It is often said that when Admiral Yamamoto ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, he awakened a sleeping giant. Even though the Nazis had occupied much of Europe, bombed London, and advanced to the outskirts of Moscow, the United States was still slumbering on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Although we were aiding the anti-Nazi forces through Lend-Lease shipments and other forms of support, isolationist sentiment remained strong in America. The mood of complacency was succinctly captured in the 1942 wartime film Casablanca:
Rick: If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?
Sam: What? My watch stopped.
Rick: I bet they’re asleep in New York. I bet they’re asleep all over America.
America woke up, but barely in time. Our allies were in disarray, a major part of our Pacific fleet lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, and the Wehrmacht was well-armed, well-trained, and highly experienced. Another year of delay and the fate of Europe might have been sealed, and our own future made that much more uncertain.
The Cold War which followed on the heels of World War II kept America on its toes for four more decades, but after the fall of the Soviet system, the sleeping giant resumed its slumber. Then came September 11, 2001—an attack which cost more American lives than Pearl Harbor. It was a classic wake-up call. And for a while, the giant awoke. The American homeland went on high alert and forces were mobilized to attack the enemy’s base in Afghanistan. However, with the relatively easy defeat of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the sleeping giant rolled over and went back to sleep. There seemed to be no more threat to our homeland and no serious threat to our military. As a result, the Army is being shrunk to pre-World War II levels, and the Navy to pre-World War I size. Meanwhile, social experimentation has become all the rage. Concern over the strength of the military has taken a back seat to concern over its sensitivity to diversity.
Because we went back to sleep, the Islamic threat to the world is significantly greater today than it was on September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda is stronger than ever and active in numerous countries. ISIS controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, millions in Africa live in fear of Boko Haram and Al-Shaabab, Afghanistan looks like it will return to Taliban control, Iran will soon have nuclear weapons, and Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO, appears to have more sympathy for radical Islam than for its NATO allies.
America, the sleeping giant, may yet wake up again, but even if it does, it’s not at all clear that it’s up to the task of combating the ideology that fuels the fighting. The war with Islamic militants is both an armed conflict and a culture war. Some of the militants fight with machine guns and mortars, and some fight using weapons of propaganda and political intimidation.
But the most powerful weapon that the jihadists wield is religion. The promises made by Islam to young warriors bring in the recruits, and the fact that Islam is a religion keeps the critics away. Islamic ideology is immune from criticism in a way that Nazism and Communism never were.
The other sleeping giant
And that is where the other sleeping giant comes in. I refer, of course, to the Catholic Church. Since the conflict with Islam—the “clash of civilizations”—is in large part a religious-spiritual struggle, secular governments are not well-equipped to deal with it, or even to understand it. No one expects the Church to raise an army, but we might expect it to be better prepared for the kind of spiritual and theological combat that is now called for.
Unfortunately, the Church has not shown itself to be any more astute about the nature of the struggle than secular Western governments. And that, in large part, is because many in the Church have succumbed to secular thinking about the subject. Rather than viewing the conflict through a religious lens, many Church leaders tend to parrot the secular assessment that Islam is a religion of peace, that Islamic violence has nothing to do with Islam, and that jihad is caused by poverty and oppression.
Despite the widespread slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities in the Muslim world, the Church seems unable to mount the kind of resistance to Islam that it mustered against Nazis and communists during the twentieth century. The pagan and/or atheist nature of the twentieth–century totalitarian ideologies made it easier to oppose them, but Islam’s status as a fellow religion greatly confuses the issue for today’s Catholic leaders, many of whom seem to think that religion is ipsofacto a good thing.
The Church is a sleeping giant in relation to Islam. If it were to wake from its slumber, it would be a powerful force in resisting the re-emergence of Islam as a world-threatening power. As it is, however, many Church leaders are asleep to the dangers. Even while churches are burning and Christians are fleeing for their lives, they prefer to live in a dreamworld in which all religions are presumed to be like Christianity and in which the realization of interreligious harmony is imagined to be just a dialogue away.
It would be bad enough if the sleeping giant were merely asleep to what have become glaringly obvious realities about Islam. What is worse is that the giant has gotten into the habit of putting its strength and influence in the service of dubious agendas. In America, Catholic students are usually taught that Islam is a religion of peace with which Catholics share much in common. Apparently, that even includes the Wahhabi brand of Islam. Georgetown University, whose Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding is lavishly funded by a Saudi prince, has taken a leading role in promoting the Arabian peninsula’s chief export—which is not oil, but rather a well-oiled campaign of global proselytization.
It’s not just the universities that are presenting a false picture of Islam. A professor I know who teaches at a Catholic seminary had his course cancelled because it was not in conformity with another course that offered a rose-colored picture of Islam. Meanwhile, when they are not busy attempting to silence Catholic critics of Islamic aggression, Catholic bishops in America are engaged in a fruitless series of dialogues that only serve to lend legitimacy to dubious Islamist organizations. As it turns out, the American bishops’ main dialogue partners are members of groups with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood—the very organization that encouraged and abetted the vicious persecution of Christians in Egypt during Mohamed Morsi’s brief reign. While Catholics in the Muslim world face extermination, some Catholic leaders in the U.S. are running interference for the American affiliates of the persecutors.
The Church in Europe is even more aggressive in its support of Islamic-friendly policies. When the French Senate voted to ban the burqa and when the Swiss voted to ban minarets, Catholic prelates, such as Cardinal Tauran, were highly critical. In 2008, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales called for Muslim prayer rooms to be opened in every Catholic school along with special toilet facilities for Islamic cleansing rituals. More significantly, the Church has given full backing to immigration policies that seem guaranteed to make Islam the dominant power in the continent in the not distant future. The mass influx of Muslim immigrants has already resulted in a wave of anti-Semitism unlike anything seen since the Nazi occupation. And continued Islamic immigration will almost certainly result in the dhimmification of European Christians—most probably sooner than later. Meanwhile, when tens of thousands of peaceful citizens, many of them families with children, marched against “Islamization” and sang “Silent Night” in front of Dresden’s opera house, they were roundly condemned both by Catholic and Protestant prelates. The Catholic archbishop of Bamburg accused the PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) group of spreading “racial hatred” and stirring up “irrational anxieties” and he forbade Christians to take part in the rallies.
How many wake-up calls?
The Catholic Church, once the main bulwark against the Islamization of the West, has now—out of an abundance of naiveté—become in many cases a conduit of Islamization. What sort of Pearl Harbor-like event would it take to wake the sleeping giant? Would the flight of over 200,000 Christians in Egypt in the space of a year send a wake-up call? How about the exodus of approximately a million Christians from Iraq? The martyrdom of over 10,000 Christians in Northern Nigeria? The killing of an estimated two million Christians in Sudan? These are not hypothetical events. They have already come to pass—and in relatively recent times. The earliest of these events was the slaughter of Christians by Muslims in Sudan between 1983 and 1995. And these figures do not even take into account the latest atrocities. All these events occurred before the appearance of Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq. The recent spate of church bombings, rapes, beheadings, and crucifixions are simply a continuation of a centuries-long pattern of Christian persecution in the name of Islam.
A recent BBC news report carries the headline, “Catholic bishops from around the world are calling for an end to fossil fuel use.” According to the report, the bishops, who were attending a UN-sponsored climate change conference, subscribe to the global warming theory—a theory that is now being abandoned by a growing number of scientists. Moreover, the bishops support the even more dubious notion that the use of fossil fuels hurts the poor, when in fact the production of electricity through fossil fuels has probably done more to bring more people out of poverty than any other modern innovation. But there is one sentence in the piece which does ring true: “With 1.2 billion people worldwide calling themselves Catholic, the church has considerable potential to influence public debate on any issue.”
In short, the Church really is a giant. When it speaks with authority, people listen, even though they may disagree. The Church has the size and influence to change minds and mobilize public opinion. It’s curious, then, that the bishops should choose to speak out so strongly about a subject on which they have very little competence, and yet remain relatively silent about a subject on which they should be highly informed—namely, religion and religious differences. One the one hand, you have a remote danger emanating from a possibly non-existent phenomenon (global warming), and on the other hand you have the immediate reality of hundreds of thousands of Christians being subjected on a daily basis to nightmarish persecution. Yet the former “crisis” galvanizes bishops into issuing bold statements, while the latter leaves them muttering about poverty and oppression, and the need for more dialogue.
The Church has been subject to Islamic assaults for over 1300 years, yet many of today’s church leaders seem clueless about the nature of Islam. Rather than facing the facts about Islam, they rely instead on a threadbare narrative that was introduced in the 1960s and has been largely unexamined ever since. The theory says that Islam is a religion not unlike our own; the facts say otherwise. Unfortunately, the theory seems to have triumphed over the facts. A case in point is Pope Francis’ sweeping assertion in Evangelii Gaudium that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (235). There seems to be an abundance of Catholic theologians who understand all about the complexities of climate change, but theological experts who might have given the pope better advice on Islam are apparently nowhere to be found. That is, Catholic Islamic experts.
Currently, the pope seems to be outsourcing his understanding of Islam to Islamic experts. After his trip to Turkey, he told reporters of his visit to the Blue Mosque accompanied by the Grand Mufti of Istanbul: “I saw those marvels, also the Mufti explained the things well to me with so much meekness, with the Qur’an where it spoke of Mary and John the Baptist. And he explained it all to me and in that moment I felt the need to pray.” He also told reporters that it is wrong to equate Islam with violence. That’s true enough, but he then went on to compare Islamic fundamentalists to Christian fundamentalists, and noted that “in all religions there are these little groups.”
That the pope needs a Mufti to explain the Islamic version of the Christian story to him is not a good sign. And it’s not encouraging to see that he thinks Muslim fundamentalists are comparable to Christian fundamentalists or that they constitute only a “little group.” Islam is essentially a fundamentalist religion. All Muslims are obliged to believe that the Koran is the literal and unchanging word of God.
All of this signals that the sleeping giant is still asleep. We know that the giant’s heart is in the right place, but his head remains mostly in dreamland. Meanwhile, Catholics all over the world have been lulled into a false sense of security about Islam. Karl Marx believed that religion was an opiate. Too many wishful-thinking Catholics seem bent on proving him right.
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