“Some Catholic commentators --and even one cardinal-- have agreed with IS that, in effect, the Islamic State is the true face of Islam, and that there is no real distinction [between Islam and violent jihadism] . (...) But Francis, thankfully, sees further”
One critic lambasts Pope Francis for saying on the plane from Krakow that “there is no such phenomenon as Islamist violence,” which, had he said it, would have been very surprising. In fact, what the pope rejected was the term “Islamic violence”. But Francis, thankfully, sees further. He has a six-fold strategy in response to the Islamic State. 1) To put every death in the broader context of others, to avoid any victim becoming the focus of moral outrage. That is why Francis never used the word ‘martyr’. 2) He insists on fraternity and peace as the only authentic Christian response. “We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror”. 3) Faced with the clamor to shut borders, Francis insists on keeping our doors open to refugees. 4) Against the Islamic State narrative of Christianity versus Islam, Francis’ strategy is to polarize in a different way: religion and peace versus violent fundamentalism and false religion. It was demonstrated, beautifully, when 100 Muslims, along with leaders of different faiths, turned up to Hamel’s funeral. “All religions want peace” he said on the plane to Krakow; “it’s the others who want war”. If (true) religion seeks peace, the idea of “Islamic” violence is incoherent. 5) Faced with the temptation for Christians to see Muslims as violent fundamentalists and themselves as peace-loving reasonable people, Francis insists that Christians are also prone to fundamentalism and violence. 6) Francis’ strategy is not to surrender to fear by giving up our spaces and identity. Faced with a specific Islamic State threat on the Vatican last December, he refused to wear a bulletproof vest, and said we would not armor-plate our Church doors. It is an action each of us can take; and each such action we take brings closer the jihadists’ inevitable defeat.