Pope Francis was in the online news recently because of what he said about Islam in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (n. 253). In this document of 288 numbered sections, there are 217 references, but there are no references for this statement regarding Islam. In response, the onepeterfive.com blog listed quotations from seven saints and a recent scholar who would have a hard time agreeing with the papal statement. Some of the statements by Catholic saints were made just prior to their being killed by Muslims for their refusal to convert to Islam. The papal wishful statement was in the context of hoping for mutual understanding and for better treatment of Christians in areas of Muslim dominance: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!” To which we can all say “Amen.”
Henry Kissinger made the headlines this week (9/9/14) with his new book, World Order (Penguin Press) in which he discusses the role of the West and especially America in responding to the rising challenge of militant Islam. According to the USA Today article (9/9/14), Kissinger thinks the United States “needs to strike the terror group in retaliation for the decapitation of two American journalists, then eliminate it ‘as an operating force in the region’ .”
That seems to be the conventional wisdom this week. But it was just a month ago that the papers were filled with reminiscences and second thoughts about the wisdom of European countries going into all-out war over the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary empire by a crazy Serb 100 years ago this past August. In my opinion, there is ample justification for a military response to ISIS, but the double murder of two Americans is a small part of it. Their murders have served to get the attention of President Obama, but any action based primarily on revenge or showing how tough we can be is bound to be ultimately tragic and fruitless in the long run. And, after all, America is not exactly innocent. Our liberal society murders some 4,000 unborn children every day, and the exclusion of God from public life and education is yielding such a high murder rate that these killings barely make the news.
A huge problem in America is the near deification of democracy. In terms of centuries of world history, Western democratic republics are still an experiment. They are based on Christian principles of the dignity of the human person, respect for minorities, and long-term self-interest that does not always seek what is best immediately for one’s own pocketbook. As St. John Paul II pointed out, the West is forgetting its own history and the faith on which Europe was based. It is all too easy to slip from democracy into demagoguery.
That’s sort of a long winded way of saying that as the secular but once-Christian West engages ISIS in what the latter sees as primarily a religious war, the West had better be clear about its limited objectives. May we be spared any talk about converting the Islamic world to democracy. As Kissinger noted, the United States has “been in five wars since World War II, and in only one can we say we’ve reached the objective stated. So we should state the objective that does not get us into an endless conflict.”
For a model, Kissinger suggests the 1839 Treaty of London which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, a small country that had been the battleground between other forces because of its strategic location. Others have suggested the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as a model—it concluded the Thirty Years war in which northern Germany had kept trying to impose its Protestantism on southern Germany. Will it take 30 years of warfare with militant Islam to arrive at an agreement not to try to impose your religion by force? But if conquest and conversion by force is built into the nature of Islam, can there ever be a peace that is more than a truce?
It seems to me that the bottom line has to be constant prayer for the conversion of Islam. We have been praying for the conversion of Russia for almost 100 years, and today we can see great progress. Russia has converted from its embrace of Communism. To be sure, its nationalism is up and running, and there is still much to pray for, but we have no grounds for discouragement.
So, it seems to me that there needs to be a very widespread and continued effort to spread the idea of praying simultaneously for the conversion of Islam and for the conversion of America and Europe as well as for the continued conversion of Russia. Perhaps my Seven Day Bible Rosary can help some folks in praying the daily rosary.
John F. Kippley, September 13, 2014 Click on the Seven Day Bible Rosary near the top of this website.