We are too accustomed to prefacing the word scandal with the modifier sex. We lose sight of scandal’s insidious range. What we witness in Sunday’s carnival of prayer at the Vatican is scandal of a different stripe: the abuse of prayer.
Israeli President Peres, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (nom de guerre Abu Mazen) will meet in the Vatican garden. Imams will read selectively from the Quran, rabbis will read from the Tanakh. Christians will flourish the New Testament. All will conspire to ignore the elephant in the topiary: Islamand Islam alonecontains a theological imperative to violence.
Daniel Mauch. Two Popes, a Bishop, a Canon, and 7 Monks in Prayer (c.1505). Louvre, Paris.
Heads will bow. Peace will be kissed on all four cheeks. Abbas, co-founder of Fatah, will walk away with the sheen of a man of prayer. Terror attacks against Israel will begin anew tomorrow or the next day, just as they did after Francis’ visit two weeks ago.
Jew hatred does not submit to interfaith dialogue. Marquis of Queensbury rules do not obtain here. Race hatred is too visceral, too primitive even for politics, though political processes must keep on. Abbas knows that. And while the occasion pressures Peres to make the obligatory anodyne noises, he also knows it. Apparently, Francis does not. Or he chooses to forget.
Yet Francis is the one ordained in testimony to the grievous truth that the peace that passeth all understanding is an eschatological one. Jesus did not promise peace between the Hatfields and McCoys. Nor in the Middle East. That would be peace as the world knows it. He told us himself that he does not give as the world gives.
Frederic Lix. Ottoman Turks Quell Cretan Uprising of 1896. Le Petit Journal, 1896.
But let us pretend Jesus did not quite mean it. Papal theater is a soothing opiate to lull the dread and anguish of the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli condition. Francis’ interfaith pageant soothes because it posits a moral equivalence between the Palestinian Authority with its newly sworn in unity governmentHamas and Fatah conjoinedand the state of Israel. Who benefits from that equivalence? To this day, Fatah’s charter commits to the destruction of Israel. This new alliance of the two terrorist groups fulfills Abbas’ 2007 statement: “We must unite Hamas and Fatah blood in the struggle against Israel as we did at the beginning of the Intifada.”
Prayerful performance in the Vatican garden will not erase those words. What goes on in the dazzle of international media is not prayer. It is circus. It is a pious, image enhancing spectacle that lends luster to the false narrative of Abbas as a political moderate.
To Israel, peace means being left alone. To the Palestinians, it means a Judenrein Middle East with Israel gone from the map. On March 15, 2013, Abbas told Russia Today TV: “As far as I’m concerned there is no difference between the policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.” This is not the peace that Francis seeks.
Palma il Giovane. First Turkish Attack on Constantinople in 1453 (late 16th C.). Ducal Palace, Venice.
What is Francis to do?
He can pray for the conversion of Abbas. He can pray on his knees in private, off camera, and away from the seductions of press attention. Detached from hubris, he can pray for the nullification of Hamas and Fatah. In the solitude of his bedroom he can plead, in charity, for the dissolution of Islamic ambitions for a universal caliphate. He might even suggest to bishoprics around the world that they add such pertinent lines to their petitionary prayers from the Sunday pulpit.
If that proves too unwieldy, perhaps Francis could pray simply for the courage to admit which side he is on. The future of the West has a huge stake in that.
Note: This was written hours ahead of the scheduled event. Nothing to change but verb tenses.