Pope Francis has made many controversial statements in the past, from attacking the Church – saying it suffers from a “spiritual Alzheimer’s” – to emphatically proclaiming GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump “not a christian,” to calling for a unification of all the world’s religions to “One World Religion.”
But this time, he’s really done it.
In an interview given to La Croix – a French Catholic Newspaper – this week, Pope Francis compared the Christian Great Commission: Jesus Christ’s call for all Christian’s to spread the gospel, with the Islamic concept of Jihad: what is interpreted (and practiced) by some – notably international terrorist group ISIS – as the “holy war.”
While talking about Islamophobia in the midst of the refugee crisis in Europe, the Pope – referring to ISIS – spoke of “the idea of conquest” in Islam, according to the Washington Post.
“It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.”
Here, by equivocating Christ’s call to spread the gospel – the Christian mission (which stands at the core of Western Christianity – with Jihad (which is, while commonly practiced as a physical conquest as seen by ISIS, is literally translated as “a spiritual struggle”), the pontiff tried to ease some of the stigma against Islam by likening it to Christianity.
This controversial statement comes at a time when islamophobia is rampant, and many international political players have boldly spoken out against Muslim immigrants.
This is a part of the pope’s ongoing mission to alleviate the suffering of the many Muslim refugees now seeking asylum at Europe’s borders, in Greece and Turkey.
— VudatNation (@VudatNation) May 19, 2016
In reference to ISIS, Pope Francis rejected the complete demonization of Islam and the idea of Jihad, shifting his gaze to other culprits who led to the rise of the extremist terrorist organization.
He said the following in the same interview to La Croix.
“In the face of Islamic terrorism, it would therefore be better to question ourselves about the way in an overly Western model of democracy has been exported to countries such as Iraq, where a strong government previously existed. Or in Libya, where a tribal structure exists.”
Pope Francis is referring here to Western-led invasions of Libya and Iraq that were conducted to topple totalitarian dictatorships (Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein respectively), which both ultimately led to unstable governments where there had once been – if not democratic – stable ones.
This denunciation 0f Western invasion as something comparable to and that resulted in ISIS’ terrorism does not stand alone in the pontiff’s criticism of the West.
Pope Francis has also recently rued the EU refugee crisis; on May 6, while the Charlemagne Prize, he – as reported by TRUNEWS – called to mind a Europe (and, by extension, West) of the past that is open-minded, a human rights “utopia” not plagued by racism and islamophobia.
“I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia. […]What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? What has happened to you, Europe … the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you … the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”
In this lament of a Western past of poets and philosophers, Pope Francis has laid one more attack on the crisis-ridden West, especially the EU that has deliberated for months (to no avail) over the refugee crisis.
But this shifting the lens on the West to the rise of ISIS has not earned the Pontiff many fans.
The Washington Post expressed its doubt on Pope Francis’ attacks on the West.
“Though sometimes labeled as a ‘progressive’ leader of the church, Pope Francis sounded very much the member of an ancient institution when hailing European integration. After celebrating Khan, he compared the moment to the 6th century A.D., when Pope Gregory the Great”negotiated with the barbarians.”
Many on the have begun to criticize the pope’s comparisons of Jihad with the Great Commission.
. @Pontifex I’m not sure if you’re evil or insane but either way you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
— Just Call Me Mister (@MisterMetokur) May 19, 2016
Some even compared him with another figure those of the far-right like to criticize, President Obama.
— Run (@Runsoshrun) May 19, 2016
These attacks on the West and the likening of the Great Commission to ISIS’ Jihad seems to be on its way to becoming as controversial as any of Pope Francis’ other surprising stances have been.
[Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images]