When the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie’s head back in 1989, Pat Buchanan and I were probably the only two writers who did not huff and puff at the outrage of it all and did not demand that George Bush go to war against Iran if “one hair on Rushdie’s head is touched by someone working for Iran or seeking to claim the bounty” (Richard Cohen’s rather infamous words). If memory serves, Pat suggested that the Anglo-Indian go to Nicaragua for help, Rushdie having advertised the Sandinistas as the best government on the planet. My suggestion was a good beating by the faithful, perhaps even a kneecapping.
The reason for my lack of Christian compassion was Salman Rushdie’s unparalleled hypocrisy and opportunism. (I also wrote that he should be protected.) Rushdie had often described England and America as racist police states, referred to Mrs. Thatcher as Mrs. Torture in his unreadable Satanic Verses and had called the Prophet Mohammed, Mahound, which is as filthy a name as one can come up with in the Muslim world. The irony was, of course, that Margaret Thatcher spent tens of millions of taxpayers money on protecting the phony Rushdie although the Anglo-Indian never once said thanks. Opportunists like Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis grabbed the limelight by holding press conferences and denouncing the fatwa as an assault on free speech. Rushdie bathed in glory, divorced his wife—who openly called him a coward—and turned himself into a social catch for radical chic overnight. Such are the joys of being a left-wing charlatan who writes unreadable books attacking western culture. But remember, when all this took place the Cold War was still on, and the bums I mentioned above were all firmly on the side of the nice and cuddly Soviet Union.
Needless to say, Rushdie offered everything but a Monica Lewinsky on Khomeini, but the fatwa stayed. I remember seeing Rushdie at a party and never have I seen a more hateful look. Where Salman Rushdie went wrong was picking on Islam. Unlike Christians, Muslims are not best pleased when their religion is insulted. Sal baby should have picked on Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. Catholics will accept anything and everything including the “blood” libel that Pope Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope, which brings me to the point I wish to make.
The “bad” reputation of Pius XII owes a great deal to the notorious Hochhuth fictional play of 1963. Rolf Hochhuth was a former member of the Hitler Youth whose play “The Deputy” single-handedly managed to convince lots of people who were only too pleased to be convinced that Pius XII was lenient towards Hitler. (A film titled “Amen,” by Costas-Gavras, another opportunist and cheap-shot artist par excellence, based on “The Deputy” is being released this year.)
Here are the facts: Pope Pius XII was forced to devote himself to secretly helping the Jews for obvious reasons. The Germans considered the Vatican to be obstinately against their anti-Jewish policies and were threatening to accelerate deportation of Jews if the Vatican continued to resist. In other words, the Pope had to be careful in his pronouncements lest they do more harm than good. Before the warning, the Pope had issued non-stop public denunciations of Nazi racism, first as papal nuncio in Bavaria, as secretary of state under Pius XI, and finally as Pope. So much so, in fact, he was lampooned as a Jew-lover by German newspapers and accused of being Jewish. Pius also had an intolerable burden within his flock: the neutral Irish (with de Valera an open admirer of Hitler), the neutral Spanish, Portuguese, and pro-Axis Italians.
The truth is that the Catholic Church headed by Pius XII was heroic in its secret efforts to save Jews, and it did manage to save 700,000 Jewish lives. The thanks it got for its efforts were Hochhuth, Costas-Gavras, Cornwell, and Daniel Goldhagen. Before I get to the last, here is my colleague John Laughland writing in the Spectator of London: “Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Pius XII was the object of adulation by Jews and Gentiles alike…. as Rabbi David Dalin has shown, the people who showered official and public praise on Pius XII include Albert Einstein in 1940; Chaim Weizmann in 1943; the Chief Rabbi of Israel in 1944; the secretary of the World Jewish Congress in 1945; Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister in 1945; the State of Israel in 1955; and Golda Meir on his death in 1958.” The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism in 1944 in recognition of the Pope’s personal record of saving Jews. Yet all this was overturned single-handedly by a former Hitler Youth who was in bad need of some publicity. It speaks volumes for our culture when an opportunistic fantasist can ruin a saintly life with a big lie. Which brings me to another opportunist, Daniel Goldhagen.
Danny boy obviously learned a lesson from the Salman Rushdie fiasco: don’t fool around with people who will fight back. Pick on soft targets, and there’s no one softer than the Catholic Church. Goldhagen swept to “prominence” six years ago with his one-sided condemnation of the German people in his dubious opus in which he argued that German popular culture contained so much anti-Semitism all Germans willingly went along. Even my friend Paul Johnson, an extremely philo-Semitic writer, called Goldhagen’s work tendentious with a confused moral philosophy. Now Goldhagen has turned the spotlight on the Catholic Church in Europe, leaving Catholicism in America out in the cold, so to speak.
Goldhagen wants moral reckoning for the hostility the Catholic Church has shown towards Judaism these last 2000 years. He thinks John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope did not go far enough. He wants the “institutional descendants” who bear no individual responsibility to atone for the errors of the past. His real target, in my book at least, is 2000 years of Christian teaching by the Church.
Given that here in America there is freedom of speech for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, and at times even Catholics, I will not serve a fatwa on the miserable Goldhagen or on the lying John Cornwell. In Europe there are already so called obscenity laws that forbid the insulting of anyone else’s religion. I do not propose such laws, but perhaps some Catholic lawyer over in the old country could sue Goldhagen for insulting Catholicism and Christianity with his vile book. Spending some time with lawyers would do Goldhagen a world of good. Better yet, a good punch in the nose would do just fine, and I’m just the man to do it.
And while I’m at it—the Catholic Church, that is—a Borgia exhibition in Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome (Dado Ruspoli, a great Don Juan and a very old friend, thinks his palace is the perfect setting for it) coincides with the latest effort to rehabilitate Lucrezia Borgia, one of the most notorious members of the Borgia dynasty—Spanish nobles who controlled the Papacy through intrigue, marriage, and not a small amount of murder during the 15th and 16th centuries. 234 works from 54 museums are exhibited in one of the most romantic palaces of Rome, and the aim of the show, according to a leading expert, is to put the record straight. According to the organizers, Lucrezia Borgia poisoned no one but was poisoned by the pen of history. The Borgias are the victims of biased historical accounts, say the experts, although they admit that Lucrezia did kill with a sword. (Oh well, no one’s perfect.) Lucrezia was born in 1480 and married three times. Her first hubby, Giovanni Sforza, was impotent, and I suspect in order to protect his name he spread rumors of incest. (The present Prince Sforza, another friend, is anything but impotent and hates spreading rumors.) After being impregnated by her father’s emissary, she was nevertheless later declared a virgin by the Vatican. Win some, lose some.