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The Vatican's New Realism about Islam

Robert Spencer

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"...in all the places where Islam imposed itself by military force...Christianity, which had been extraordinarily vigorous and rooted for centuries, practically disappeared or was reduced to tiny islands in an endless Islamic sea."

The semi-official Jesuit magazine La Civiltą Cattolica has done nothing less than shock the world by publishing an absolutely scathing criticism of the mistreatment that Christians suffer in Islamic societies. Why so shocking? It's a sharp break with Pope John Paul II's long-standing policy toward Islam, which some have characterized as "dialogue to the point of extremism." Nothing is published in La Civiltą Cattolica without the approval of the Vatican Secretary of State -- so this blistering article presumably corresponds to the views of some very high placed Vatican officials, if not the ailing Pope himself.

The Civiltą Cattolica piece represents the first indication that any Catholic Church officials recognize the dimensions of the religious conflict that jihadists are waging against Christians and others around the world. Up to now the signals have all been in the other direction: the Pope has been such a relentless proponent of dialogue with Islam that Rome's criticism of the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries has been muted. And in a paroxysm of enthusiasm for peace and brotherhood, he actually kissed the Qur'an on May 14, 1999, during an audience with several Muslim officials from Iraq and the late Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Raphael I Bidawid. Aghast attendees preserved the moment in pictures, which now can be found on numerous websites -- mostly of the tinfoil-hat variety, which use the photos to support their claims that the Pope has no legitimate claim to lead the Church and may even be the Anti-Christ.

Certainly the Pope's Qur'an kiss was a moment that would have appalled the saints and martyrs who encountered in Islam a relentless and implacable enemy over many centuries of the Church's life. But perhaps those great souls were mollified by this new Civiltą Cattolica article, which is just the opposite of naļve and appeasement-minded irenicism. The article brushes aside decades of misleading historical revisionism about the Muslim conquests, daring to point out that "in all the places where Islam imposed itself by military force, which has few historical parallels for its rapidity and breadth, Christianity, which had been extraordinarily vigorous and rooted for centuries, practically disappeared or was reduced to tiny islands in an endless Islamic sea."

Civiltą Cattolica also counters the dozens of misleadingly incomplete analyses of jihad that Muslim advocacy groups have used to befuddle the public over the last few years. Jihad, it points out, "has two meanings, both of which are equally essential and must not be dissociated, as if one could exist without the other. In its primary meaning, jihad indicates the 'effort' that the Muslim must undertake to be faithful to the precepts of the Koran and so improve his 'submission' (islam) to Allah; in the second, it indicates the 'effort' that the Muslim must undertake to 'fight in the way of Allah,' which means fighting against the infidels and spreading Islam throughout the world. Jihad is a precept of the highest importance, so much so that it is sometimes counted among the fundamental precepts of Islam, as its sixth 'pillar.'" The only meaning of jihad you will get from American Muslim spokesmen is the first. Is there some reason why they don't want you to know that radicals are acting on the second all over the world today?

Contrary to another prevailing myth, that Christian-Muslim enmity began with the Christian Crusades, the article states: "All of Islamic history is dominated by the idea of the conquest of the Christian lands of Western Europe and of the Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople." Warfare was initiated by the Muslim armies that swept into Syria and other Christian areas of the Middle East within just a few years of the death of Muhammad in 632. The first Crusade wasn't called until 1095.

"In reality," says Civiltą Cattolica, "for almost a thousand years Europe was under constant threat from Islam, which twice put its survival in serious danger." Now, in its radical, terrorist form, it is doing so again -- but up until now no one at the Vatican, and precious few elsewhere, have taken much notice.

The article also speaks forthrightly about the traditional Islamic doctrines that radical Muslims exploit in order to subjugate non-Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and others, classified as "idolaters" because they are not listed as "People of the Book" (that is, people with a revealed scripture) in the Qur'an, are given a harsh choice: "convert to Islam, or be killed." Jews, Christians, and other "People of the Book," however, have a third choice: "Muslims must 'fight them until their members pay tribute, one by one, humiliated' (Koran, Sura 9:29)." This is the foundation of dhimmitude, the inferior status that traditional Islamic law mandates for Christians and Jews in Islamic society, ensuring that they feel themselves "humiliated" in myriad ways.

What about Islamic tolerance? Another myth. "According to Muslim law," Civiltą Cattolica notes correctly (and courageously), "Christians, Jews, and the followers of other religions assimilated to Christianity and Judaism (the 'Sabeans') who live in a Muslim state belong to an inferior social order, in spite of their eventually belonging to the same race, language, and descent. . . . The 'people of the Book' (Ahl al-Kitab) becomes the 'protected people' (Ahl al-dhimma). In exchange for this 'protection,' the 'people of the Book' must pay a tax (jizya) to the Islamic state." Dhimmis could avoid this tax by converting to Islam, but often that way was blocked as well: "Muslims, especially in the early centuries, did not look favorably upon such conversions, because they represented a grave loss to the treasury, which flourished in direct proportion to the number of the dhimmi, who paid both the personal tax and the land tax."

The tax was accompanied by numerous humiliating regulations. "As for the freedom of worship, the dhimmi are prohibited only from external manifestations of worship, such as the ringing of bells, processions with the cross, solemn funerals, and the public sale of religious objects or other articles prohibited for Muslims. . . . The dhimmi may maintain or repair the churches or synagogues they already have, but, unless there is a treaty permitting them to own land, they may not build new places of worship, because to do this they would need to occupy Muslim land, which can never be ceded to anyone, having become, through Muslim conquest, land 'sacred' to Allah."

And if a dhimmi rejected this "protection"? "According to the gravity of each case, the penalty could be the confiscation of goods, reduction to slavery, or death -- unless the person who had committed the crimes converted to Islam. In that case, all penalties were waived." How tolerant.

Although the laws of dhimmitude are not in force today except where the Sharia is the law of the land, Civiltą Cattolica correctly notes that they remain as cultural hangovers, making for discrimination, harassment, and sometimes even persecution of Christians even in ostensibly secular or semi-secular lands such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria. Moreover, the institutionalized oppression and inequality of dhimmitude, as I explain in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers, is still part of the Sharia that radical Muslims are trying to impose everywhere. "Radical Islam," says Civiltą Cattolica, "which proposes that shari'a law be instituted in every Islamic state, is gaining ground in many Muslim countries, in which groups of Christians are also present. It is evident that the institution of shari'a would render the lives of Christians rather difficult, and their very existence would be constantly in danger. This is the cause of the mass emigration of Christians from Islamic countries to Western countries: Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia." The article also details the sufferings, and sometimes the cold-blooded murder, of Christians today in Pakistan, Sudan, and elsewhere -- by Muslims who saw their actions as just by virtue of the complex of dhimmi laws.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the post-9/11 world has been the general unwillingness to acknowledge the true nature of the conflict. Donald Rumsfeld just drew flack when he recently remarked: "We are in a war of ideas, as well as a global war on terror." But radical Muslims are waging a war of ideas, on behalf of their vision of a society constituted according to Islamic law. If the West is unable to counter this vision successfully with ideas of its own, no amount of daisy cutters and high-tech weaponry will be able to forestall its ultimate defeat. A key first step to fighting and winning a war of ideas is having the courage to point out the deficiencies of the competing ideas. Clearly someone at the Vatican has gone from kissing the Qur'an to reading it, and has at last taken this step.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of "Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West" (new from Regnery Publishing), and "Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith" (Encounter Books).

Read this article on the Frontpage Magazine website. Reprinted with permission of the author



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