traveled to Poland, Father Jacques Hamel, a French priest in his eighties, was saying mass in his church in the French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, France. Jihadis invaded his church, forced the priest to his knees, and cut his throat, in accord with Koranic teachings (Koran 47:4, 8:12, 9:5). The jihadis then used nuns as human shields in their escape attempt. The martyrdom of Father Jacques was, of course, merely the most recent in a series of deadly jihad attacks in Western European nations eagerly inviting Muslim migrants, attacks that are steadily eating away at what one had thought of as normal life in Western Civilization.
Under such conditions, there is much that Catholics and others yearn to hear from a leader of the stature of the pope. While traveling to Poland, the pope acknowledged to journalists that a war is being waged.
“But it’s a real war, not a religious war. It’s a war of interests, a war for money. A war for natural resources and for the dominion of the peoples. Some might say it’s a religious war. Every religion wants peace. The war is wanted by the others. Understood?”
This Catholic shudders.
The pope’s statement that the current jihad is “a war for money” is a Marxist analysis. The idea that wars are fought over markets and resources is entirely Marxist.
The pope said “Every religion wants peace.” This is a statement of cultural relativism. In fact, religions are significantly different, and not all religions do have the same approach to peace. In Islam, peace comes after submission to Allah, a submission that is achieved through violence. Violence to spread Islam is the highest good. Paradise lies under the shade of swords, says one hadith; another locates paradise in the space between an archer’s targets. To learn to shoot and to abandon shooting is a sin. Compare this hadith to Isaiah’s call for a day when we beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Koran 3:157 guarantees paradise for jihadis. There are no parallels to any of these verses in Christianity.
The pope also said, “ The war is wanted by the others. Understood?” This cryptic statement will be jumped upon by conspiracy theorists, all too many of whom live in the Muslim world and use conspiracy theories to avoid confrontation with Islam’s failures. The “others”, the “unseen hands” who “want war” have all too often been identified by conspiracy theorists as Jews. No, I am not saying that Pope Francis is implicating Jews here. He is not. I am saying that conspiracy theorists eat statements like this up.
One must ask, though, who are “the others” the pope is claiming are behind jihad terror? I don’t know. I do know that such escape routes to honest thought do nothing to help Muslims confront what they must confront.
Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis, writing in Politico, indicts Poland. Poles are “disrespectful” of Pope Francis. Poles had built “walls” that they wanted to see maintained. Poles inexplicably see Christendom as “beleaguered.” This is a mere hangover from the Communist Era. Poles are “nervous of contamination.” There is a “darker side” to Poles’ worldview. “Polish Catholics suffer from a superiority complex.” But Ivereigh attempts to sound tolerant. “Polish Catholics can be forgiven for thinking that their church has done something right.” But this attitude is “dangerous.” Poland is “unsparingly anti-immigrant.” For some reason, Poles “harbor strong anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment and see a link between immigration and terrorism.” “Pope Francis, on the other hand, has called Europe’s willingness to take refugees a test of its principles. God’s mercy – the theme of this week’s World Youth Day in Poland, and the cornerstone of Francis’s teaching – is most evident, he believes, in our willingness to embrace strangers.”
Ivereigh’s themes of paranoid Poles still reeling from Communism who must be condescended to by superior Westerners is all too typical of journalistic coverage of the pope’s visit to Krakow.
Most grievously, the pope’s and the journalists’ Marxist and cultural relativist approaches abandon the truths of the Bible. It doesn’t take a theologian to point out that the Muslim world is in deep trouble. Muslim nations dominate lists of the worst nations on earth to be a woman, or a political prisoner, or a Christian, or a homosexual. The UN Arab Human Development Report is an index of the failure of the larger Muslim world. Numbers on literacy, health care, research and innovation are all the opposite of what anyone wants to see. Just one statistic: “in the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.” As Samuel P. Huntington wrote, “Islam has bloody borders.” Jihad-inspired armed conflict occurs throughout the Muslim world, from Africa to East Asia.
The pope, and journalists like Austen Ivereigh, prescribe Marxist analysis and cultural relativism as the answer to these Islam-induced, or certainly at least Islam-associated agonies.
Their answer can be reduced to, “If sexually assaulting, imprisoning, and honor killing women, murdering priests, suppressing freedom of speech and of conscience, and committing suicide bombings is not working for you in your own country, please bring them to ours, and we will welcome you with open arms.”
They are calling this approach “compassionate” and “Christian.”
It is neither.
True Christian compassion calls for truth. Old Testament Biblical prophets never spared the Israelites the harshest of truths about themselves, about their mistakes and what they needed to do to mend their ways.
Jesus, too, was not one to mince words. He told miscreants to their face, without offering any verbal hiding places, what they were doing wrong and what they needed to do to get things right. “Go and sell all your possessions and give your money to the poor,” he said to a rich man. “You have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman. Jesus fearlessly said to Pontius Pilate, the man about to sentence him to a torturous death, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to truth.”
It’s time for the pope and Catholic journalists and others to speak to Muslims – not to Polish Catholics, an easy target but to Muslims – the way that Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke to Israel, the way that Jesus spoke to everyone from a woman at a well to Pontius Pilate himself.
Counter-jihad is about truth, not hate. We Catholics mourn the martyrdom of Father Jacques, but we know he is in Heaven now. We have reason to assume that his murderers are in Hell. We Catholics have a responsibility to speak the truths that will help our Muslim brothers and sisters escape not just the earthly hells their beliefs and customs have created, but also eternal damnation. It is time for the pope to stop falling back on Marxist and culturally relativist interpretations. It is time for him to stop patronizing devout Polish Catholics. It is time for him to join the counter-jihad, and to speak the truth to Muslims out of love.