The new Pope washed a Muslim woman's feet during Maundy Thursday mass, and Juan Cole (a Board member of a front group for the Islamic Republic of Iran) is jubilant: he thinks this somehow constitutes some kind of rebuke to Catholics who are sounding the alarm about the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.
In this, Cole (who is abysmally ignorant of Catholicism) demonstrates yet again a common pitfall for hard-Left propagandists: they tend to believe their own propaganda. Cole is assuming here that those whom he defames as "Islamophobes" really do hate Muslims, and so are outraged that the Pope would show kindness and demonstrate humility before one. The idea that opposing jihad and Islamic supremacism constitutes "hate" is a well-worn Leftist cliche, but it has no substance. Why should it? Why should a desire to preserve and protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and equality of rights of all people before the law involve any kind of hate?
Anyway, as for the foot-washing itself, the question is, what did the Pope mean by it? If he meant simply to imitate Christ's action of extreme humility at the Last Supper, and to demonstrate that no one is beyond the pale of God's mercy, no Christian could object to that.
Coming at a time when Muslim persecution of Christians is escalating worldwide, however, and when there already questions about the Catholic Church's apparent determination to accommodate Islamic supremacism at all costs, and not speak up for the persecuted Christians, this foot-washing has been interpreted as meaning that the Church is surrendering and bowing down to its new Islamic overlords. My colleague Pamela Geller wrote: "While millions of Christians are being oppressed, persecuted and slaughtered under Islamic law ...... this is stomach-churning dhimmitude. This isn't merely a lack of leadership; this is betrayal on an unimaginable level. Kill my people and I will wash and kiss your feet. For jihadists, this image could very well replace the burning twin towers as iconic of Islamic imperialism and conquest."
This foot-washing may indeed have been an error in judgment, as was John Paul II's kissing of the Qur'an, since it has been interpreted as a surrender. This will become clear one way or the other as events unfold. If the Pope really meant by washing this Muslim woman's feet that Catholics should not defend themselves and their loved ones and their homelands against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, then his gesture is not only lamentable, but in contradiction to centuries of Church teaching about the right and even the duty of defending oneself. It seems inconceivable that Pope Francis meant by this gesture unilaterally to change Church teaching on self-defense, or to proclaim that the Church must not resist jihadis and Islamic supremacists.
It is also worth noting that if the Pope had dared to touch and kiss a Muslim woman's feet in Saudi Arabia or Iran, he would have been immediately killed. His act of humility would not have been received in the spirit in which it was intended. It could have caused a firestorm of indignation in the Muslim world, a la Pope Benedict XVI's Regensberg address, but of course Islamic supremacists are generally smarter than that, and do not interfere with someone who is doing them a favor (and he was, whether he intended to or not, as Cole's piece demonstrates). Nor has Francis's gesture of humility been reciprocated by any Muslim authority, and it will not be.
Cole is very happy here that the Pope has shown concern for the downtrodden; Cole doesn't mention the downtrodden Christians in Islamic lands. Does the Pope care for them? It seems that he does; but will he speak up more clearly and forcefully about why they are suffering, and challenge their persecutors? Or does this foot-washing signify that he is abandoning them to their fate? We shall see. We have seen Pope Francis exemplify Christ's extreme humility. Will he also imitate Christ's prophetic voice in challenging the powerful?
"Dear Rightwing Catholic Islamophobes: Pope Francis just washed the feet of a Poor Muslim," by Juan Cole for Informed Comment, March 30 (thanks to David):
Pope Francis on Maundy Thursday declined to address enormous crowds. Instead he went to a prison to emulate Jesus's act of humility before his crucifixion in washing the feet of his 12 disciples. The pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates, two of them women and two of them Muslim (one of the women was Muslim). It is reported that some of the prisoners broke down in tears.
Pope Francis's willingness to wash the feet of a Muslim woman shows his concern for the very lowest stratum of society. Europe has millions of Muslims, and some are well off and well integrated into society. But many Muslims who immigrated into France and Italy for work got caught when the jobs dried up, and live in poor areas of the cities, being excluded from mainstream society or much hope of betterment. Women have lower status than men in such communities, so a poor Muslim woman in jail is just about the bottom of the social scale.
Pope Francis is from Argentina, which has a large, successful Arab-heritage community that includes Muslims, and he is said to have deeply disagreed with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, over the latter's Regensburg speech in which he said things that Muslims found insulting.
The thing that strikes me about all this is that there is a small strand of American Catholic conservatism that frankly despises both the poor and Muslims, and is one of the pillars of prejudice against Muslims (some call it Islamophobia) in the United States. Most Catholics in opinion polls have a more positive view of Islam and Muslims than is common among evangelical Protestants, but the rightwingers among them have a thing about Muslims (and about poor people).
An example is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Peter King of New York also comes to mind. Robert Spencer has made a career of defaming Islam and Muslims.
I'd like to see Cole back that up with evidence that I've ever said anything false about Islam or defamatory about any Muslim, but he won't, because he can't. He has, like many, many other cowardly pseudo-academics, refused to debate me, even though if what he says about me is really true, he would be doing decent dhimmis a service by discrediting me and ridding the world of my "Islamophobic" influence.
Then there is professional bully Sean Hannity of Faux News. Paul Ryan uses the insulting language of "Islamic fascism" (fascism is a Western invention; most fascists in history have been of Christian heritage; and it has nothing to do with the Muslim faith). Ryan, far from serving the poor, wants to cut social services to them by savaging the government budget, and openly boasts of following the prophet of selfishness, Ayn Rand.
These purveyors of hate speech against Muslims claim to be Catholics, and some of them are annoyingly Ultramontane, insisting on papal infallibility and trying to impose their values on all Americans.
Yet the person they hold to be the vicar of Christ has just given humankind a different charge, of humility and of service to the least in society, many of whom are Muslims.
So when will we see Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity and the others go to a prison to comfort inmates, and serve the Muslims among them? When will we see them kiss a Muslim's feet? Or are they cafeteria Catholics, parading only the values that accord with their Ayn Rand heresy?
When will we see Juan Cole say anything about the Muslims who are violently persecuting Christians in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere? Or are they too "right-wing" for him to care about?