“Those who call themselves ‘Jews’, who are not really Jews, but are in fact Satan: You should learn to call them by their real name, ‘Satan;’ you are coming face-to-face with Satan, the Arch Deceiver, the enemy of God and the enemy of the Righteous.” — Louis Farrakhan, Saviours’ Day speech February 26, 2017
On May 9, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan spoke at St. Sabina’s Catholic Church in Chicago at the invitation of Fr. Michael Pfleger. Pfleger invited his “brother and friend,” following Farrakhan’s ban on social media, to take the pulpit to address the issue of free speech. In a bizarre rant, Farrakhan banged on about “Satanic Jews” and being in “Facebook jail.” Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich condemned the prominent anti-Semite’s comments and blamed Fr. Pfleger for hosting Farrakhan without consulting the archdiocese.
Cupich—not Father Pfleger—apologized to our Jewish brothers and sisters. And yet, in a shining example of leading from behind, Cupich neither suspended nor removed Pfleger from ministry at St. Sabina’s.
Anti-Semitic comments deserve condemnation and demand apology. Cupich is right to issue both publicly. But he faulted Pfleger—no stranger to radical politics and controversy—for failing to consult his archdiocesan superior, not for giving Farrakhan the pulpit. This defies belief. Farrakhan’s Jew hatred is open, obvious (“bloodsuckers” and “termites”) and spans decades. He has the constitutional right to spew his bile in America. He does not have the right to do it in a Catholic church.
Cardinal Cupich, however well-intentioned, misses the point. Permission for an anti-Semite to speak at a parish is not the issue. Ecclesiastical permissiveness that allows the pastoral tail to wag the dog, is. It is to the shame of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Catholic Church in the U.S. that the message and the man found a place at St. Sabina’s.
The Archdiocese of Chicago issued a statement saying:
There is no place in American life for discriminatory rhetoric of any kind. At a time when hate crimes are on the rise, when religious believers are murdered in their places of worship, we cannot countenance any speech that dehumanizes persons on the basis of ethnicity, religious belief, economic status or country of origin.
Nice and formal. And weak. We are not talking about hate crimes generally, or even religious violence. Both exist and ought to be condemned. The presence of Louis Farrakhan and the very specific current of hate that is anti-Semitism should not be diluted in generic language of the universal. It is a historical fact that anti-Semitic words are often only few steps removed from the gas chamber (or any other pogrom over the centuries).
It simply will not do to say “there is no place in American life for discriminatory rhetoric” only to allow the giving of a pulpit to an anti-Semite to go unpunished.
Anti-Semitic insults and attacks do not occur in a vacuum. They come freighted with the history of six-million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and countless Jews elsewhere over the ages. And they are on the rise. In Germany, violent anti-Semitic attacks have surged more than sixty percent. And in France, offenses against Jews increased by seventy-four percent last year alone. It is no coincidence that both nations have experienced massive Muslim migration. The latest European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report demonstrates that Muslims originated a majority of these attacks (thirty percent). Perpetrators with left-wing sympathies came in second (twenty-one percent) and those with right-wing views followed (thirteen percent). This is not the story we get in mainstream Western media.
Of the EU report James Kirchick of the Brookings Institution observed;
Few political leaders or journalists or other public figures are willing to state the obvious fact that the main source of anti-Semitism in Europe today is not among the usual suspects on the far right but the red-green alliance, where the primeval Jew hatred of Muslim immigrants is excused away by the anti-Zionist cosmopolitanism of the secular left.
This is as true in Europe as it is in the United States.
The socialist anti-Semitism of British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is cousin to that of Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar in the United States. Both Tlaib and Omar continue to denigrate Israel and its supporters (“all about the Benjamins”) and support groups such as the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (Hamas calls for the annihilation of Israel). Meanwhile, hate crimes against Jews in the U.S. spiked thirty-seven percent in 2017. In Brooklyn, violent attacks against Hasidic Jews are increasingly common.
Equally disturbing is the indifference to the persistence of anti-Semitism. Its polluted currents in national and world politics—cooling in societal apathy—have congealed into institutional acceptability. This is dangerous. And diabolical. It is simply astounding that mere decades after the industrialized murder of millions of Jews—survivors remain with us still—anti-Semites would be elected to Congress. Less surprising—for reasons both political and philosophical—is the unholy alliance between the Socialist Left and Muslim advocates (i.e., Linda Sarsour of the infamous Women’s March).
The veneer of acceptability that activists in Congress and elsewhere give anti-Semitic views contributes to societal indifference. And as the violence against Jews increases all over the world, it is not enough to condemn words. The Church, from parish to pope, must deny anti-Semites like Farrakhan a pulpit. And where, as here, it is given him, those who allow it—Father Pfleger—must be punished.
Following Farrakhan’s rant at St. Sabina, Phil Andrew, the director of violence prevention for the Archdiocese of Chicago said, “I know that words matter. The First Amendment allows for free speech, and as a nation we celebrate that. But it comes with responsibility.” True enough. But when anti-Semitism is given a place under the roof of a Catholic parish, it is inherently irresponsible. More, it is the smoke of Satan clouding the call to fraternal love for our ancestors in faith.
If words matter, and if we truly mean “never again” in response to the Holocaust, then as Catholics we must actively defend our Jewish brothers and sisters at every turn. Let’s start with Father Pfleger and Louis Farrakhan at St. Sabina’s. Saying “sorry” is not enough.
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