The Corner

National Security & Defense

Pope Francis’s Wishful Thinking on Jihad

It’s sad to see Pope Francis resort to debunked progressive talking points when discussing jihadist Islam:

Pope Francis said the inspiration for terrorism wasn’t Islam but a world economy that worshiped the “god of money” and drove the disenfranchised to violence.

“Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person, “ the pope told reporters late Sunday as he returned to the Vatican from a five-day visit in Poland. “This is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity” . . . The pope added then that the current violence was over economic and political interests rather than religion. “There is war for money,” he said on Wednesday. “There is war for natural resources. There is war for the domination of peoples. Some might think I am speaking of religious war. No. All religions want peace; it is other people who want war.

The pope is both factually and theologically wrong. Rod Dreher puts it well:

This idea of Francis’s that economics, not religion, is behind Islamic terrorism, is materialist claptrap that one would think a Pope is beyond falling for. The world is full of desperately poor people who do not slaughter priests. The world is also full of desperately poor Muslim people who do not slaughter priests, shoot up nightclubs, mow down people with trucks, and so forth. In fact, poverty is not much of a factor at all in who becomes radicalized by Salafi Islam.

This is exactly right. Time and again rank and file terrorists (much less terrorist leaders) come from the ranks of the well-educated and upwardly-mobile. These are men motivated by deep and abiding religious faith, not by economic frustration. The pope claims that he’s come to the conclusion that Muslims “seek peace” through “interreligious dialogue,” but I wonder if that dialogue included any jihadists? They make their beliefs and motivations known, and rarely does money or economic opportunity have anything at all with their desire to kill. 

Moreover, while there are people from all religions who want peace, it’s a grotesque oversimplification to say that all religions want peace. Indeed, it is orthodox Christian belief that there are times when war is a moral necessity. The Bible declares unequivocally that there is a “time for peace and a time for war.” There is a strain of orthodox and historic Muslim belief that says that Islam can and should be spread by the sword. This strain exists, it’s religious, and it’s far larger than most westerners imagine. The the pope’s declaration that it is outside true Islam is utterly irrelevant to Muslims. They define their faith, not the pope.  

It’s comforting to believe that jihadist Islam isn’t true Islam. It’s comforting to believe that addressing economic inequality or improving standards of living will solve the persistent problem of jihadist violence. It’s comforting, but it’s wrong. Jihad goes back to the founding of the Muslim faith, and I daresay that there will never be a generation of people who face an Islam entirely free of its influence. The church used to understand these facts. It must once again open its eyes to ancient truth.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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