Some news services are reporting that the Vatican “says military force should be harnessed,” in response to the growing threat of ISIS, but I think this might be a bit strong. I’m pretty sure the word “should” was a bit of journalistic license. At the press conference, Time quotes the Vatican’s UN delegate Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, saying, “We have to stop this kind of genocide.”
“Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”
Alright, but the official joint statement says… well, what, exactly?
The Middle East is living in a situation of instability and conflict that recently have been aggravated. The consequences are disastrous for the entire population of the region. The existence of many religious communities is seriously threatened. Christians are now especially affected. These days even their survival is in question.
Efforts to build a better future for all are frustrated. We witness a situation where violence, religious and ethnic hatred, fundamentalist radicalism, extremism, intolerance, exclusion, destruction of the social fabric of whole societies and communities are becoming the features of a non-viable political and social model, endangering the very existence of many communities, the Christian community in particular.
Vatican diplomatic language has for some decades now been in love with the passive voice, as in, “that recently have been aggravated.” “Been aggravated”? By whom, or by what agency and why? The same question comes up with each of the following bland, passive-voice sentences: “The existence of many religious communities is seriously threatened;” “Christians are now especially affected;” and “Efforts to build a better future for all are frustrated.”
Diplomacy is the art of leaving things unsaid, and something you learn as you go in the Catholic journalist business is how to “read actively” Vatican officialese, which is mainly the art of filling in the blanks. The use of the passive voice always requires the hearer to fill in the active agency, in grammatical terms, the “who” or the “what” that is doing the action. Who is seriously threatening “many religious communities”? What, precisely, is frustrating “efforts to build a better future?” And perhaps most importantly, why is all this happening? What is the motivation?
We are talking about ISIS, of course, as everyone knows. ISIS, the Islamic supremacist group that grew, with the help of US backing, out of the “rebels” fighting the Assad government in Syria, and has now declared itself the new “Caliphate” to fulfill the command of Mohammed to dominate the whole world. ISIS, only one of the group’s acronyms, stands for “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” and the motivation for its goals is the issue that is being so carefully avoided with such determined diplomatic use of the passive voice.
And all the world knows what ISIS is doing: mass slaughter, mass rapes and enslavement of captives, mass deportations, child soldiers, beheadings, crucifixions, burning captives alive, bulldozing and setting fire to churches, monasteries, towns and villages, jackhammering away any cultural or historic trace of anything that is not specifically Sunni Islamic. But diminished and chest-less modern men, apparently even those representing the Vatican, seem incapable of forthrightly condemning this monstrous Old Testament scenery.
Instead we have from the ostensible leaders of Christianity, an apparently unbreakable habit of dainty, non-committal, UN committee-approved terms like “terrorist groups,” the “so-called Islamic State,” who are creating “a situation of instability and conflict” by committing “human rights violations, repression and abuses.”
In the statement’s strongest language – still doggedly retaining the passive voice - it admits that Christian communities are subject to “barbaric acts of violence: they are deprived of homes, driven from their native lands, sold into slavery, killed, beheaded and burnt alive. Dozens of Christian churches, and ancient shrines of all religions have been destroyed.”
But there is no expression of normal, human outrage, no horror at this, no booming demands for international military intervention. Instead, the situation “raises deep concerns.” This is always coupled with the continued insistence that force can be used only as a last possible resort, and no hint at all how many have to die before we may divine when that point has been reached.
The document adds, as if in an afterthought, “The positive contributions of Christians in the different countries and societies of the Middle East are well known and creative.” Well… what a thundering, historic defence of two millennia of civilisation, philosophy, spirituality, law, jurisprudence, art, architecture…
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Perhaps most depressing in this minimalist and insipid declarative sentence is the meticulous avoidance – by the Catholic Church – of any mention that the Christians in the Middle East were there first. This and gaping eloquent silence on the long history of Islamic conquest and brutal subjugation – is all the acknowledgement they get from the pope’s representative for 1700 years of suffering.
So, why is it a bad thing to violently wipe out the remaining shreds of the (native) Christian civilisation? Well, because, Diversity!
In our globalized world, pluralism is an enrichment. The presence and the contributions of ethnic and religious communities reflect an ancient diversity and a common heritage. A future without the different communities in the Middle East will run a high risk of new forms of violence, exclusion, and the absence of peace and development.
A journalist friend in Rome told me that he has occasionally interviewed high-ranking representatives of the Vatican’s diplomatic service and confronted them about their habitual diffidence and addiction to UN-speak. He said that he asked why in none of their official statements they ever actually come out and say anything Christian. That they never forthrightly proclaim that Christianity – that Christ – is the solution to all this. The reaction, he said, was one of blank incomprehension.
In fact, the statement says little about anything, and nothing the world needed to be told about the Middle East, Islam or ISIS. But it does certainly say a lot about its authors and about the deeply engrained culture of diffidence, passivity and, frankly, relativistic weakness – of an absence of belief – that rules all the institutions of the formerly Christian West, and, perhaps particularly egregiously, is the favoured language of official Vatican pronouncements. Certainly there is nothing here to upset the sensitivities of the internationalist bureaucrats, the “aggressive secularists” at the EU who famously refused to acknowledge even the historical existence of Christendom.
What doesn’t the statement say? It does not say what Catholic prelates, including popes, used to say routinely: that Christian civilisation is better, more just, more moral, than the vigorous barbarism and the bloated and enervated classical pagan fatalism it replaced 2000 years ago. It is better than the predatory relativistic secularism, spawned out of 18th century Freemasonry, that still has its venomous fangs sunk into the twitching corpse of Christendom. And it is better than Islam that dominates what we now call the Middle East, the ancient Christian homeland brutally conquered by Mohammed’s ruthless, salacious and bloodthirsty will to power.
Too strong? Look up what Dante said about Mohammed some time. Or St. Thomas Aquinas on Islam.
The Vatican’s politely bland statement makes no mention of ISIS’ propaganda campaign waged on social media, as a form of psychological warfare, meant to intimidate and frighten us into the submission that Mohammed taught was proper to recalcitrant non-Muslims. We Christians outside the Islamic world are meant to cower in terror, to cringe, to kowtow with weak and submissive language, to beg for our lives. And the Vatican diplomats have graciously obliged.
The bald omission of any mention of Islamic motivations is particularly unjust to those who, down through the centuries and into last week, have been kidnapped, tortured and conquered and threatened for not “reverting” to Islam. Or to those of our Christian spiritual ancestors who have lived for centuries under Islamic subjugation, paying a Jizya extortion fee for the privilege of being allowed to continue to be Christians or Jews or Yazidis. And having their sons kidnapped and brainwashed into Islamic soldiers for their pains.
The habit of delicately tip-toeing around rabid 900-pound gorillas that everyone knows about is perhaps so deeply engrained that the authors of such documents might not even notice they are doing it. So, let’s re-write the statement into clear, active-voice sentences so we can see what a strong statement from a religious or political leader could sound like:
The blood of the martyred hero[es]… will not go in vain. We are waging this war to protect our faith, values and humanitarian principles. These criminals… will be hit hard at the very centre of their strongholds…
We have seen a few days ago the savage murder of our hero…by the hands of ISIS criminals. [We] are united in sorrow and outrage, but remain as ever committed to protect our country and religion.
These criminals aim to stamp out life and rights everywhere. Their hate and murder has reached Asia, Europe, Africa, America and Australia. By the brutal killing of their prisoners and captives, they seek to hold families across the world hostage to their cruelty.
This is a war the world cannot afford to lose. But to win it, all of us must be in it. To stand as partners in the fight against today’s threats. And to go beyond. To build the conditions for humanity to live together in peace…”
Oh, no wait. My bad. That was King Abdullah II of Jordan in response to the murder of one of his military pilots. His Majesty, a Muslim, became an instant celebrity early in February for his manful declaration of all-out war against ISIS. Apparently, for King Abdullah, the brutal voyeuristic murder of only one of his pilots was sufficient to justify the “last possible choice.” No word on whether he gave the Vatican diplomatic mission to the UN a ring before he sent his jets into Iraqi airspace.
Educated in Britain, the king is not above a few politically correct platitudes himself, apparently sincerely held: “Truly, we are called to dialogue; truly, we come together for the world’s common good. In this spirit, all Jordan welcomed His Holiness [Pope Francis] when he made his Holy Land Pilgrimage last year. And the entire Muslim world welcomes the consistent statements he has made against insulting and deriding other faiths. His Holiness and I stand as one in our commitment to mutual respect.
“Jordan is a Muslim country, with a deeply rooted Christian community. Together, the Jordanian people make up an indivisible society, friends and partners in building our country. Consensus, tolerance, moderation, the rule of law: These have helped make Jordan an oasis of stability and the same values will ensure our future.”
We have Christian leaders who will only offer the meekest and mildest rebukes, centuries late, to an Islamic supremacism that has infiltrated every corner of the lands-formerly-known-as-Christendom, that has re-awakened the demonic evils of slavery and mass genocidal slaughter. When we have Catholic leaders who refuse even to mention Christ in their lists of “ten things to make you happy,” who can speak only of “diversity” and “pluralism” as a reason to value their own faith and culture, and offer only “dialogue” as an answer to Islamic Jihad, what is to stop the slaughter? Perhaps we could ask King Abdullah.
So, I suppose we can thank the Vatican for the kind permission to use force to defend Christians, just on the off chance that someday in the unforeseen future we might at last come to it as a “very last choice.” But forgive me if I hope to find better reasons than “pluralism” and “diversity” to fight ISIS when their armoured cars come rolling up to the walls of our little town here in Umbria.
NB: Since this piece was written, another Islamic massacre of Christians in Kenya has entered the headlines over the Easter weekend. One of the many heads of Islamic Jihad struck at Garissa University College. Islamic militants identified as being part of the Somalian Islamic group Al-Shabaab murdered 148 people after ordering all the Muslims out. All those killed were Christians or other non-Muslims, and the Jihadists were heard to joke, “This is going to be a great Easter holiday for us!”
Kenyan military airstrikes continue against Al-Shabaab training centres. A government official told news media on Easter Monday, “The message is very clear: we have to deal with this problem once and for all.”
Kenyan military and government spokesmen declined to say whether the Vatican diplomatic service or the UN were consulted as to the moral liceity of the military response.