The world at a watershed

I seldom pass a group of young children these days – or a mother with a newborn infant in her arms – but I ask myself  a rhetorical question. What kind of civilization will that little child grow up in or inhabit as an adult? I was not preoccupied with that question thirty years ago. I was confident then, despite the Cold War, despite the tribal troubles of my country, that changes were for the better. Our progress  at worst seemed to be a matter of two steps forward, one step backward. But the trend was forward. Is it no longer possible to have that confidence?

A friend of mine rejects any suggestion that our present discontents on the geopolitical front today are a fulfillment in any way of the late Samuel Huntington’s predictions of a clash of civilizations. It would be consoling to be able to agree with him – but it would also be naive and dangerous.

Know your enemy is one of the most basic principles of self-defence. If we fail to understand the true nature of the enemy confronting us both in and from the Middle East and within our own culture, we will make a terrible mistake.

Question: If the international community could put the clock back would it not now do everything in its power to stop the Rwandan genocide; if it had a choice now would it stand aside as Pol Pot systematically murders millions of his own people in the name of an ideology; does the world not now recognize that the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler was one of the greatest blunders recorded in history?

The Charlie Hebdo murders have been characterized as a vicious attack on one of the most fundamental values of Western civilization – freedom of speech and expression. They were that, but this is only part of the story. That massacre is just another flash-point it a greater war. Indeed it is a flash-point in which can be seen the basic elements of the lethal clash which Huntington foresaw. Huntington may be faulted for identifying too many potential clashing elements in his global analysis – but he was correct in identifying the essential element in the fault lines which were going to disturb the peace of the world. That element was no longer going to be the dynastic interests of the distant past, nor the national interests of the recent past, nor, in any major way, the material resources necessary for our way of life in our own time. These might be elements in the mix of the major conflicts of our times but they are not the root cause – because reason and negotiation are now accepted by the power-brokers as a better means of resolving our conflicting interests in these matters. The current Ukrainian impasse is an ethnic conflict with nationalist undertones. But is is unlikely to get catastrophically out of hand as it might have done in the days when the dynamics of  the European Balance of Power was so crucial to states. It will eventually be resolved by negotiation and agreement. It is not a clash of two civilizations, nor will it become one. Vladimir Putin’s posturing does not threaten the common good of the world we would like to see our generation’s children inherit. The jihadis of the Middle East do – and the nihilistic libertarianism represented by the likes of Charlie Hebdo do.

There is a three-way clash of civilizations threatening the peace of the world today. Two kinds of war are being waged – a hot war and a cold war. The hot war has multiple fronts. It is the war of the jihadis. Rather than Islamic, one protagonist in this war is Wahhabist or Salafist. This jihad    is waged against two enemies. Its primary enemy is the internal Islamic one – Muslims of any and every denomination who are not of its own pure brand. This is a war within Islam and its outcome is as crucial to non Muslims as it is to the happiness of ordinary Muslims around the world. The jihadist’s secondary target is a dual enemy – Christian civilization and the culture of the secularist West, two cultures under under one umbrella which are themselves engaged in the cold war now in progress within what we call Western civilization.

This cold war is between militant secularists and those whose conscience is guided by principles rooted in a reading of the human condition founded on both reason and faith. It is not a war between secular atheists and the rest because the majority in the secularist camp still profess an allegiance to some personal interpretation of Christianity – as one of its leading generals, Barack Obama, does. This is the war spoken of by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago when he predicted that he would die in his bed, that his successor would die in prison, but that his successor’s successor would be a martyr.

Side by side in the West there now exist Christian and the post-Christian civilization with the same mother, adhered to by one, rejected, more or less, by the other. They have not formally declared war on each other – but, don’t doubt it, they are at war. The battlegrounds are on two fronts: using constitutional and legal weapons on one front; using the media of social communication on the other. The ground being contested? The heritage of Christendom.

There have been victories and defeats on both sides. Who can deny that the witness to the world given by seven million Asians in the Philippines last month was not a resounding victory for Christian culture, or the Humanum Conference in Rome last year for its resounding affirmation of the values of the Judeo-Christian vision of humanity, its nature, dignity and destiny.There are others.

But how are we to read a question like this?

Have one million Brits signed up for an adultery website? American dating network Ashley Madison, which specializes in setting up extramarital affairs, says it has signed up that many British members. The “success” comes despite the fact that the website — which signs on with the tag “Life is short. Have an affair” — has been prevented from advertising on UK television.

Or how are we to read the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey? These and many more are signs of battles lost by those who have been fighting for the dignity of mankind and the triumph of that vision of our destiny which embraces more than the simply material, a perishable clump of cells. Charlie Hebdo is just one more manifestation of post-Christian culture. But the Christian way, the Christian weapon, of dealing with all this will never be violence or the suppression of freedom. It can only ever be, should only ever be, by the proclamation of the Truth, the eternal Truth. This, by virtue of its own power and its own promise, will ultimately triumph. How that triumph will be effected in the world is another matter, full of uncertainty. But are those who should be the protagonists in this triumph asleep or awake?

The tragedy of this cold war has many dimensions but one of its immediate and potentially lethal consequences is its weakening effect on those who should be confronting the violent and inhumane salafists, whose Christian victims President Obama did not even think were worthy of a sympathetic mention in his recent national prayer breakfast address.

Presidential prayers

The campaign of the salafists – whether under the agency of al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, or other manifestations of the jihad – cannot be separated from the spread of Muslim culture into the West. Islam by its very definition has the entire world in it sights. Salafism is not about territory. It is about souls. It is about converting, by fair means or foul, minds and hearts to Islam.

For all the centuries of its existence Islam spread by conquest and by migration. When it gained territory it then consolidated its captive populations and maintained them in the faith by the rigours of sharia law. Foreigners were an evil influence to be controlled or kept at bay – as the Wahhabists of modern Saudi Arabia seek to do today.

A sample of this civilization’s vision for our race can be seen in the manifesto on women’s life under the Islamic State published by female jihadis recently. It states that girls can marry from age nine and labels Western education as “strange”. The document criticizes the “strange studies” of Western education. Under pure Islam: “From ages seven to nine, there will be three lessons: fiqh (understanding) and religion, Quranic Arabic (written and read) and science(accounting and natural sciences).”

“From ten to twelve, there will be more religious studies, especially fiqh, focusing more on fiqh related to women and the rulings on marriage and divorce. This is in addition to the other two subjects. Skills like textiles and knitting, basic cooking will also be taught.”

“From thirteen to fifteen, there will be more of a focus on Sharia, as well as more manual skills (especially those related to raising children) and less of the science, the basics of which will already have been taught. In addition, they will be taught about Islamic history, the life of the Prophet and his followers.” The document, we are told, is designed to “clarify the role of Muslim women and the life which is desired for them”.

The guide is thought to be aimed at Arab women, rather than a Western audience. References to Saudi Arabia suggest that Saudi women are the main targets. But no one should doubt that the ultimate goal of all Islam in principle – and its Wahhabist manifestation in deadly practice – is the entire world.

A telling letter to the London Independent recently noted that the initiative by the Muslim Council of Britain to open the doors of some mosques to the public appears to be positive in the present climate. But, its author, Dr. Rumy Hasan of the University of Sussex,  pointed out, “it is mere symbolism, whereas what is needed are policy shifts of substance.” These are few and far between.

The British Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, in a recent and controversial letter to 1,000 mosque leaders,  asked them to consider how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. The likelihood is that for a majority of imams, Hasan says, “the two are, in fact, irreconcilable – this would certainly be the case for Saudi-funded mosques and those inspired by Deobandism, with its roots in South Asia. Indeed, they have been singularly hostile to being part of a British identity and integrating into mainstream society.

“We know that the meaning of the name of the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram is ‘Western education is sinful’. In a similar manner for many mosque leaders, Western lifestyle is sinful.

“What would be of substance and positive is a commitment to values that embrace freedom of expression and the adherence to universal laws, rather than demanding separate rights and exemptions to the law of the land that has hitherto been the case by Muslim leaders.”

But it is here that we come to the intractable conflict within Islam. Many ordinary Muslim people want to get on with their lives. The imams will not let them. There is no place for freedom in the militant strain of Islam now dictating the pace in much of the Islamic world because there is no place for reason. Not until there is victory for a moderate Islamic culture can there be any semblance of what Eric Pickles is hoping to see.

After centuries of deadlock on the bloody borders shared between Christian civilization and Islamic civilization eventually these frontiers became porous as Islam controlled territories slipped hopelessly behind in development. The eventual consequence of this was the migration of Muslims into the states of Western Europe. In the Islamic homeland of Arabia this was a disaster. For them it meant the sinful contamination of their people and with this arose the sense of mission to save them, to bring them back to the rigourous practice of their faith. This is the mission now in progress among the Muslims settled in the West. The dream of the Wahhabists is that what happened in Anatolia (now Turkey) in the eleventh century will be repeated again. As Bernard Lewis points out in his History of the Middle East, the Islamic transformation of that country was accomplished by migrating tribes rather than by any military action on the part of the Great Seljuks, the Muslim conquerors of that age. After that migrations the Islamic forces moved in to organize the province which had been handed to them on a plate by a process of ethnic migration. By the end of the twelfth century a Turkish Muslim monarchy was firmly in place and Anatolia became a Turkish land. Masses of Turkish immigrants then entered from further east and a Turkish Muslim civilization replaced Greek Christianity.

Hagia Sophia, once the heart of Greek Christianity

With old Europe now threatening to degenerate itself out of existence and with its growing Muslim population now a target for zealous Wahhabist imams, who can predict what will happen? The outcome of the West’s own internal cultural conflict – between its Christians and its secularists is crucial. The latter is the primary force behind its plunging demographics. This suicidal trend is the product of the rampant hedonistic individualism embedded in modern secularism. It can only be arrested within the context of a truly Christian culture of life. If not, then the fate of Europe can only be the fate of Anatolia.

It is hard not to conclude that the world is now facing into an era of  momentous change of the deepest kind. Not to recognize the nature of this conflict, or the character of the forces now at war with each other, is to bury our heads in the sand and to render ourselves impotent when we need to be effective protagonists in the struggle to shape this world in every way necessary to serve the common good of humanity for centuries to come.

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