In recent years it has become fashionable to condemn Pope Pius XII (and, by implication, the Catholic Church) for his silence regarding Nazi persecution of the Jews. In fact, Pius confronted and condemned the Nazis on numerous occasions, and the Vatican saved more Jewish lives than any other organization apart from the Allied armies. The charge of remaining silent in the face of great evil could, however, much more plausibly be leveled against today’s Catholics—and not only Catholics, but Christians in general—for their failure to speak out against the evils perpetrated in the name of Islam. The reason that we don’t hear such criticism is that just about everyone has elected to remain silent on this topic, including those who usually delight in going after Christians. In fact, the critics of Pope Pius XII became upset with Pope Benedict XVI for not remaining silent about Islamic violence on the occasion of his speech at Regensburg. John Cornwell, the author of Hitler’s Pope, and a rabid critic of Pius, condemned Benedict’s speech as “incendiary” and “abrasive.” Apparently, when confronted with the greatest evil of your own time, silence is golden.
So, there is plenty of silence to go around, but Christian silence is particularly disturbing because Christians are supposed to answer to a higher authority than prevailing opinion. In addition, Christians can’t very well claim ignorance since much of recent Muslim animosity has been directed toward Christians. Here are some recent headlines:
- Iran: Protestant clergyman tortured for converting Muslims
- 500 butchered in Nigeria killing fields
- Pakistan: Christian couple gets 25 years in prison for allegedly touching Qur’an with dirty hands
- Four churches firebombed in Malaysia for using “Allah” for God
- Egypt: At least six Christians killed in shooting outside church
- Christians in Iraq fear extinction
The response to all this on the part of Christian leaders has been muted. In fact, many Christians seem more worried about the dangers of Islamophobia than about the persecution of fellow Christians. For instance, Protestant and Catholic clergy throughout Europe have strongly condemned the recent Swiss vote to ban construction of new minarets. Likewise, in France the clergy seem more focused on a possible ban of the burqa than on the precarious situation of Christians in Muslim countries. In Holland a majority of Dutch clergy have condemned Geert Wilders as un-Christian for speaking out against Islamic violence. And at a “Christian-Muslim Summit” held at the Washington National Cathedral in early March, the harshest words in the final statement were reserved for the media, which was challenged to live up to its responsibility of “stemming the tide of Islamophobia.”
A few weeks earlier, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued his own warning against Islamophobia. “We must not fear Islam,” he said at a theology congress in Granada, and added, “dialogue alone allows us to overcome fear, because it allows one to experience the discovery of the other…” So, it seems the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Once you get to know the other fellow and his religion—“experience the discovery of the other” and all that—your fears will melt away. In a January interview with L’ Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Tauran decried the “feeling of fear” associated with the Swiss minaret vote. “I wonder,” he said, “if these persons [who are afraid] know Muslims, if they have ever opened the Qur’an.”
Just be careful not to open it with dirty hands if you happen to be living in Pakistan. The point is, a lot of Christians living in the Muslim world are discovering the otherness of the other—often at the business end of a machete. What many professional dialoguers fail to appreciate is the almost total otherness of the Islamic belief system. It’s one thing to encounter the “other” in the carpeted rooms of the inter-faith meetings in Washington and Rome; it’s another thing to encounter him in a society where he has complete power to enforce his will and his religion on you.
Christian self-indictment isn’t the worst of it. While some Christians agonize over Islamophobia, others seem to be OK with Judeophobia. Thus, a number of mainline churches are devoting their energies not to seeking justice for fellow Christians, but to echoing Muslim complaints against Israel. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently disseminated to its members a statement by 16 Palestinian Christians declaring that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity…” And a report issued by Arab Catholic bishops in January blames the sufferings of Christians in the Arab world not on their Muslim persecutors but on the Israeli presence in the West Bank. So the next time a Christian Copt in Egypt steps out of his church into a hail of gunfire, blame the Jews.
Were Christians silent during the Nazi era? Some were, some even collaborated. On the other hand, some resisted, some risked their lives to save Jews. But the pertinent question for us is how would we react if faced with a similar evil. Right now we have a situation that is eerily reminiscent of the rise of Nazism: in this case the rise of a fanatical ideology that seeks world domination while calling, as the Nazis did, for the extermination of the Jews. Islamists even read the same books. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, is a bestseller in the Middle-East as well as in the Muslim sections of European cities. The anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, also sells briskly. Hitler is a hero in some Muslim countries. Rabid anti-Semitism is an established fact of life on European and American campuses, and Jews are once again fleeing Europe. This is not a matter of history repeating itself in some subtle way that future historians will be able to sort out 50 years hence. This is history grabbing you by the collar, pulling you up close, and snarling, “Remember me?”
After World War II many Germans claimed that they didn’t know the extent of Nazi atrocities. And since the Nazis did keep some of their activities hidden, there may well have been many Germans who knew nothing about the killing camps. Nowadays, it’s a little more difficult to claim ignorance, what with the streaming headlines at the bottom of your TV screen itemizing the daily toll taken by Islamic suicide bombers. After 15,000 Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11, the picture seems fairly clear. Why don’t Christians get it? The answer is that a considerable number of Christians seem to have confused their Christian faith with the more popular religion of tolerance—a religion which is mainly concerned with displays of multicultural respect.
So, in regard to Islam, many Christians are more eager to demonstrate their tolerance than to understand the facts. As Faith McDonnell of the Institute of Religion and Democracy puts it:
Many churches are obsessed with making themselves likeable to Islamists…such churches opt for sessions of feel-good dialogue with the local mosque, gushing about how much Christianity and Islam have in common, and never challenging Muslims to serious debate on those so-called commonalities…
Today’s culturally sensitive Christians haven’t grasped the point that if there really were a lot of common ground between Islam and Christianity it would not be wise to advertise it. It’s a bit like bragging that you have a lot in common with the neighborhood bully who beats his wife. In short, searching for common ground with a tyrannical religious ideology is a formula for discrediting your own faith.
The religion of tolerance affords many opportunities for self-congratulation, but not for clear thinking. All moral/religious codes are not created equal. And to speak and act as though they are is to engage in a form of lying. Christians who keep quiet about the crimes of Islam or make excuses for them should stop congratulating themselves on their open mindedness, and should ask, instead, how they differ from all those Europeans who looked the other way when crimes were being committed in the Nazi era.
The record of Pope Pius XII is still being debated, but most of the evidence shows that he spoke out strongly against the Nazis and in defense of Jews. His efforts were not limited to formal protests, but also included initiatives to protect and shelter Jews throughout Europe. Historian David Dalin notes that in Rome alone, in response to the Pope’s request, “155 convents and monasteries sheltered some five thousand Jews… No fewer than three thousand Jews found refuge at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence…Pope Pius himself granted sanctuary within the walls of the Vatican in Rome to hundreds of homeless Jews.”
When the pope and other Catholic bishops did not speak out, it was often at the request of Jewish leaders who feared Nazi retaliation—a justified fear, seeing that the very strong protests by the Dutch bishops in July 1942 against the deportation of the Jews provoked the most savage of Nazi reprisals against the Jews.
But that is not the reason that so many Christians today remain silent about Islamic crimes. While it’s undoubtedly true that some church officials temper their words for fear of retaliation against their Christian brethren in the Muslim world, the majority of Western Christians are barely aware that they have brethren in places like Egypt, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Their silence is the silence of those who are blind to the danger—blinded by their faith in multicultural myths about moral equivalence, and blinded in part by the glow of their own self-regard. Tolerance is fine up to a point, and it does wonders for one’s self-esteem. But as Thomas Mann said, “Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” We’ve reached the point where Christians need to subordinate their search for self-esteem to a search for facts.
William Kilpatrick’s articles on Islam have appeared in Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Register, Jihad Watch, World, and Investor’s Business Daily.