ANTIWAR: Islam, the West and Faith
ANTIWAR, Tuesday, January 01, 2002
by Scott McConnell
In the January Chronicles
Islam, the West and Faith
In the January issue of Chronicles, editor Tom Fleming, by way of
introducing his own position on the war, takes me to task for mine, which he
wrongly interprets as unequivocal opposition to the U.S. attack on
Afghanistan. Not getting my position right may be an understandable mistake
- the column I wrote about the Chronicles circle left my own views implicit.
But Fleming's other points are challenging and valuable and could well serve
as a basis of discussion for conservatives who do not feel represented by
the mindless calls for increased US bellicosity emanating from the
neoconservative Republican establishment. Chronicles has not yet posted
Fleming's piece online - but (perhaps after editing out the incorrect
references to me) it should.
Fleming lists, in "ascending" order of importance the following
recommendations for US policy:
A: Work toward a just settlement of the Middle East crisis, including a real
Palestinian state with guaranteed defensible borders. He adds, "There's no
doubt that the US government's one-sided policy in the region has
contributed to the hatred toward America that has boiled up in the modern
B: End the US' drive for global hegemony - the muscle flexing which has led
the United States to war against Iraq, Panama, and Yugoslavia. Such policies
"make the world a more dangerous place for Americans." Instead pursue a
foreign policy based on American interests.
C: "Wake up to the real threat of Islam," a religion "that has defined
itself, since its inception, as the enemy of Christianity." Muslims do not
believe this struggle is over. Resolution of the Palestinian question will
not produce more than a d�tente - desirable in itself, but not an end to the
This is not a "crusade" because the elite classes of Europe and the West are
"unfit to take up the Cross."
"If we are asked to take part in a campaign of cultural genocide waged by
the post-Christian, post human anti-culture of the consumerist West against
the traditional culture of Islam, we will adamantly refuse."
D: Work toward the re-creation of Christendom in North America and Europe.
My response - and I suspect that of many of this site's readers is:
agreement with points A and B; a troubled and not entirely confident
disagreement with point C, and regarding D, which may well be the crux of
Fleming's argument, a "What exactly is he talking about?"
What Fleming is suggesting in C and D is that the post-Enlightenment world
that saw the West advance materially and geographically, while God and
Christianity gradually receded in the Western consciousness, is no more than
snare and delusion. Instead, the basic civilizational divisions of mankind
into how worship is organized are reasserting themselves, somehow must
reassert themselves. Unlike Christians, Muslims have not deluded themselves
into believing that the world based on faith is in any way subordinate to
the world based on science and reason.
These are large propositions - they may lie at the heart of serious
contemporary political inquiry, however one might try to answer them. (They
are, for instance, the central preoccupation of Michel Houellebecq, the
best-selling French writer who has been variously described as a racist,
eugenicist, Stalinist, and anti-Muslim - and the most important Western
novelist in a generation).
I don't think Fleming's view of the main trend-lines within Islam is
correct. Iran is the most significant "believing" Muslim country. If
America's conservative establishment doesn't blow it by unleashing an
expanded American war in the Middle East, Iran will continue a momentous
transformation from militant anti-Western fundamentalism to something much
more benign, a process which occurred within a generation. But if the most
successful scientifically and culturally advanced states in the Islamic
world cast off the most obscurantist elements of their faith, that kind of
Islam will prevail over Osama bin Laden and all the nuthouse mullahs raging
The interesting thing about Fleming is that he does not desire this kind of
victory. It is not reactionary enough. Facing a choice between the
post-Christian West and believing, obscurantist Islamic jihadism, Fleming
would rather not have to choose, or would at least say he wouldn't want to
choose. He wouldn't want the secular West, this West, to win. For him,
salvation for the West lies in the "recreation of Christendom."
But what can that mean? Does "Christendom" mean a religious revival of
sorts, a rearrangement within the existing order - one that sees some
rolling back of the culture of abortion, a greater focus on family life, the
end to the suppression of Christmas, a cultural politics derived from a
widely accepted understanding that the United States was a better country
when it was more Christian than it is at present? That would be a possible
option, and a far from disagreeable one.
Or does Christendom mean something much more radical? - the rejection of the
Enlightenment, an attempted rollback of as many developments as possible
which have taken place since the French Revolution, or since Galileo? Ought
the people of the West become as subordinate towards their clergy as they
were in the Middle Ages, or in the time of the Puritans?
Desirable or not (and for me it is not), nothing of the sort is going to
happen barring perhaps a nuclear cataclysm that kills more than three
quarters of the world's educated population. I think I can understand the
longing for the Middle Ages, recognize that it is not unfamiliar ground for
a certain kind of disaffected Western intellectual. But it's beyond the
realm of the possible.
So if what I infer to be Tom Fleming's preferred option - a sort of Holy War
between a re-Christianized West and militant fundamentalist Islam, with the
West victorious - is not on the table, what are the actual choices?
They boil down to two. One is an eventual d�tente between a secularized West
and an unevenly secularizing Islamic world. That means the West fights back
against Osama bin Laden while actively seeking d�tente and noninterference
with the rest of the Muslim world, while fundamentalist movements begin to
burn themselves out. Fleming's points A and B, a Palestinian peace
settlement and a less aggressive US foreign policy, are probably the
necessary preconditions for this, the most favorable of possible outcomes.
In this scenario, the retreat from faith that transformed the West in the
last 150 years transforms the Muslim world as well. There are several
variations within this scenario - some far more attractive than others. But
since this is the one that holds the greatest prospect for long lives for my
children and (yet to be born) grandchildren, it is the best.
The other scenario is an escalating war between the secularized West and an
Islam taken over by Islamic Jihadism, where aggressively anti-Western
fundamentalists are able to form alliances with more scientifically advanced
secular dictatorships (Iraq). The West would win, but the costs of such a
war could be horrible - probably involving nuclear terrorism, use of nuclear
weapons, man-made epidemics and the like.
We may be in for a wild ride - a friend who telephoned recently said that if
India and Pakistan went to war, China "would have to" get involved - so the
world may be facing a situation beyond the influence of any of us. But if
the present crisis eases a bit, Fleming's piece - precisely because it takes
faith as seriously as many of the West's most impassioned adversaries - is a
fine place to initiate serious discussion.
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