The atrocities perpetrated by ISIS (or IS, ISIL) on Christians and other religious minorities of Iraq is both an unspeakable tragedy and an opportunity to do some soul searching. Outrage and apprehension are the order of the day. We are really good at the ineffectual intellectualization of the problem, and on the other hand, we also excel at expressing the crusading spirit from the comfort of our padded chairs and the safety of Internet. But we have been short on effective action.
The big question being asked right now is why is it that ostensibly peaceful Muslims are so silent about the persecution of their Arab brothers and sisters. But an equally large question is why is it that the West is so impotent in the face of all the genocide, which it alone is capable of stopping. What else has to happen? How many more babies need to be cut in half, journalists beheaded, or women sold into slavery (etc.)?
In this context “dialogue” is frequently juxtaposed with “crusade,” as mutually exclusive answers. What is politically correct on the left in this regard just not exclude a healthy dose of political correctness on the right. Our options are to ignore the fact that Islam by its very nature is subject to fanaticism and radicalization of the worst kind, or to symbolically take the Cross and imagine ourselves the knights of a new crusade.
But Pope Francis is calling for a decisive but measured use of force to stop the genocide—not a war or crusade, but an intervention with as much violence as it takes, but no more. It seems to me, this is a dose of realism.
One will recall that in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict’s address occasioned a firestorm of violence around the Islamic world because he quoted the following statement of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus:
Show me just what Mohammed 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.
Subsequently, Pope Benedict added a footnote to the text of his lecture, in which he made it clear that he did not agree with this conclusion of the emperor, but did think that his major premise was valid. Manuel II believed that it is thoroughly unreasonable and inhuman to spread the faith trough violence. And to act contrary to reason is contrary to God’s nature. Again, Pope Benedict quotes Manuel II:
Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”
Pope Benedict has rightly been called prophetic in this regard, because in his address he provides a reasoned and wholly Christian basis for resisting with measured violence the unreason of Islam. At least that is the conclusion that many of us have reached.
In fact, however, Pope Benedict’s address was not about the just use of violence but about a very specific kind of cultural and religious dialogue. When Pope Benedict brings up the statements of Manuel II he does so in the context of the dialogue the emperor was conducting with an educated Persian “on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.”
The problem is not dialogue per se, but rather a certain type of dialogue that is divorced from truth. Both the Emperor Manuel II in 1391 near Ankara and Pope Benedict in 2006 in Regensburg were engaged in dialogue, precisely because they were interested in speaking about the truth.
Less than two months before he announced his renunciation of the papacy, Pope Benedict spoke on the questions of dialogue and proclamation in the context of the new evangelization. Dialogue is different than proclamation insofar as its purpose is not conversion but understanding as a prerequisite for peace in the world. However, even considered apart from evangelization, which does have as its purpose conversion, dialogue ought not to be cause for the Christian to loose his identity or to block the path of the non-Christian to the truth. There are limits to what dialogue can accomplish, because there is only one source of salvation.
In other words, both Manuel II and Pope Benedict, who quoted him, recognize that evangelization is integrally connected with the ability to have a conversation based on both truth and understanding. What this means is that there are no easy answers, which is exactly what the blogosphere do not want to hear. So pundits will continue to spout platitudes about the “religion of peace” and the equally misguided and anachronistic slogan “Deus vult.”
Intervention vs. Invasion
The dialogue that Pope Benedict has urged upon both East and West is not based on sentimentality, and in respect to Islam. It is not primarily religious, but cultural dialogue, that is, not one based on faith, but on reason. Whatever war is waged against ISIS, Hamas and the brotherhood of fanatics, when the bombs stop dropping, the bullets stop flying and the dust settles, the Christians in the Middle East (the few that are left) will still be living with a Muslim majority. No one can afford to despair of the possibility of Islam finding “a place in modern society”—one based on reason and respect for the life and dignity of every human person.
We must remember that Pope Benedict’s criticisms in his Regensburg address were not exclusively directed at Islam. The West pretends to be the great guardian of reason, but it has largely denied the natural law. We are ill prepared to make decisions about the just, measured and yet effective use of force in matters such as the situations in Iraq and Syria.
It has been suggested that Pope Francis’s exhortation to stop ISIS with the use of force, but without creating a new war, and doing so in conjunction with the international community, constitutes a reversal of the Church’s teaching on just war. But what it more likely means is that Pope Francis is skeptical that Western leaders are intellectually, morally and culturally prepared to deal with the complexities of the current situation, without a great deal of checks and balances (as well as prayer for a miracle). We have shown ourselves very good at making horrible situations worse. Still, the answer is not to do nothing.
The Christians and other religious minorities of Iraq rightly call for the West to intervene. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako is holding the U.S responsible for the persecution of Christians in Iraq. And this is not just a matter of the weak and ineffectual response to ISIS thus far. He holds America responsible for everything that has happened to Christians over the last decade. The situation is incalculable worse than it was before the invasion of Iraq.
Nor is he naïve about his Arab brothers who are “peaceful” Muslims, or about his own brother patriarchs. It seems that everyone has been paralyzed with fear and prepared to live in denial.
Archbishop Amel Nona, Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul wants us to know that we are next:
Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
True dialogue is not the refusal to deal with reality. ISIS needs to be eliminated and Islam in general has to be considered honestly and objectively. The question is not really whether it is possible to be a good Muslim and live peaceably in society. The question is how to strategically protect society from Islamic fanatics and at the same time bring those Muslims who have not been radicalized to a place where they are no longer susceptible to fanaticism. Perhaps that means that we would be better off with bad Muslims than good Muslims. What is certain is that putting our head in the sand is just stupid, and the idea that Islam can be controlled or eliminated by force is not what the Church is recommending. It is not even possible. The strategic, timely, and vigorous use of force to protect innocent, combined with dialogue in truth and understanding is the only way forward. And it is the only way to bring those most in need of God’s mercy to the grace of Jesus Christ. There will be no conversion to Christ and his Church without the whole package.
The moral and cultural malaise of the West as well as the fanaticism and fear of the East are problems that will not go away soon. And we have reasons to fear that the politicians who wave the rainbow banner simply do not have the wherewithal to oppose Islam. But neither do they have the kind of moral gravity and fortitude that is necessary to defend the innocent in a way will make the situation better instead of worse.
Conversion is a function of conviction. The fanatics of the East have too much and the effetes and bullies of the West have too little. So we now will attempt to “degrade and destroy” ISIS so as to make sure that its “sphere of influence” is a “manageable problem.” This claptrap is more of the same. It fails to meet the real problem realistically. ISIS simply needs to be eliminated. Period.
The problem is definitely one of a need for conversion, nearly as much among those of the Christian West as among those in the Islamic East. We need to pray to Our Lady of Fatima for the grace to live the life of Christian charity, so that we will have the conviction and strength necessary to protect the innocent as well as to die martyrs. The opportunities to do both abound.