ABOVE: Benozzo Gozzoli, “Saint Francis Before the Sultan,” 1452. INSET: Cover of Islam: Religion of Peace? by Father Mario Alexis Portella. BELOW: Father Mario Alexis Portella (R) addresses a conference in Florence, March 28, 2019.
An interview with Father Mario Alexis Portella, author of a book that examines what Muslims believe and how Islam is portrayed in the West.
When Islamist terrorism strikes, often the media and others will make excuses in virtue of “political correctness” not to mention the fact that they tend to ignore the original Islamic texts that first inspired the terrorists to carry out their bloody work.
Chiefly for this reason, Father Mario Alexis Portella wrote the book Islam: A Religion of Peace?: The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-up (Westbow Press, 2018), not just to speak for the forgotten victims of Islamic jihad, particularly Christians, but also to show that such terrorist acts and other human rights violations committed by Muslims are drawn from their most sacred texts.
In this Jan. 19 interview with the Register, Father Portella, an American priest serving in Italy as chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, explains more about his book, in particular which Islamic texts are used to foment Islamism and the Islamization of Western society, and how the imposition of Western secularism fuels this process, causing Islamism to fill a moral vacuum with principles of action diametrically opposed to Christian charity.
Father Portella also recounts a recent visit he made to Nigeria and appeals on behalf of the forgotten Christians being persecuted there by Islamist tribes, saying he believes they are ignored by Western media simply because they are African. He also gives ideas on how Catholics can help, the first step being to acknowledge that Islam has posed a threat since its inception in the seventh century.
What prompted you to write your book Islam: Religion of Peace?
The primary reason I chose to write this book is that it is such a misunderstood topic amongst Catholics. We’re continually fed what I perceive to be a “politically correct” presentation on this delicate and controversial topic to the point that one cannot even question the intentions of Muslims who commit barbarous acts in the name of Islam. I wanted to not just speak for the beleaguered and forgotten victims of Islamic jihad, Christians in particular, but to demonstrate that the acts of jihad, terrorism, and other human rights violations committed by Muslims are drawn from the Islamic texts: the Quran, the hadith (Sunna) [a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad which, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Quran], and the Sira of the Prophet Muhammad [traditional Muslim biographies of the prophet].
How has political correctness, the attitudes of Western politicians and the media, and Islamic polemics led to the current spread of Islamic persecution of Christians in your view?
So far as the politicians are concerned, they tend to care more about the petrodollar as opposed to the victims of human rights violations in Islamic countries. To quote a mentor of mine, Father Samir Khalil Samir, S.J., “The West has great respect for human rights but even greater respect for material advantages and wealth. If there is some conflict related to economic or commercial interests, human rights are placed second. If the defense of human rights implies the sacrifice of economic advantages, the rights are normally sacrificed, not the economic advantages.”
What role does Saudi Arabia play in the Islamicization of the West?
Saudi Arabia imposes hegemonic influence over Arab and other Islamic states, and the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—the NGO-self-proclaimed voice of Islam, which is composed of all 57 Islamic states, including Turkey and the Palestinian Territory — is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia according to the Siro-Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, has since the mid-1970s “recklessly financed and promoted a harsh and intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam — [which essentially provides the theological groundwork for almost every violent jihadist group] — around the world in a way that is, quite predictably, producing terrorists.”
What role has Church leadership played in this “politically correct” narrative?
Without naming anyone, many within the Catholic hierarchy and clergy have not only absolved “Islam” of the crimes committed in its name by willingly refusing to see the texts the Islamic perpetrators quote in the face of the Islam-inspired genocide of Christians [but they have also] joined up with the problematic campaign against Islamophobia, seeing Muslims as the only victims in this polemical environment. What is perhaps even more discouraging is that according to a 2018 poll conducted by Aid to the Church in Need-USA/McLaughlin & Associates, American Catholics were more concerned about global warming than the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world.
To what extent do you think Islam itself is to blame?
For Muslims, their religion, as dictated by sharia [Islamic law] and based on the Quran and the hadiths of the Prophet — regulates every aspect of their lives according to norms established 1400 years ago, which includes polygamy and child marriages. This is impossible. How can a man, for example be allowed to marry up to four women? And if he wishes a fifth one, he simply repudiates one of the four he likes the least and marries the new one. We see this in Muhammad’s multiple marriages, including his marriage to Aisha.
Such practices can no longer be a model to observe. But because, according to the texts, such acts were practiced by Muhammad and are defined as good, then we have a problem. There must be a new ethic for today, but the imams are not united in this. In fact, they continue to sustain archaic traditions that are, in essence, a codification of Bedouin tribal conduct.
Mind you, there are many prominent Muslims who seek to promote harmony. The paradox is that while there are many passages in the Quran that speak of goodness and clemency, there are also verses calling for violence, presenting Muhammad as a military figure as opposed to a prophet. Islamic scholars and imams can pick and choose whatever verse is convenient to them, at times directed to ad hoc situations; fundamental and literal interpretations often materialize in despotic teachings. This has regrettably made Islam into a global political and military project, as opposed to a simple religion.
As a consequence, many contemporary Muslims exercise a personal choice to construe their sacred book’s appeal to the taking of arms and financing terrorism according to their own ideas. Islamic apologists have catered to these preferences with tenuous positions that camouflage historical fact, generally lacking any sort of profound scrutiny. This problem is not necessarily one of bad people but of bad ideology. As the general secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council, the world’s largest Muslim organization, Imam Yahya Cholil Staquf, stated: “The problem lies within Islam itself.” I add, all one has to do is read the Islamic texts.
History has shown that where Christianity is not practiced or has lapsed into secularism, Islam has filled the void, the Islamic takeover of northwestern Africa, known as the Maghreb, being just one example. Do you see this being repeated in the form of persecution of Christians, particularly carried out by Islamist terrorism?
First, for clarification, the Islamic threat is not limited to acts of terrorism or justified domestic violence. Muslims collectively seek to diffuse and embed Islam by any means, especially through immigration — based on the Hijra (migration) of Muhammad to Medina in 622 A.D. — and the multiplication of their progeny; it’s how they seek to assure the mandate of Allah is fulfilled according to Sira Rasul Allah (the first written biography of Muhammad) by Ibn Ishaq, in which Allah says: “It is not for any prophet to take prisoners until he has made slaughter on earth,” i.e., “slaughtered his enemies until he drives them from the land. You [Muhammad], desire the lure of this world, its goods and the ransom captives. But Allah desires the next world,” i.e., killing them to manifest the religion which He wishes to manifest and by which the next world may be attained [i.e., not paradise but here on earth] (Ibn Ishaq, 326–327).
What role has the emergence of what seems to be a strange alliance between the political left and Islamism played in this desire for Islamic hegemony
The West is aborting and contracepting itself out of existence and because of this demographic collapse, Islam has gained a foothold in the West. Muslims have collectively reacted to the fundamental national, religious, cultural, and even gender identities that are being denied or relativized. As a community, in a complete paradox to the West, they tend to uphold natural law principles by refuting abortion: holding that the fetus possesses a spiritual right and the parents are obligated to observe these rights for the safety of the fetus before, during and after pregnancy. Muslims also see as unfairly treating a family with many children as equal (juridically speaking) to same-sex marriages, to say nothing of transgenderism. Since this is what is being imposed upon all of us, including those well-intentioned Muslims who come to our land, they have tended to find shelter within the sharia.
And because the individualist mentality in our Judeo-Christian society has divided us, Muslims unified in one common cause have been successful in filling up the void of our self-created moral vacuum.
You traveled recently to Nigeria, to the Borno State and to the Andawa State in the northern diocese of Maiduguri, where many Christians are being currently persecuted and victim to grave atrocities by Islamists. Why is the persecution so serious there, a region which is not a focus of secularism but, on the contrary, where Christianity is vibrant?
I would first like to say that we should thank the Almighty God for the release of one of the four seminarians kidnapped by Boko Haram on Jan. 8 from the Catholic Major Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Kaduna state [also in Nigeria]. Let’s continue to pray that the others are released.
Igbo Nigerians (south-central and southeastern Nigeria) have been tacitly targeted by the Fulani Muslims because of their ethnicity and Christian faith. According to Emmanuel Ogebe, a leading human rights lawyer, [Nigeria’s president, General Muhammadu] Buhari, who is himself from the jihadists’ Fulani tribe, has filled his security council with his kinsmen. He infamously refused to visit Benue State after the 2018 New Year’s Day Massacre that claimed over seventy lives then commanded the state governor to go and “accommodate” the Fulani Herdsmen who had killed his people. The minister of defense has justified the killings and General Buhari’s Government condones and sometimes outright supports the Herdsmen. Worse still, General Buhari is a life patron of one of the Herdsmen associations that has claimed some of the attacks.
Amnesty International has gone so far as to accuse the Nigerian Air Force for its complicit involvement in the killing of at least 86 people on Dec. 4, 2017, as they fired rockets at villages where Fulani Muslims were attacking Christians. The gunning down of 19 Catholics, including two priests by Islamists during Mass at a church in village of Mbalom, Benue (southeast Nigeria) on April 24, 2018, was one of the latest in what has become a government-sponsored Islamic war on Christians. Apparently, it cannot be denied that Buhari has always had an Islamist agenda. In 2001 at an Islamic seminar in Kaduna, then-General Buhari stated: “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the sharia in the country.”
What has been the U.S. response to the conflict in Nigeria?
During a White House joint-press conference President Trump held with President Buhari on April 30, 2018, Buhari did not address nor did he outright reject “the narrative that his government was persecuting Christians in the ongoing attacks linked to [Fulani] herdsmen.” Trump specifically condemned the acts. Yet Trump reassured a nearly $600 million sales of military planes and security equipment, initially “stalled under the Obama administration because of allegations that Nigeria’s military has been involved in human rights [violations] including rape and extrajudicial killings.” This realpolitik from the West has to stop, and the Church has to acknowledge this more publicly.
What do you think the Church and others should do to not only help those being currently persecuted, but also work to reduce the persecution of Christians?
First, acknowledgement that there is a threat from Islam. Second, promotion of a true democracy which entails a separation of state and religion. Third, we must as a Church pray for the victims — and not just Christians but Muslims and other religious minorities. Last, we as a Church should not be ashamed of fulfilling the Lord’s last command before he returned to the Father: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.