David Warren, in my opinion, is one of the better writers and commentators on the web. His pieces are well-written, concise, and always thought-provoking. His latest piece, called Comparative Religion, nevertheless misses the mark, in my opinion.
The essay begins with an analogy of anger in the blind, using it as a metaphorical segue into a discussion of comparative religion, especially as it relates to Islam. He closes his essay with the following statement:
Today, a great deal of nonsense is spoken about Islam–as ever, especially by its apologists. There is a similar blindness towards a cultural tradition that includes much more than crazed jihadis. It is particularly the religious, the spiritual dimension of Islam that is incomprehensible, not only to observers who have not lived in Muslim lands, but to many “postmodern” Muslims themselves, who’ve become as blind to “Allah, the merciful, the compassionate,” as Western postmoderns have become to the Christian understanding of He who is Love.
I am not saying there aren’t many hard, violent passages in the Koran, and Hadiths; nor am I saying these are no better or worse than similar passages in the New Testament, or Dharmapada. For to say this is to ignore fact. But before we stare, at what may seem alien and frightening, and before we let anger make us blind, we must realize that the sincere Muslim, in his humility, is doing what we are, when we are seeking God. He is in prayer.
It seems to me that this, “we’re all praying to the same God” mentality–this brushing aside of those pesky jihadists, and searching instead for the deep, peaceful spirituality which is true Islam–is naive at best, and quite dangerous at worst. A scholarly dissection of the theology of Islam, Christianity, or any other major religion is not really the point here–although logic would dictate that the vastly disparate nature of the deity in each of these religions is fundamentally incompatible with any contention that same transcendent being is worshiped by all. One cannot doubt that the devotion of a sincere adherent of any major religion takes place in an environment of sincerity in seeking the God of their understanding. But much can be gleaned from the manifestations of religion in culture and history, and as such these fruits–the outworking of religious convictions in societies and cultures–may tell us far more than erudite discussions of theology and the relative teachings and merits of the sacred scriptures of each religion.
The historical fact of Islam–its behavior etched in the granite of time–demonstrates its origins and its behavior throughout a substantial portion of its history to be those of a warrior faith. This is a religion whose founder and early followers believed that their God was best served by conquest, forcible conversion, and either slaughter or humiliation inflicted upon those who would not convert. There can be no doubt from the historical record that this behavior, this worldview, was at the very core of the religion from its outset–and that this core has stood unchanged and unchallenged in the centuries since its founding–for Islam itself maintains that the Prophet’s word is final, the Koran immutable. One may say that the followers of Islam have become vastly less warlike as a group over time–a statement clearly true, as the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful members of their societies. But to attribute this social change to a fundamental transformation in the religion itself; to naively hope that the religion does not have the potential any longer for profound violence, conquest, and forced submission; that Islam has, or can be, transmogrified into a religion of peace and coexistence: this is to practice wishful thinking–and dangerously wishful thinking at that.
There is a common theme bandied around in our attempt to come to terms with the terrorism promulgated by some followers of Islam: that of repeatedly stating that Islam has been “hijacked” by extremists. The curious might wonder why “extremists” of other religions are not practicing similar violent and murderous behavior: why there are no Buddhist beheaders or Jewish suicide bombers. The answer is that the core beliefs of Islam are comfortably compatible with such behavior, and thus can be easily recruited to support it without fundamental dogmatic conflict. Given this historical and theological grounding of Islam, peaceful coexistence is far less consistent with its core beliefs than is violence; the abberation is peaceful Islam, not violent Islam.
The skeptic will be quick to point out the violent pages in Christianity’s history, dragging out the Crusades and the Inquisition to prove that all religious zealotry is violent by nature. Such pale parallels do not survive scrutiny, ignoring the far less useful reality that the Crusades were very much defensive wars against four centuries of brutal and aggressive conquest against Christians and Christian lands. Even the Inquisition–hardly Christendom’s finest hour–occurred in the milleau of la reconquista–a nearly seven-century reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim aggression. Christianity’s most punitive stances were themselves reactions to Islamic aggression and conquest.
We must move beyond cozy notions of coexistence and the confluence of incompatible ideas if we are to endure the trials of our current violent age–much less conquer them. The Crusaders–for all their faults, which were legion–understood and acted upon absolutes: good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Our current struggle against the resurrected aggressiveness of Islam cannot depend alone on military strength, nor whimsical fancies and wishful thinking about peaceful coexistence. Our struggle now is a struggle of ideas; more than that, a struggle of absolutes. Our enemies hold to them–though their absolutes beget murder, hatred, destruction and anarchy. It is a struggle which the West is now woefully ill-equipped to fight, having squandered, like some prodigal son, the cultural and spiritual riches it inherited on self-indulgence and dissipation. We are a culture of material comfort and moral relativism, living off the spoils of an earlier age when truth mattered and character counted.
It is long past time to reclaim the inheritance, to straggle hungrily toward home, where passion for truth and honesty brings the only true security and peace. It is long past time to move beyond platitudes and the comfort of false ideas, to open our eyes and begin the hard work of examining first, ourselves, and then, our suppositions. Peace will not be found in accepting our blindness, as David Warren hopes; it must come by opening our eyes–at long last, after a very deep sleep.