My prior post, on the subject of the Islam, its history, and the relevance thereof in an age where nuclear terrorism is increasingly a possibility–if not a certainty–was one of the more difficult posts I’ve had to write in a long time. It was a difficult labor, morphing through many revisions, ended up far different than it began–and I don’t ever recall being quite as uneasy in the past when hitting the Publish button as I was this time. And I’m not entirely sure why…
There is a certain–discomfort–in challenging another man’s faith, be it religious or otherwise. Faith, after all, is an intensely personal thing–arguably one of the most powerful forces in the psyche of man. To question another’s beliefs is to challenge the believer: to paint him or her with a broad brush, slathering thick layers of ignorance and bias over their good intentions and sincere convictions. It implies, in many ways, a superiority: that your faith–or lack of faith–is a finer, more noble, more intellectually honest or morally superior way–and that you, by inference, are also morally or intellectually superior to those who espouse such beliefs. Such presumption naturally makes others bristle–especially in a postmodern age where there can be no objective truth, where my feelings are as true, and legitimate, and valid as yours, beyond all reproach, and demanding of your tolerance. For today, to feel that something is true, and right, and good, is to know it is thus–an unassailable fact.
In daily life, however, we live with such emotive delusions at our peril. That kindly gentleman helping your aging mother with her finances may in fact be a con artist, scamming her out of a life’s savings–no matter how strongly she feels he is honest. That passionate attraction, that illicit love, which feels so right and noble, can destroy a marriage, wreak havoc on the lives of its children–often for generations–and in the end be bitter and unsatisfying rather than blissful and fulfilling. We feel that the Islamists mean us no harm–until we see that low-flying jet roaring towards our 100th floor office window. The power of deceit and emotional self-delusion is enormous, and its presence ubiquitous–and detached from something permanent, real, true, is highly destructive and dangerous. Such magnetic poles–good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong–live far more in the world of the unseen–in the spiritual, vertical, intangible world, rather than the horizontal, material one. It is on the anvil of such principles, morals, and ethics that feelings must be hammered, tested, and annealed, to verify their true strength and integrity.
Religion is supposed to provide clarity about such transcendent principles. Religious belief carries the implied subtext of a first cause, a universal law-giver, a source of goodness, and wisdom, and guidance to steer us through the pain, the meaninglessness, the struggles of material life in this world. It is supposed to result in a life improved, one with more meaning and purpose, a life lived better, more nobly, more beneficially through its principles both for ourselves and for those in the society around us.
Yet it takes but little reflection to realize that people who follow religious beliefs and principles, who adhere to faiths seemingly lofty in their teachings and tenets, often behave in ways as bad–or worse–that those who eschew all religious faith and teachings. It is child’s play to point to countless instances of wars and strife, both ancient and modern, brought about–or at least intensified by–religious differences and pietistic enmities. It is trivial to find instances where religious individuals live lives which fall far short of their stated moral and ethical standards, manifesting a hypocrisy quite evident to others. And so, it is no large leap for some to conclude that all religion is hypocritical, that religious faith is the source for much–if not all–of the evil in the world, and that only true secular skepticism can save us from the deluded fanatics in our midst.
Yet such easy dismissiveness–while emblematic of an age where the superficial masquerades as the profound–avoids the far harder work of discrimination needed to sift through the noise and the nuance thrown up by a postmodern culture reveling in relativism. To cut through the chaff you must look at the core: what does a religion hold as its core beliefs? Do these beliefs have historical integrity, maintaining its fundamental convictions throughout the centuries, or rather wafting and wandering from one set of beliefs to another, drifting in the shifting winds of cultural convenience and awkward revisionism? For such is the call of postmodernism: change your “truth” to conform to our culture. But if there be that which is unchanging, transcendently true in ever age and every place, then it is the truth which judges culture–not the other way around.
Such is the confusion manifested today in the world’s response to Islam. That many of its ways seem foolish, destructive, and childish at best (burning flags and embassies to protest cartoons, which most protesters have never seen), or heinous at worst (suicide bombers, beheadings, terrorism, nuclear blackmail) is patently obvious to all but the most obtuse observers. Yet there is a desire not to paint all Muslims with the ragged brush of the most extreme and violent of Islam’s members–and rightly so, as large swaths of the Muslim world neither participate in, nor endorse, such errant behavior and wanton destruction. We blame the violence on those who have “hijacked” Islam; we call for moderate Muslims to “stand up” against such perversions of their faith (which few seem to do), and “recapture” or reform Islam from within; our politicians and leaders repeatedly stating that the war on terror is not a war on Islam.
While such assertions may be politically expedient, fashionably non-judgmental, or optimistically naive in the face of obstinate realities, they must be examined in light of the core: the central tenets of Islam and their historical congruity. For we see one religion, but two different behaviors: one peaceful, one violent. Such could be said about many religions, of course–the behavior of their followers is not of necessity an accurate measure of their true nature, especially when one is selective about choosing specific instances of behavior or historical time periods. Which behavior–peaceful coexistence or belligerent conquest and conversion, with death to the infidels–best represents the core of Islam?
Although many contemporary apologists for Islam emphasize its peaceful nature and the “inner struggle” aspect of jihad, early Islamic sources tell a quite different story. After the hijra–the forced emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib in 622, barely a dozen years after Mohammed received his revelation from the angel Gabriel–Mohammed created a “new order” in the city. Yathrib (later known as Medina) was a Jewish colony formed by the diaspora of those who survived the revolt against the Romans. Initially invited by the residents of Yathrib, Mohammed established what appeared at first a peaceful covenant with the tribes of the city–but which later allowed the Muslims–on a tribe-by-tribe basis–to drive out, slaughter, and confiscate the property of these Jews, often enslaving their women and children. Tribes who capitulated to Mohammed and his warriors with the promise of reprieve were subsequently slaughtered without mercy. Indeed, the wealth thus plundered provided Mohammed and his armies the resources to later conquer Mecca. This brutal conquest was viewed by Mohammed as divine vengeance on the infidels–an attitude extended soon thereafter to Christians and anyone else who refused to convert to Islam. Subsequent caliphs, from Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s successor who initiated the Great Jihad which overtook all of the Arabian peninsula, to the great expansionist wars which conquered Asia Minor and much of southern Europe until finally stopped by Europe’s ascendence and military dominance, were all a manifestation of the central teachings and revelation of Islam. Indeed, “peaceful” Islam is the true anomaly, brought about far more by the social and technological advances of the Christianized West rather than any change in purpose or mission on the part of Islam. Islam was born under the sword, and lived by the sword: it was from the start the divine judgment on the infidel, executed by the hand of man.
It is this very core which persists today, unchanged and unchangeable. If Mohammed is the Prophet and the Apostle of God, and the Quran Allah’s inspired and unchangeable word thus revealed, then the manifestation of this revelation was evident from the religion’s earliest days: conversion by coercion, and death to those who refuse the “submission”, and its “peace” enforced at the point of the sword. For Islam to reform from within–as many wistfully hope it will–is for Islam to reject that which Allah gave to His last and greatest Prophet. Such “reform” would be as the Jew rejecting Moses as the giver of the Law from Yahweh, or the Christian to reject Jesus Christ as the Son of God: it is only those who dilute and corrupt their faith who could believe thus, thereby undermining and destroying the very essence of the faith they would thereby “reform.”
At its heart, Islam is a faith of weakness wrapped in the armor of a warrior. Its god Allah is incapable of winning victory or changing hearts except by the murder, warfare, subjugation, and coercion of his followers. Who needs such a God when man is fully capable of such deeds without Him? For to convert a man through threat of death is to fail utterly to change a man’s heart. To enforce morals through coercion is not to create moral men or righteous societies, but fearful men and tyrannical rule, strapped by rigid legalism, and fear, and the slavery of hatred which crushes rather than renews the spirit of man.
Such are those who now seek access to modern weapons which can kill millions. That such an act will not usher in the kingdom of Allah, but rather a living hell on earth, is something about which we can no longer afford to be deluded. At the core of our peril is a religious zealotry which seeks–with horrifying weapons it could not develop on its own–to kill or subjugate all who will not convert. The postmodern secular mind cannot and does not grasp the strength such conviction, though delusional, can foment–it wants to coopt Islam into its euphoric pipe dream of peace and tolerance. To resist and destroy such an enemy requires not nuance, nor negotiation, nor appeasement, nor the painless fantasies of a postmodern culture with neither heart nor soul, but those assets now increasingly rare in the pampered and stupefied West: courage, clarity, endurance, character. May there be enough such men to stand in the gap.