"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The go-to guys for the clash of civilizations

I know the Vatican doesn't like to talk about a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. It's so...well, militant, and we're supposed to be nice about other religions now. But a clash is what's been shaping up whether anybody cares to admit it or not; we're being called crusaders whether we so regard ourselves or not. Indeed, the clash went on for a millennium, often militarily, until the Ottomans were forced into retreat after their bloody defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Since then and until quite recently, the West has dominated the Muslim world. But that domination has been dissipating, and the Muslim world is rising up—smarting from the humiliations of recent centuries and eager to restore the glories of old. We had better understand why and do what we must to preserve our freedom.

The living Western scholar best suited to that task is Bernard Lewis, several of whose articles and one of whose books I've read. Unfortunately for us, if not for him, he is approaching 90. His long and illustrious scholarly career has taught him enough to enable him to support the American invasion of Iraq in 2003; it has also enabled him to teach us why the clash of civilizations is unavoidable. In this matter he is of one mind with another of my favorite scholars, Jacques Ellul, who died in the 1990s. Here's how Ellul is quoted by one of my favorite Catholic intellectuals, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:
"It is most important to grasp," wrote Ellul, "that the jihad is an institution in itself; that is to say, an organic piece of Muslim society. . . . The world, as Bat Ye’or brilliantly shows, is divided into two regions: the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb, the ‘domain of Islam’ and ‘the domain of war.’ The world is no longer divided into nations, peoples, and tribes. Rather, they are all located en bloc in the world of war, where war is the only possible relationship with the outside world. The earth belongs to Allah and all its inhabitants must acknowledge this reality; to achieve this goal there is but one method: war." The Koran allows that there are times when war is not advisable, and a momentary pause is called for. "But that," writes Ellul, "changes nothing: war remains an institution, which means that it must resume as soon as circumstances permit."
Ellul and Lewis both understand very well that the conquest of the dar al-harb is irreformable Islamic doctrine. Given Muslim beliefs about the origin of the Qu'ran and the example of Muhammad, such doctrine cannot be mitigated, relativized, or swept under the rug as so many churches have done with key doctrines of Christianity. The clash of civilizations is here to stay.

Get used to it.
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