Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Islamic State Puts a Pacifist in a Tough Place

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Islamic State Puts a Pacifist in a Tough Place

Article excerpt

Between the unrest in Ferguson, the renewal of American bombing in Iraq, the murder of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State and even a few lingering headlines about Robin Williams' death, it was easy to get lost in a thicket of bad vibes last week.

So when headlines started popping up on various news sites about Pope Francis giving what amounted to a tentative seal of approval to military action against the Islamic State, I thought it was a curious - but not unreasonable - change of heart, even for this particular pontiff.

I only got around later to reading the actual stories under the headlines for more context. The headlines hinting at papal complicity with state-sanctioned violence had initially echoed my own desire to see justice done on the Islamic State.

After all, even my hero, the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, joined a group of German dissidents in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Though things turned out badly for Bonhoeffer and the plotters, it was the thought that counted, right? A little pragmatism in today's world seemed about right, in the face of the kind of evil that enslaves women, persecutes religious minorities, decapitates journalists, destroys priceless artifacts and threatens world domination.

But upon further reflection, the idea of Pope Francis giving even a tacit blessing to what would be interpreted in the Muslim world only as a repeat of Pope Urban's folly in 1095 didn't sit well.

Even though Muslim clerics around the world are issuing fatwahs against the Islamic State, and feuding Islamic nations from Iran to Saudi Arabia want to see it crushed as much as Europeans and Americans do, it seemed an odd time for a confirmed peacemaker like Pope Francis to inject a whiff of the Crusades into such a combustible bush of religious passions.

There's always been a hope that Pope Francis would hold to a higher standard - even an unachievable one - like radical nonviolence. That hope for him was shared by Protestants like myself who admire him but who don't place papal opinions on a pedestal.

How many times does the theory of conducting a "just" war practiced in this or any other century have to be discredited before everyone acknowledges that it has never worked? …

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