Pope’s Remarks About Russia-Ukraine War Likely To Boost Anti-Muslim Sentiments Worldwide

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Il Presidente della Repubblica Sergio Mattarella incontra Papa Francesco

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Pope Francis’ recent comments about the Chechen members in the Russian armed forces are likely to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments worldwide, and more particularly in Europe and Christian-dominated countries.

As head of the global Catholic Church, which forms the majority among all Christian denominations, his remarks carry immense importance among the Catholics and all other Christian denominations.

While responding to questions on the Russia-Ukraine war to a panel of editors from Americaa Catholic magazine, the Pope suggested that the Chechens in the Russian armed forces fighting the Ukraine war are the “cruellest.” He said he was saying this on the strength of his information about the cruelty of troops fighting the war.

Chechens are predominantly Muslims and hail from the province of Chechnya in Russia. 

He also described the Buryats, Mongol Buddhists by faith, among the cruellest, forming part of the Russian armed forces along with the Chechens.

“Generally, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats, and so on,” the Catholic magazine has quoted Pope as having said in the interview.

What Pope meant by his statement, perhaps, was that it was the non-Christian troops of the Russian armed forces who were committing atrocities on Ukrainians, not the Christian members of the force.

Pope’s comments aim to divide Russians into ethnic, and religious lines

Pope’s statements aim to create a wedge between various ethnic and religious groups in Russia and weaken the Russian armed forces. It also amounts to a severe blow to the unity and integrity of Russia. By saying that Chechens belong to Russia but are “not of the Russian tradition,” Pope wants to suggest that Chechens are cruel because they are Muslims and traditionally different from Eastern Orthodox Christians, who form about 80 per cent of the total Russian population. Muslims account for about 7 per cent of the Russian population. Buddhists are merely 0.3 per cent.

While a panel of editors took the interview from the magazine on November 22, it was published on November 28.

In the same interview, Pope said, “When I speak about Ukraine, I speak of people who are martyred. If you have a martyred people, you have someone who martyrs them. So, when I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in.”

The World Must Counter Pope’s Remarks

If not countered strongly, Pope’s comments can generate hatred among Russia’s majority population against Muslim Chechens and Buddhist Buryats. Such statements coming from the mouth of a religious personality as high as the Pope are not a good sign for global peace and harmony.

Except for Russia, no other country has condemned Pope’s remarks. Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel that Chechens, Buryats, and other ethnic groups, along with most Russians, were one country. “This is no longer Russophobia. It’s a perversion on a level I can’t even name,” she commented.

Anti-Muslim sentiments rise in the US

As a global Catholic community leader, Pope needs to weigh his words before commenting on religious communities. As a spiritual leader, he must work for communal peace and harmony and not do anything that encourages hate against each other. Muslims are already under assault from hate-mongers in most of the Christian world, particularly France and the United States. Muslim culture, tradition, clothes, and way of living are strongly criticized and opposed by radical Christian groups. Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiments have spiked all over Europe and the United States in recent years. Dozens of mosques have been vandalized by radical groups in the US in the last few years, and pig heads were thrown on the premises of the mosques. Government authorities in several provinces in the US, the greatest champion of democracy and human rights in the world, are reported to intimidate Muslims to forego their right to religious freedom, particularly regarding the construction of mosques and other religious properties, etc.

Increased attacks on mosques, Muslim places in Europe

Anti-Muslim sentiments have increased sharply in Christian Europe in the last few years, and mosques and Muslims individually have been the target of attacks from radical Christian groups. 

A report of a survey carried out by two British Muslim organizations – Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) and Muslim Census – released last month has shown that 42 per cent of mosques in the United Kingdom have faced “religiously motivated attacks” during the previous three years. It included stabbing the Imam of a mosque, physical attacks on mosques, and damaging vehicles of people coming for prayers.

According to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, about 800 mosques have been attacked in Germany since 2014. The agency quoted a report of Brandeilig, an initiative of the rights group FAIR International, as a source for its claim.

German news website DW.com says that anti-Muslim attacks have become an everyday affair in Germany. “The country’s Interior Ministry registered 1,026 anti-Muslim attacks in 2020. It is suspected that many more have occurred but have not been reported,” says a DW.com report.

Who committed Srebrenica Massacre: Muslims or Christians?

If we study the war between countries in the last few decades, we can know who is the cruellest. Pope may know who committed the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995 and killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the heart of Europe, with the “civilized Europe” looking the other way. While Europe and the US have mobilized mercenaries and arms for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, the world powers remained silent until the Serbian Christian troops completed the massacre of unarmed Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. This is undoubtedly the double standard of the European powers.

Who is committing atrocities on besieged Palestinians every day? Are they Muslims or Israel’s Jewish security forces? What will Pope Francis say about it? Is it not the cruelty of the highest order that the Jewish country is forcibly occupying the land of the native Palestinians to settle Jews from all over the world? 

Pope condemns Putin, Orthodox Church Backs Putin

While Pope Francis, who represents the global Catholic Christian community has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war against Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Kirill, has strongly supported Putin. Catholics and Protestants theologically and politically oppose the Orthodox Church, which is one of the reasons Catholics and Protestants all over the globe oppose Russia, the biggest centre of the Orthodox Church.

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