Speaking to World Jewish Congress head Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis uttered these penetrating words, “First it was your turn and now it is our turn.”
The pope was referring not just to the extermination of European Jewry and its Christian parallel in today’s Middle East, but equally to the silence with which the world reacted to the Holocaust and which now greets the current Christian genocide.
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis kisses the hand of a Jewish men at the Hall of Remembrance on May 26, 2014, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II, in Jerusalem Monday, May 26, 2014. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
As a form of fundamentalist Islam descends with appalling cruelty on Christian and other minority communities in the Middle East, the pope has prominently raised his voice in their defense. The pope cannot call for war, but he is using his office to confront the conscience of the world with their suffering.
In contrast, in his attempt to garner support for American-led air strikes on the Islamic State, President Barack Obama, standing before the United Nations, spent more time glorifying Islam than mentioning the victims of Islamic extremism.
And while most people killed by the fundamentalists have been other Muslims, there is a palpable linkage between the Islamic State and other forms of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping across Muslim communities all over the world.
In its early days, where did the Islamic State get its weaponry and the unending sea of white Toyota pickup trucks? Weapons and financing do not fall from the sky like manna.
Loose banking regulations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar have enabled wealthy individuals to fund the Islamic State. Yet, it is not as if these individuals had to work hard to evade government oversight. The Islamic State is rooted in the same Wahabbism that is the genesis of Saudi Arabia’s religious orthodoxy. The Islamic State was created as a means to defend Sunni interests against the hegemonic aspirations of Iran.
The Sunnis now realize that in confronting Iran through their proxy, the Islamic State, they have created their own nemesis.
The long run theological consonance, however, between Saudi Wahhabism and the Islamic State is an issue that will transcend the current conflict. As the world’s attention was focused on the Islamic State’s atrocities, the Saudis were arresting Christians for the crime of praying in a private home.
There are some two million Christians working in the Saudi Kingdom, and the Kingdom is the only country in the world where churches are officially outlawed. Most of these Christians are Catholics, who come from poor countries in Africa and Asia, which are unable to exert much influence on the kingdom.
The Islamic State did not morph out of the desert sands one day. It is a product of a virulent world-wide fundamentalism, a fundamentalism that originates in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State distributes Muhammad Ibn Al Wahhab’s books in the areas it conquers, showing its embrace of Saudi Wahhabi teachings.
It is the Saudis who have funded mosques in America and Middle East programs at our universities. The Saudi influence at the Harvard Center for Middle East Studies has been so strong that the center is seen as promoting the fundamentalist Saudi version of Islam while criticizing other religions. This, of course, is totally antithetical to the mission of any university but has gone unchallenged.
As a society, we are not only abandoning the Christian minority in the Middle East, we are also abandoning the Christian foundations of our way of life. Our socio-political system is not the product of some deism of the eighteenth century French enlightenment; it is the product of our Judeo-Christian heritage that evolved through an enlightened, tolerant, and inclusive Christianity.
That heritage has become mired in a pseudo multiculturalism that teaches us to extol the most vile forms of another’s oppression while continually questioning the virtues of our own heritage. Obama’s pronouncements at the U.N. are the embodiment of that mentality.
The Saudis have been successful in disseminating their view of Islam because we have failed to value our own culture. For a pot of porridge, we have given away our birthright.
If I had an audience with the pope, I would remind him of his piercing words to the World Jewish Congress president and note that it should never have been our turn, and because it was is all the more reason it should not now be your turn. The Holocaust should have so seared the conscience of humanity that no people should face the same attrocities.
The theology that transforms Christians into people who are not entitled to pray and not entitled to live needs to be confronted by a stronger theology, one that will reinvigorate the foundations of Christianity.
As long as young men and women are willing to die for hate rather than live for love, the Islamic State will be a force with which we will have to contend.
About the pope, Stalin once said sarcastically, “[h]ow many divisions does the Pope have, anyhow?”
Stalin failed to appreciate that an inspirational pope had more than divisions. He had a belief system that could arouse humanity. After all, Jesus, with only twelve apostles, changed the entire world.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and the author of, Fourteenth Street, A Chicago Story, a work of contemporary political fiction.
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