It is far too easy and tempting for those who pride themselves on their moral integrity or intellectual sophistication to absolve Islam of its responsibility for the plague of violence and terrorism sweeping the world today, an exculpation carried out in the name of the historical complexity of the faith, the rich tradition of exegetical commentary which attaches to it and its assumable sympathy for the ideal of peaceful coexistence
But the Medinese portion of the Koran prescribes rather definitively against the non-believer, the infidel and the heretic. Its proscriptions cannot easily be moderated, ignored or merely wished away, just as the history of the dromocracies of Islam cannot be hidden under a palimpsest of readerly good intentions or ostensible scholarly impartiality. Even the golden age of Moorish Spain that features in the history books and glitters in the public imagination is, in part at any rate, something of a historical fiction: the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties were cruel and intolerant dispensations given to fervid and prolonged outbursts of persecution. Even the famed Caliphate of Cordoba was not the uniformly enlightened Castle in Spain of popular fancy but, at least in part, an Andalusian mirage.
Indeed, Islamic tolerance is more of a modern fable than a historical verity. But our ignorance of Islam is almost ecumenical and very few of us, for example, have ever bothered to study the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunnah, or the chronicles of Arab conquest, which might constitute something of an epiphany. Relying upon the TV news and majoritarian dailies, often slanted toward appeasement and nearly always truncated, biased and superficial, puts us at a distinct disadvantage in what is shaping up to be a war to the finish. At best, happy ignorance leads only to embarrasing moments, as when so prominent a writer and intellectual as Jorge Luis Borges lays it down that there are no references to camels in the Koran—he obviously skipped surah 88:18. At worst, camels or no camels, we sign our own death warrants.
But no less dangerous than our misunderstanding of Islam is the widespread misprision of our own civilization, which I suspect may be undergoing its precipitous denouement as it prepares for terminal breakup. In a time of moral inversion, one might say that a vacuum abhors nature, and the vacuum of the Western intellect in the disintegrating era in which we live will not be filled by facts, by the logic of events, by palpable realities, by common sense or by the obvious nature of things. On the contrary, the spiritual vacancy which has become our home is replete with phantoms and delusions that substitute for the genuine values that have sustained the best part of our civilization.
The intellectual depravity and emotional retardation of the Western elites and their rote-like followers among the masses and special interest groups may have passed the point of no return. In a world in which thousands of people are killed and injured every year in terrorist attacks, in which food prices are rising beyond the means of the world’s poor owing in large measure to short-sighted and ineffective biofuel initiatives, in which autocratic nations and torture states are given a free ride in the United Nations, and in which nuclear weapons are proliferating and nuclear technology is coming into the hands of rogue and genocidal regimes—in such a world, European Union parliamentarians hold a minute’s silence and blow whistles to honour the seals harvested in the Canadian seal hunt. The world is on the brink of a human catastrophe and what our leaders are saying, in unintentional parody of JFK in Berlin, is: “I am a seal.” And blowing whistles!
This is no time to mince words. There is a great emptiness in the Western soul evidenced along the entire cultural spectrum: the refusal to recognize the civilizational threat we are facing, the cognitive deficit and moral desuetude we interpret as intellectual flexibility, the denaturing of language, the absence of political will and, perhaps most revelatory, the faddish belief in the good offices of something called the “international community” to regulate and resolve our most urgent dilemmas.
But the international community is a vaporous conceit. Decisions rendered through presumably transnational bodies, such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, are dominated by authoritarian regimes—China, Russia, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and many so-called non-aligned countries, to the detriment of the resolution of local conflicts, let alone “world peace” and the advancement of liberal values. The International Criminal Court, which admits openly despotic states to the bench, is no better.
Another expressive symptom of civilizational decay is the gradual abdication of Christian leaders before the march of another, far more passionate and determined, world-historical faith. The mainstream Christian churches are now in full flight, retreating into a warren of ideological catacombs that have less to do with religion than with the secular and political considerations of the day, their only means of staying “relevant” given the eclipse of genuine belief. Liberation Theology, along with Process Theology, in one or another of their diverse incarnations, appear to be the Church’s last stand.
St. Augustine would be mortified could he observe the credal upheaval in which the City of Man gradually replaces the City of God as the locus of spiritual residence (Liberation Theology) or the City of God is still in the planning stage (Process Theology). Further, the consensus among the Churches that Islam must be engaged in interfaith dialogue and its hegemonic claims treated with respect, as well as taking aboard its anti-Israeli animus, are a sure sign of imminent capitulation. The Christian churchman and the secular intellectual—say, Rowan Williams and Christopher Hitchens—are consanguineous members of the same feuding family.
One of the great ironies of our situation is that it is courageous former Muslims like Ibn Warraq, Hossain Salahuddin, Magdi Allam, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Abul Kasem and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who have risen to the defence of the West in default of its natural defenders. These former Muslims have adopted an uncompromising stance in favour of Western civilization with its individual liberties and constitutional guarantees over its Islamic rival with its closed and repressive legal and theological systems. It speaks volumes to our predicament when the historical and intellectual supremacy of the West is upheld by those who cross over from the opposing camp rather than by those who owe their freedom to write and act to the very lifeworld they have spiritually abandoned.
It is almost as if a kind of ideological alcoholism has taken hold of the Western sensibility. Both popular majorities and intellectual elites blame beleaguered Israel and conservative America for all the world’s ills, just as the confirmed alcoholic always has something or someone else to blame for his own dysfunction. But the problem is self-induced, namely, the liberal West’s addiction to pervasive self-distrust, the sophistry of neocolonial guilt and the belief in brotherly co-existence with implacable adversaries.
The truth is that we have grown disingenuous and afraid. Nevertheless, this is not the time to cater to the accommodationist sensitivities of the politically correct and the wafflers in good standing, those whom Max Weber called “coupon clippers,” living off the interest of the intellectual and social capital invested by their betters. Despite the lack of informed awareness in the popular mind and the corridors of compromising advocacy toward Western civilization’s self-declared enemies, the effort to disinter the realities of the day must not be abandoned.