Pope John Paul II, perhaps the most admired pope of the twentieth century, made a name for himself as a symbol of freedom and liberty. He gave moral sustenance for hundreds of millions suffering under the yoke of communist oppression. Unfortunately, just over a decade after his death, the current pope — Pope Francis — seems intent on doing the opposite, using the considerable weight of his office to excuse tyranny and turn his back on oppression. Speaking to a French Roman Catholic newspaper, he criticized the West for allegedly trying to export its own brand of democracy to Iraq and Libya. According to Reuters, he said:

Faced with current Islamist terrorism, we should question the way a model of democracy that was too Western was exported to countries where there was a strong power, as in Iraq, or Libya, where there was a tribal structure…We cannot advance without taking these cultures into account.

How sad. Prior to the Iraq war, one-in-six Iraqis fled the country. When they settled in the United States and Europe, few had trouble adjusting to democracy. The problem was less a cultural allergy to democracy than a lack of law-and-order inside Iraq. For the Pope to condemn Arabs to perpetual strongman dictatorship both misunderstands the problems in the region and those forces causing instability. Iraqi democracy did not fail on its own; it suffered because neighbors — think Iran and Saudi Arabia — both feared democracy so much that they were willing to fund forces to undermine it and then gloated at its destruction.

Even if Pope Francis does not believe such logic, he might consider just how stable the Middle East was as a region of dictatorships. The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War killed up to one million people. Hafez al-Assad killed perhaps 20,000 in Hama in 1982. Bashar al-Assad has precipitated the greatest refugee crisis of this century solely because he was a brutal dictator; it cannot be blamed on democracy. Dictatorships sponsored terrorists who struck not only in the Middle East but in the heart of Europe, including Rome.

Under the Pope’s logic as well, the world should just accept tyranny against the Kurds or Berbers as a manifestation of Arab culture, or persecution of Christians as a necessary characteristic of local society.

Tyranny is on the rebound. How sad it is that the Pope seems unwilling to recognize that moral equivalence only hastens tyranny’s march.

Pope Francis
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