The Vatican and Islam: Has Dhimmitude Prevailed?

Andrew G. Bostom
Professor Sergio Itzhak Minerbi was a senior lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University and Professor in the Department of Political Science at Haifa University.  His scholarly research has focused upon the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews.  He also served as an Israeli diplomat within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assuming many ambassadorial positions.  Professor Minerbi is the author of numerous books, including The Vatican and Zionism (1990) and, most recently, The Eichmann Trial Diary: A Chronicle of the Holocaust (2011).

Minerbi has just contributed a very thoughtful, if depressing essay to the latest issue (not yet online) of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 63-73), entitled "Benedict XVI and Islam."

Minerbi's essay opens by recounting the inchoate efforts of Benedict XVI to engage Islam unapologetically, during 2005 and 2006 (see my own discussions, here and here), influenced by Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit professor of Islamic studies and the history of Arab culture, at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

Samir may indeed have encouraged these efforts, but a decade earlier, Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had already expressed a pellucid understanding of Islam's totalitarian quintessence -- derived from the Koran-inspired sharia -- which he contrasted, unabashedly, with Christian thought.  In  a 1996 compendium of his interviews with journalist Peter Seewald, The Salt of the Earth (p. 244), then Cardinal Ratzinger stated:

Today's discussion in the West about the possibility of Islamic theological faculties or about the ideal of Islam as a legal entity presupposes that all religions have basically the same structure, that they all fit into a democratic system with its regulations. In itself, however, this necessarily contradicts the essence of Islam, which simply does not have the separation of the political and religious sphere that Christianity has had from the beginning. The Koran is a total religious law which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Isamic Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it [Sharia] can exploit such partial freedoms, as our constitution gives, but it can't be its final goal to say" Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are  present, just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, it would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself. Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything.

Ten years later, commenting aptly upon Ratzinger's 1996 formulation, Samir made explicit that the only way such Muslim "alienation" could be resolved was via "total Islamization of society" -- including Western societies. Samir argued that Muslims living in the West "can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but can never identify with the non-Muslim citizen, because [he] does not find himself in a Muslim society."

But Professor Minerbi's essay highlights what he terms, with understatement, that "different trends exist[ing] inside the Catholic Church," regarding relations between Islam and the Holy See.  The examples provided by Minerbi, however, demonstrate  that The Vatican's overall policy reflects a distressing cognitive dissonance and raw dhimmitude.  These intellectually and morally debased trends are epitomized by the views expressed in the bimonthly La Civiltà Cattolica, mouthpiece of the Vatican's Secretariat of State: groveling Islamophilia, even towards overtly jihadist movements (for example, Hezb'allah), accompanied by criticism of the U.S. "war on terrorism" as an "injustice" to Muslims, and constant scapegoating of Israel, often expressed with strident animus towards the Jewish State.

Minerbi identifies the very government of the Holy See, its Secretariat of State, as the "loudest and most frequent" voice of this corrosive hypocrisy:

... quick to praise every stream of Islam. [But] In the face of Islamic terrorist outrages, they observe a rigorous silence, even when Christians are killed. No protest whatsoever was heard when the Bishop of Iskanderun (Turkey) was murdered on June 3, 2010 by his Muslim driver.

Even Pope Benedict XVI, Minerbi observes, who "generally steers clear of voicing views on current political affairs ... during the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip ... spoke out no less than five times in one week against Jerusalem's military action in January 2009."

Minerbi concludes by harshly criticizing current overall Vatican policy on Islam -- a perverse combination of deliberate misguidance and absence of guidance:

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Catholic Church has not yet defined a clear policy toward Islam. On occasion, Pope Benedict XVI has displayed the will to oppose Islam. However, his Secretariat of State has generally preferred a more lenient attitude in the hope of securing Islamic benevolence toward Catholics. There is little to suggest that such a policy will bear fruit. The bishops, it seems, are largely without guidance from the Vatican. Islam is making rapid inroads in Christian Europe. What we are witnessing now is not an Islamic spring, but a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism that leaves no space for any kind of moderate Islam. Apparently, the Church is incapable of formulating a policy that would contain the Islamic onslaught, and teach people how to live in a pluralistic society.

Despite his clear understanding of Islam, and prior actions which indicated a willingness to counter Islamization, Benedict XVI appears to have abandoned these efforts, and, grudgingly or not, embraced policies of dhimmitude.  When Benedict XVI himself oversaw Magdi Allam's public Easter 2008 conversion from Islam to Christianity, in St. Peter's Basilica, the intrepid Mr. Allam clearly enunciated Islam's defining bellicose intolerance, while extolling the pope's moral courage:

I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a "moderate Islam," assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive[.] ... His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.  For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice.

Benedict XVI must regain the bold moral clarity he demonstrated at Magdi Allam's public conversion to Catholicism, so that The Church, under his stewardship, may yet overcome the profound fear expressed in this plaintive 1967 appeal by Father Michel Hayek (1928-2005), the late Lebanese Maronite scholar of Islam:

Why not admit it clearly, so as to break a taboo and a political interdict, which is felt in the flesh and the Christian conscience -- that Islam has been the most appalling torment that ever struck the Church[?] Christian sensibility has remained traumatized until now.

Professor Sergio Itzhak Minerbi was a senior lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University and Professor in the Department of Political Science at Haifa University.  His scholarly research has focused upon the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews.  He also served as an Israeli diplomat within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assuming many ambassadorial positions.  Professor Minerbi is the author of numerous books, including The Vatican and Zionism (1990) and, most recently, The Eichmann Trial Diary: A Chronicle of the Holocaust (2011).

Minerbi has just contributed a very thoughtful, if depressing essay to the latest issue (not yet online) of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 63-73), entitled "Benedict XVI and Islam."

Minerbi's essay opens by recounting the inchoate efforts of Benedict XVI to engage Islam unapologetically, during 2005 and 2006 (see my own discussions, here and here), influenced by Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit professor of Islamic studies and the history of Arab culture, at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

Samir may indeed have encouraged these efforts, but a decade earlier, Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had already expressed a pellucid understanding of Islam's totalitarian quintessence -- derived from the Koran-inspired sharia -- which he contrasted, unabashedly, with Christian thought.  In  a 1996 compendium of his interviews with journalist Peter Seewald, The Salt of the Earth (p. 244), then Cardinal Ratzinger stated:

Today's discussion in the West about the possibility of Islamic theological faculties or about the ideal of Islam as a legal entity presupposes that all religions have basically the same structure, that they all fit into a democratic system with its regulations. In itself, however, this necessarily contradicts the essence of Islam, which simply does not have the separation of the political and religious sphere that Christianity has had from the beginning. The Koran is a total religious law which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Isamic Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it [Sharia] can exploit such partial freedoms, as our constitution gives, but it can't be its final goal to say" Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are  present, just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, it would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself. Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything.

Ten years later, commenting aptly upon Ratzinger's 1996 formulation, Samir made explicit that the only way such Muslim "alienation" could be resolved was via "total Islamization of society" -- including Western societies. Samir argued that Muslims living in the West "can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but can never identify with the non-Muslim citizen, because [he] does not find himself in a Muslim society."

But Professor Minerbi's essay highlights what he terms, with understatement, that "different trends exist[ing] inside the Catholic Church," regarding relations between Islam and the Holy See.  The examples provided by Minerbi, however, demonstrate  that The Vatican's overall policy reflects a distressing cognitive dissonance and raw dhimmitude.  These intellectually and morally debased trends are epitomized by the views expressed in the bimonthly La Civiltà Cattolica, mouthpiece of the Vatican's Secretariat of State: groveling Islamophilia, even towards overtly jihadist movements (for example, Hezb'allah), accompanied by criticism of the U.S. "war on terrorism" as an "injustice" to Muslims, and constant scapegoating of Israel, often expressed with strident animus towards the Jewish State.

Minerbi identifies the very government of the Holy See, its Secretariat of State, as the "loudest and most frequent" voice of this corrosive hypocrisy:

... quick to praise every stream of Islam. [But] In the face of Islamic terrorist outrages, they observe a rigorous silence, even when Christians are killed. No protest whatsoever was heard when the Bishop of Iskanderun (Turkey) was murdered on June 3, 2010 by his Muslim driver.

Even Pope Benedict XVI, Minerbi observes, who "generally steers clear of voicing views on current political affairs ... during the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip ... spoke out no less than five times in one week against Jerusalem's military action in January 2009."

Minerbi concludes by harshly criticizing current overall Vatican policy on Islam -- a perverse combination of deliberate misguidance and absence of guidance:

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Catholic Church has not yet defined a clear policy toward Islam. On occasion, Pope Benedict XVI has displayed the will to oppose Islam. However, his Secretariat of State has generally preferred a more lenient attitude in the hope of securing Islamic benevolence toward Catholics. There is little to suggest that such a policy will bear fruit. The bishops, it seems, are largely without guidance from the Vatican. Islam is making rapid inroads in Christian Europe. What we are witnessing now is not an Islamic spring, but a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism that leaves no space for any kind of moderate Islam. Apparently, the Church is incapable of formulating a policy that would contain the Islamic onslaught, and teach people how to live in a pluralistic society.

Despite his clear understanding of Islam, and prior actions which indicated a willingness to counter Islamization, Benedict XVI appears to have abandoned these efforts, and, grudgingly or not, embraced policies of dhimmitude.  When Benedict XVI himself oversaw Magdi Allam's public Easter 2008 conversion from Islam to Christianity, in St. Peter's Basilica, the intrepid Mr. Allam clearly enunciated Islam's defining bellicose intolerance, while extolling the pope's moral courage:

I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a "moderate Islam," assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive[.] ... His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.  For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice.

Benedict XVI must regain the bold moral clarity he demonstrated at Magdi Allam's public conversion to Catholicism, so that The Church, under his stewardship, may yet overcome the profound fear expressed in this plaintive 1967 appeal by Father Michel Hayek (1928-2005), the late Lebanese Maronite scholar of Islam:

Why not admit it clearly, so as to break a taboo and a political interdict, which is felt in the flesh and the Christian conscience -- that Islam has been the most appalling torment that ever struck the Church[?] Christian sensibility has remained traumatized until now.