In choosing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to succeed Pope John Paul II as Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church has cast a vote for the survival of Europe and the West. “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century,” historian Bernard Lewis predicted not long ago; however, judging from the writings of the new Pope, he is not likely to be sanguine about this transition. For one thing, the new Pope seems to be aware of the grave danger Europeans face: he has called upon Europe to recover its Christian roots “if it truly wants to survive.”
For while his predecessor kissed the Qur’an and pursued a consistent line of conciliation toward the Islamic world, despite numerous provocations and attacks against Catholics in Muslim countries, the new Pope Benedict XVI, while no less charitable, has been a bit more forthcoming about the reality of how Islam challenges the Catholic Church, Christianity, and even the post-Christian West. He has spoken up for the rights of converts from Islam to Christianity, who live under a death sentence in Islamic countries and increasingly live in fear even in the West. He has even spoken approvingly of Christians proselytizing Muslims — a practice that enrages Muslims and is against the law in many Islamic countries.
The new Pope has criticized Europe’s reluctance to acknowledge its Christian roots for fear of offending Islam’s rapidly growing and increasingly influential presence in European countries — a presence which, as historian Bat Ye’or demonstrates in her book Eurabia, has been actively encouraged and facilitated by European leaders for over three decades. “What offends Islam,” said Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the lack of reference to God, the arrogance of reason, which provokes fundamentalism.” He has criticized multiculturalism, “which is so constantly and passionately encouraged and supported,” because it “sometimes amounts to an abandonment and disavowal of what is our own.”
He contrasts the modern-day resurgence of Islam with the enervation of Europe. In old Europe, he has said, “we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one's own desires.” Islam, on the other hand, is anything but relativistic: “The rebirth of Islam is due in part to the new material richness acquired by Muslim countries, but mainly to the knowledge that it is able to offer a valid spiritual foundation for the life of its people, a foundation that seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe.”
In line with his call to Europeans to recover their own spiritual heritage, the new Pope opposes Turkey’s proposed entrance into the European Union: “Turkey,” he has declared, “has always represented a different continent, always in contrast with Europe.” But his objection is not simply geographical — in fact, he opposes the geographical oversimplifications that underlie Turkey’s EU bid: “Europe,” he has explained, “was founded not on a geography, but on a common faith. We have to redefine what Europe is, and we cannot stop at positivism.” A Europe newly defined as in some sense a Christian entity may outrage secularists, but a secular and relativist Europe has so far proved powerless against the Islamization of Europe — despite the fact that that Islamization threatens cherished Western notions of the equality of rights and dignity of all people.
Europe, the new Pope has written, “appears to be at the start of its decline and fall.”
It may be too late, as Bat Ye’or believes, to arrest that decline and fall. However, the first thing a physician does when he treats a disease is identify the problem. No healing can proceed from a misdiagnosis. It is heartening to see that Pope Benedict XVI has already, in various speeches and writings before his accession to the papacy, dared to speak more clearly about the threat that Islam poses to Western civilization than his predecessor — for all his many and remarkable gifts — ever quite managed to do.
Late in 2003 the semi-official Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica departed from John Paul II’s policy toward Islam and published a scathing criticism of the mistreatment that Christians suffer in Islamic societies. It represented the first indication that any Catholic officials recognized the dimensions of the religious conflict that jihadists are waging against Christians and others around the world. La Civiltà Cattolica pointed out that “for almost a thousand years Europe was under constant threat from Islam, which twice put its survival in serious danger.” Now, through jihad terrorism and demographics Islam is threatening Europe’s survival yet again — and it looks as if now there is a Pope who has noticed. Maybe in Europe the resistance is just beginning.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch; author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter); and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: Islamic Law and Non-Muslims (Prometheus). He is working on a new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (forthcoming from Regnery).