Islam and Christianity share the “same idea of conquest”, and for that reason, Islam should not be viewed as a threat, said Pope Francis in a newspaper interview this week.
“It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam,” he conceded to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. “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.”
Ostensibly, the Pope was drawing a parallel between the Islamic “conquest” known as jihad, a holy war or struggle waged against infidels, and Christian missionizing.
The comparison was part of a larger conversation about the increasingly desperate refugee crisis currently facing Europe. Pope Francis has been an outspoken voice on the issue of Arab refugees who seek asylum, encouraging governments to take in migrants and “integrate” them into western societies despite widespread concerns that the largely Muslim populations might harbor extremist or terrorist elements.
Francis has repeatedly argued in favor of coexistence, peace, and tolerance in all areas of life but especially towards Muslims. He set his own powerful example last month when he brought a dozen refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos back to Rome with him after a diplomatic visit.
The Pontiff said that the Western attempt to “export” democracy to Arab countries is partly to blame for the collapse of central control and rise in Islamic extremism in Middle Eastern states.
Westerners must also consider the issue of cultural relativism, he added, echoing a common left-wing sentiment.
“In the face of Islamic terrorism, it would 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,” he noted. “Or in Libya, where a tribal structure exists. We cannot advance without taking these cultures into account.”
“Ultimately, coexistence between Christians and Muslims is still possible,” the Pope insisted.
The key is integration, he stated. “The worst form of welcome is to ‘ghettoize’ [the migrants]. On the contrary, it’s necessary to integrate them,” he said. He pointed to the example of the perpetrators of Belgium’s horrific terror attack, saying that though they were naturalized Belgian citizens and children of migrants, they “grew up in a ghetto.”
The leader of the Catholic Church mentioned London’s newly appointed Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, as a model for positive integration. The mayor took his oath of office in a cathedral and made his first act as mayor attendance at a Holocaust memorial ceremony.
However, Khan may not have been the best example, as he also has a past of affiliation with terrorists, most notably Zacharias Moussaoui, an al-Qaeda member who was one of the perpetrators of 9/11. Khan, a lawyer, defended Moussaoui after the massive New York terror attack. Khan also is known to have ties to a number of Muslim extremists.
Perhaps aware of the contradiction of idealizing such a man, Pope Francis added that Khan’s election reminded him of his predecessor Pope Gregory the Great. Gregory, who reigned from 590-604 C.E, “negotiated with the people known as barbarians”, said Francis. Those “barbarians” were later integrated into Christendom.
Francis also suggested that integration of Muslim immigrants could help boost Europe’s falling birthrates.
While acknowledging that Europe is rooted in Christianity, he warned Europeans against taking a “triumphalist” and “vengeful” nationalistic view of these roots.
“Yes, Europe has Christian roots and it is Christianity’s responsibility to water those roots. But this must be done in a spirit of service as in the washing of the feet,” he said, invoking a Christian principle which he has championed in his years as Pope. Indeed, in March the Pope himself washed the feet of Muslim migrants, proclaiming them “children of the same God.”