The Long View 2007-02-07: Islamic Reformation; Pro-Natalist Irony; Kakutani on D'Souza

A less relaxed blogger might explain in angry detail that reproduction is only the central circle in the Ven diagram of the human model of marriage. The next layer is regulation of the co-existence of men and women, the next layer is the care of the elderly, and the last the transfer of property between generations. However, it almost is not worth making these points: Darwin will judge between the viability of those societies that favor gendered over gender-neutral models of marriage and those that do not.

I’ve always appreciated John J. Reilly’s point that marriage is an anthropological institution as much as a legal one. Natural marriage doesn’t require a ceremony or a license to come into being, which explains why Scandinavians don’t get married as much anymore, but you don’t see much change otherwise. They are in fact married, and act like it in terms of raising children and forming households, they are just skipping the ceremony and the paperwork. It is the behavior that matters, a stable orbit into which human beings can fall in a number of ways.

The state has its own reasons for regulating marriage, mostly related to stability and taxation and population growth. John referred to this as a pre-constitutional function of government, this is something any state has to do, because it is a state. Aristotle talked about this at length.

One of the greatest projects of the twentieth century was to find a way to lower the birthrate. Everyone who was anyone thought about it, and it looks like it actually worked!

Whether this was in fact a good idea is another matter. How this program interacted with the quite unplanned mechanism of the demographic transition is not well-explored, but it at least conceivable that the birth rate would have fallen regardless, given that it started to go down long before the middle of the twentieth century in America and Western Europe.

The Baby Boom post-WWII was a genuine departure from trend, which probably explains the reaction at the time. But the birth rate had been declining for a century, at least. At this point, we do seem to have hit some kind of floor.

Islamic Reformation; Pro-Natalist Irony; Kakutani on D'Souza

The hypothesis of an Islamic Reformation continues to surface, as we see in the current Newsweek piece by Fareed Zakaria:

For those in the West asking when Islam will have its Reformation, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the process appears to have begun. The bad news is it's been marked by calumny, hatred and bloody violence. In this way it mirrors the Reformation itself, which we now remember in a highly sanitized way. During that era, Christians of differing sects massacred each other as they fought to own the true interpretation of their religion. No analogy is exact, but something similar seems to be happening within Islam. Here the divide is between the Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the Muslim world, and the Shiites, who represent most of the other 15 percent.

The author notes that Al Qaeda as originally conceived was supposed to be indifferent to the Shia-Sunni divide. However, the radical Sunnis where Al Qaeda was able use violence also happened to have traditions of anti-Shiism, thus giving Al Qaeda's enterprise an unintended sectarian spin.

The trouble for Al Qaeda is that as a practical matter, loathing Shiites works in only a few places: principally Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some parts of the gulf....

These emerging divisions weaken Al Qaeda, but they will help most Muslims only if this story ends as the Reformation did. What is currently a war of sects must become a war of ideas. First, Islam must make space for differing views about what makes a good Muslim. Then it will be able to take the next step and accept the diversity among religions, each true in its own way.

The Reformation model does not really fit. There are some liturgical and ecclesial differences between Sunni and Shia, but the differences are more like those between Protestant denominations than between Rome and Luther. As I have perhaps already said once too often, in many ways Islam is a Reformation. Certainly with regard to the sort of tolerance that the author proposes as a goal, Islam has been there, done that, got the T-shirt. In fact, what we are seeing now is the combustion of that old consensus.

The conflict within Islam today is morbid in a way that the Western Reformation was not. At least as far as I know, there is no struggle of competing lines of doctrinal development, or a competition of views about the nature of reality and how the world should work. Essentially, oil money has provided the energy to put fossils in collision. Fossils can be very tough, but they are fundamentally brittle. Watch.

* * *

Here's a bit of irony waiting to happen. It comes to us from Washington State:

OLYMPIA, Wash. - An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled...“For many years, social conservatives have claimed that marriage exists solely for the purpose of procreation ... The time has come for these conservatives to be dosed with their own medicine," said WA-DOMA organizer Gregory Gadow in a printed statement.

A less relaxed blogger might explain in angry detail that reproduction is only the central circle in the Ven diagram of the human model of marriage. The next layer is regulation of the co-existence of men and women, the next layer is the care of the elderly, and the last the transfer of property between generations. However, it almost is not worth making these points: Darwin will judge between the viability of those societies that favor gendered over gender-neutral models of marriage and those that do not.

The interesting thing about this initiative is that we are in the last few years when it will immediately be perceived as a joke. There are below-replacement-level birthrate societies in Europe and East Asia, and even some depopulating states in the United States, that really should be considering pro-natalist schemes at least this radical, if not this stupid. It's a good bet that they soon will.

* * *

I hope soon to be able to publish a thorough response to Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home. Until then, though, let us amuse ourselves by considering the spluttering outrage that the book has elicited, not least on the part of The New York Times's own Michiko Kakutani:

It’s a nasty stewpot of intellectually untenable premises and irresponsible speculation that frequently reads like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of the crackpot right...

[D'Souza says] that “the left is the primary reason for Islamic anti-Americanism as well as the anti-Americanism of other traditional cultures around the world” because “liberals defend and promote values that are controversial in America and deeply revolting to people in traditional societies, especially in the Muslim world.”

He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer and the terrorism analyst Peter Bergen who have cited, as Mr. bin Laden’s chief grievances against America, the continued presence of American troops on the Arabian peninsula ...He similarly denounces liberals for promoting ideas like women’s rights around the world: this meddling, he argues, angers Muslims who see such foreign forms of liberation as undermining their religion and traditional family values. But he praises the Bush administration for trying to export democracy to Iraq....

Actually, D'Souza does address Steuer's assessment of the motivations of Al Qaeda, and does not wholly disagree. In fact, D'Souza often sounds rather like Steuer, and I think that is one of the problems with the book. In any case, Kakutani continues:

In the course of this book, Mr. D’Souza rages against the separation of church and state in American public life, and denounces what he calls “Secular Warriors” who are “trying to eradicate every public trace of the religious and moral values that most of the world lives by.” He contends that freedom in America “has come to be defined by its grossest abuses” and complains that in movies and television shows, “the white businessman in the suit is usually the villain,” “prostitutes are always portrayed more favorably and decently than anyone who criticizes them” and “homosexuals are typically presented as good-looking and charming, and unappealing features of the gay lifestyle are either ignored or presented in an amusing light.”

In this shrill, slipshod book, Mr. D’Souza often sounds as if he has a lot in common with those radical Middle Eastern mullahs who are eager to subject daily life to religious strictures and want to curtail individuals’ freedoms and civil liberties.

The book is indeed partisan, but by no means slipshod. As for the assertion that D'Souza is trying to accommodate the mullahs, all I can say is that those Times writers are just as sharp as a tack.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Support the Long View re-posting project by downloading Brave browser. With Both Hands is a verified Brave publisher, you can leave me a tip too!

The Long View 2006-10-18: Doomsday Deniers; Treason on the Right; Spengler Back

The first item John Reilly mentions, from the National Review Online’s blog The Corner reads like a precis of Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission. I wish John Reilly had lived to see Houellebecq’s book, it seems to the embodiment of one of John’s main interests, the relatively unknown philosophy of Tradition.

Marion Marechal  By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Marion Marechal

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, CC BY-SA 2.0,

In another vein, my favorite French politician no longer uses the Le Pen name, probably because of the association of the Le Pen’s with anti-Semitism. I’m not an expert on French politics, but you might check out Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

It is also interesting to note, in light of The Long View post from 2006-10-17, that unlike today, when editors felt uncomfortable posting a controversial piece, pressure usually brought it back online, which is quite different from today.

Doomsday Deniers; Treason on the Right; Spengler Back

Citing National Review Online just encourages it, but I did see these items on The Corner yesterday that seemed worth following up:

Le Pen Flips? [Post by Stanley Kurtz]

Arnaud De Borchgrave has a remarkable report on France’s civil war [see below]. The big news here is that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far right National Front has given up its opposition to Muslim immigration and has instead allied with Muslims, taking America and the Jews as its primary targets. This shift has provoked a split in the movement, with conservative Christians refusing to go along. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents are at epidemic proportions in France.

[From a later post]

On a related matter, here's a supposed rebuttal by Gideon Rachman [see below] of the many "doom-mongering" American books about Europe's demographic crisis. So far from disproving American predictions, Rachman instead confirms them.

A little later there was this reply in the same venue:

A French Civil War? [Post by Andrew Stuttaford]

Le Pen's tilt towards Arab nationalism *outside* France is, alas, nothing new. It's dog-whistle politics designed to appeal to the anti-semitism that lurks within certain strands of French political thought, nothing more, disgraceful certainly, but a phenomenon as old as the Dreyfus case, and with roots deep in the dislocations that followed the French revolution.

Stuttaford also thinks that the term "civil war" does not apply to the urban disorders in France. That is probably true. However, the French government, indeed the French political establishment, has to contend with an increasingly unhappy police force as well as the disorders themselves. Maybe in France these things work differently, but in the US the police are uniquely well-positioned to leak embarrassing stories to the press about the incompetence of public officials.

* * *

We need not say "Civil War." Like Arnaud de Borchgrave, we can write columns with titles like Analysis: Gallic intifada:

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen's far right National Front appears to have opted for a can't-lick-'em-join-'em strategy, a rapprochement with France's large immigrant Muslim community -- with undertones of anti-Semitism. Le Pen's reasoning appears to be the recognition that Islamicization is in France to stay with 25 percent of France's under 20 population Muslim (40 percent in some cities), 2nd and 3rd generation North Africans. FN's tough stance on immigration is tempered by support for Arab and Islamist causes in the Middle East (Hamas and Hezbollah are two favorites). There are an estimated 6 to 8 million Muslims among France's 62 million and Islam is now France's second religion. Mosques are well attended on Fridays; churches aren't on Sundays. France's prison inmates are over 50 percent Muslim

Le Pen's strategic advisers argue the FN must drop its founding mythology and forget about the once popular image of a modern Joan of Arc resisting the invasion of Muslim hordes. Americans and Jews are the new targets. But the party's Christian right-wingers do not agree and are defecting in large numbers. The Islamist threat is their main concern and they are finding a new political home in MPF, Mouvement Pour la France, which is anti-European Union and anti-Muslim, and given only 7 percent of registered voters in a recent poll. Le Pen's followers have dropped back from 11 percent to 9 percent.

This does not mean that French fascism is about to take the turban (convert to Islam). It does mean that the fascists have despaired of a Catholic alliance. I find this something of a relief.

Incidentally, the website of the Mouvement pour la France is here. It's leader, Phillipe de Villiers, is preferable to Jean-Marie Le Pen in that he does not appear to be trying to imitate L. Ron Hubbard. That is not necessarily reason to vote for him. however.

* * *

US prophets of Europe's doom are half wrong, Gideon Rachman assures readers in this piece in The Financial Times:

[It] is impossible completely to dismiss the American prophets of European doom. Strip away the hysteria and the hype and they make two serious points.... First, European fertility rates have fallen well below the rate of 2.1 children per woman needed for a population to remain stable. ...The second point is that the Muslim population of Europe is rising sharply at the same time as the white, European population is falling....These trends could, indeed, spell trouble...The weakness in their arguments is that – at every stage – they tend to make the most pessimistic assumptions....Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, projects that the 25 members of the EU will have a total population of 449.8m in 2050, compared with 456m today – because falling fertility will be largely offset by rising immigration....The problem is not that the European population will simply shrink away. It is that over the next 50 years, Europe will have to deal with the fact that its population is becoming both much older and much more diverse....[A]s the saying goes: “Something that cannot go on forever, won’t.” Demographic pressure is already forcing Europeans to change their welfare systems and career patterns. In some countries, the process will be very difficult. In others, it may be relatively painless..Similarly, the American vision of a Muslim takeover of Europe – creating a new continent called “Eurabia” – relies on projecting demographic trends to their limit and beyond...Until a few years ago, mainstream European opinion would have shrugged off rising Muslim populations as unworthy of debate. But that is no longer the case...It is certainly possible that things will just get worse. But it is not inevitable.

European governments are acutely aware of this and are changing policies in response. The British are rethinking their “multicultural” approach to immigration; the French are considering positive discrimination; the Danes have cracked down on arranged marriages. Who knows – some of these policies may even work. If they do not, politics and policies will change again. Of all the many scenarios for the future of Europe, perhaps the least likely is that Europeans simply sleep-walk off a cliff.

We should note that not all the Eurodoomsayers are American. Their queen was the late Oriana Fallaci, and the British Melanie Phillips is the author of Londonistan. For that matter the author of what may turn out to be the most influential Eurodoom polemic, America Alone, is the quasi Canadian Mark Steyn. Even Tony Blankley is an immigrant.

In any case, Rachman is no doubt correct that "politics and policies will change again." I am an optimist, too: eventually, a mix of policies will be found that work. However, that will take 10 to 20 years of disruption, and the result will be appreciably different from the Europe of the 1990s.

* * *

Spengler remains in the good graces of Asia Times, if we may judge from this posting of an editorial explanation in the Spengler forum:

Asia Times Online did not decline to publish Spengler's essay. The essay was returned to him because certain problems needed to be addressed. Those problems have been addressed and a revised version of the essay is published in this edition of Asia Times Online. The original text is no longer on the forum, in fact the entire forum is offline for the time being at least as it is in breach of its host's policy.

The forum itself is back, as we see. My discussion of the essay that caused the problem (at any rate, of the version of the essay that Asia Times was prepared to publish) is here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-20: Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation

In 2006, the Democrats had big gains in the mid-term elections, a state that lasted until 2010, when the House swung strongly Republican. As John noted here, no American political party has managed to assemble a stable coalition since the end of the New Deal era.

Republicans Less Doomed; Matters of Interpretation


Every optimistic political forecast presented to the public is itself a piece of propaganda. Nonetheless, I think that this one has merit:

It is no longer a "given" that the Democrats will gain at least one house of Congress in the November elections ó and the latest poll shows trend that should make Democrats nervous: Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year.

Republican control of the House is still iffy, but the small majority that the Democrats might acquire is likely to be too fractious to pose more than a nuisance to the Bush Administration. This is a remarkable turn around; a few months ago, I was certain the Republicans were toast. And in fact, given a reasonably competent opposition party, they would have been toast. The Democrats have failed to achieve competence. In my estimation:

They have not put together an attractive platform: On the Iraq War, they fudged the difference between the genuine anti-war position (which at least creates enthusiasm) and the War-on-Terror position by offering a "lose slowly" alternative. This position dispirits everybody. The chief Democratic domestic issue seems to be an increase in the minimum wage. For my part, I would like to see the minimum wage defined as a percentage of the median wage so we could be done with the matter. As an electoral issue, however, it suffers from the defect that most of the people who earn the minimum wage are students or in the country illegally.

They have not found plausible candidates: I see this particularly in the US Senate race in New Jersey. Incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez has good qualifications and he functions well in the ethnic politics of the urban northeast of the state, but the political history of New Jersey consists in large part of qualified candidates from the northeast failing to win statewide office. He may yet beat the empty Republican suit, Tom Keane Jr. (the "Jr." got him the nomination), but it says something about the Democratic Party that they put forward such a weak candidate in a race that ought to have been easy for them. This pattern has been repeated nationwide.

The Republican Party had the chance after 911 to achieve the level of domination of national politics that the Democrats did in 1932. In this the Republicans signally failed. If they retain both Houses of Congress this November, it will be because the electorate sees no reason to replace one party that is beyond satire with another.

* * *

Correction: A kindly Arabist corrected an assertion of mine in the entry for 18Sept06. There I said that textual priority rather than chronological priority is key to the practice of Koranic interpretation. Apparently I was mistaken. Chronological priority is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogation. However, I am also informed that the interpretation by Juan Cole that I had been questioning is problematical anyway, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.

* * *

Benedict's Regensburg Lecture was not holy writ, but it continues to attract interpretation and commentary, such as these surmises from Stratfor's George Friedman:

One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ...Bush has been trying to portray the war against Islamist militants as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict, whether he accepts Bush's view or not, offered an intellectual foundation for Bush's position....

This perspective would explain the timing of the pope's statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe....

[W]ith his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe's Muslim community -- without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. ...And he has delivered his own warning to Europe's Muslims about the limits of tolerance.

Let me suggest that a key segment of Benedict's audience was the Oriana Fallacis of the world (would that she had lived even another week!), and that among that class we must number the Left-agnostic anti-Islamist Christopher Hitchens. As a diagnostic baseline by which to judge the progress of the Lecture, let us note Hitchens' column of September 18, Papal Bull -- Joseph Ratzinger's latest offense:

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm and absolutely no good to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam...

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances...

[At] Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith... and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible...

Several things are happening in this column. There is Hitchens' good English-red-beef No Popery, the Left Book Club's take on the Whig interpretation of history, and a measure of the frustration felt, even among people who are not anti-religious, at the slowness of the churches of the West to recognize their peril. Hitchens is quite mistaken about the relationship in Western intellectual history between science and faith (a point about which even Stephen Gould got the memo in his last days). Here we will note that, perhaps because of his other misunderstandings, he has adopted this clearly erroneous of what the Vatican and the Muslim world have been doing since the Lecture was given:

And of course now we hear, as could have been predicted, the pathetic and unconvincing apologies issued by his spokesmen and finally Ratzinger himself. These will only serve to convince infuriated Muslims that by threatening reprisal, calling for the severing of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and issuing a few more sanguinary fatwas, they can force yet another retreat. The usual things have happened: the shooting of a nun in Somalia and the desecration of Christian churches in Palestine. And so the ecumenical "dialogue" goes on.

What happens when he recognizes the subtlety of the Vatican's policy? One might ask that of the whole non-suicidal wing of the Left in the West.

* *

Starting to cheer up, were you? Just in time, there is a new television drama to fill your Wednesday evenings with thoughts of cosmic catastrophe:

JERICHO is a drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents.

I strongly suspect that this story of civic collapse in the face of natural disaster was inspired by last year's Katrina disaster. In fact, the only American city where you can rouse a rabble at the drop of a hat is Springfield, where the Simpsons live.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-18: The Benedictine Jihad II


A long post on the intricacies of the argument after Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg lecture. After all this time, the thing that strikes me really is that Benedict meant what he said, and said it deliberately, but that his point was a bit softer and more subtle than everyone assumed.

The Benedictine Jihad II


Spengler has never been happier, as we see in his latest column at Asia Times (Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life) regarding Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture:

The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims.

Spengler's view that Islam is a form of monotheistic idolatry comes from the theologian Franz Rosenzweig. Spengler's view that "[n]ow the same ban has been preached from St Peter's chair" is something of an exaggeration: Benedict was not speaking ex cathedra. Actually, as I now see, it would have defeated his point if he had done so, since one of his goals was see whether the power centers in Islam today can debate a debatable point. Spengler also says the Regensburg Lecture "is a defining moment comparable to Winston Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946." I am not that Spengler is not wrong.

And what shall we say of this rare expression of hope from the mystery-man of Asia Times.

No more can one assume now that Europe will slide meekly into dhimmitude.

We will see,

* * *

The history-editing machinery that has sprung up in recent years precisely to keep ideas like Benedict's out of circulation is freezing up in response to this incident. One notes particularly this response to Benedict from the Islamist apologist Juan Cole (hat-tip to Danny Yee):

[Benedict] notes that the text he discusses, a polemic against Islam by a Byzantine emperor, cites Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." Benedict maintains that this is an early verse, when Muhammad was without power. His allegation is incorrect. Surah 2 is a Medinan surah revealed when Muhammad was already established as the leader of the city of Yathrib (later known as Medina or "the city" of the Prophet).... The idea of holy war or jihad (which is about defending the community or at most about establishing rule by Muslims, not about imposing the faith on individuals by force) is also not a Quranic doctrine. The doctrine was elaborated much later, on the Umayyad-Byzantine frontier, long after the Prophet's death. ... The Pope was wrong on the facts. He should apologize to the Muslims and get better advisers on Christian-Muslim relations.

If reputable Islamic sources had given Benedict the sort of answer that Cole did, then the pope's thesis would have been undermined. Instead, the characteristic reaction from Muslim sources has been like this one from an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda:

"We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya," said a Web statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council.

"We shall break the cross and spill the wine ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome ... (May) God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen," said the statement, posted on Sunday on an Internet site often used by al Qaeda and other militant groups.

That does not quite prove the pope's historical or theological arguments, but it does support the proposition that there is an institutionalized streak of violence in modern Islam that at the very least needs to be repudiated.

* * *

But what about the merits of Benedict's use of Islamic sources? Cole says that the irenic verses from Sura 2 are actually late rather than early. I suspect that is a debatable point. In any case, it is certainly true that the verses used to justify holy war come later in the Quran, like these from Sura 9:

9.4: Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up any one against you, so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term; surely Allah loves those who are careful (of their duty).

9.5: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

As I understand the matter, apparently contradictory verses in the Quran are reconciled by the principle that later ones abrogate earlier ones that cannot be harmonized in any other way. In this context, earlier and later mean earlier and later in the text, not in time of composition. [Correction: a kindly Arabist pointed out that chronology is indeed the issue in the matter of abrogration. However, I am also informed that Cole's interpretation is problematical, since a large number of scholars agree that Sura 2:256 has been abrogated. I am referred to Friedmann, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam, Chapter 3, pp. 94-95, 100-106.]

One should note that there may not be any contradiction between the verses that Cole mentions from Sura 2 and the ones cited above from Sura 9. A reasonable reconciliation would be (and often has been) that no compulsion should be used against infidels who have accepted Muslim rule and pay the tax on dhimmis. For that matter, Cole himself mentions that Muslim conquests often had the goal simply of expanding the base of dhimmi taxpayers, not of converting the dhimmis to Islam, which would have freed them from the tax.

This is not comforting.

* * *

Meanwhile, the oddest thing about the press coverage so far is the appearance of headlines that declare the pope apologized at Mass on Sunday for his remarks at Regensburg. In fact, he actually said this:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he said, adding that the quote from Emperor Manuel II did not reflect his own opinion.

That is very close to saying, "I regret that some people have been too stupid to understand what I said." National Public Radio this morning actually characterized its report on the controversy as a report on the pope's "apology," but the report itself, by Sylvia Poggioli, said that informed analysts understood that Benedict had not apologized. She sounded surprised, for good reason: so far, at least, Benedict is off script for this kind of incident. Almost as interesting, she points out the support that Benedict is getting from the leftist European press.

The Guardian's leading article seemed to me confused, as we see from this remark:

[T]here are plenty in the Muslim world with a desire to fan the flames, while the Pope is a known conservative with a maladroit touch...

Actually, as I think we should be gathering by now, "maladroit" is the last adjective we should be applying to Joseph Ratzinger. In any event, the leader goes on to say:

Doctrinal tensions, too, can be exaggerated. It is hardly surprising that Benedict believes Christianity is superior to other faiths - he would not be Pope if he did not. But that does not make him militantly anti-Muslim. After all, the offending papal speech aimed to highlight the wrongness of conversion by the sword - whether by Muslims, or whether, as in the Crusades, by the Christians. On the Muslim side, the need to distinguish the minority of Islamist extremists from the far more numerous mainstream believers cannot be underlined heavily enough. Muhammad urged his followers to co-exist peacefully with those of other faiths, and Muslims can and do point to concepts in their faith relating to consultation and the rule of law that are not only compatible with, but supportive of liberal democracy.

Again, that is pretty much the challenge to Islam that Benedict made.

And from Le Monde we have this:

In reality, the full and demanding text of Benedict XVI...has become a convenient pretext for demonstrations against the values of the West and its cult of reason. The significance is what the pope said or wanted to say. The matter is political; theology is forgotten, and with it, the joy of intellectual dispute, or critique and self-criticism

* * *

By adopting Reason as the child of both Christian tradition and of the Enlightenment properly understood, the pope is trying to establish a sane alternative to Europe's (and America's) agnostic secularism, a cultural mood doomed by demographics and its own incoherence. The real alternative might not be either Mecca or Brussels, but these guys.

* * *

This just in from the First Things blog: the poster is Robert T. Miller:

[A] decent respect for the intelligence of the man on the Throne of St. Peter demands that we conclude that he quoted the text intentionally, knowing what the consequences would be, and did so for a reason.

And I have a suggestion as to what that reason might be. The rumor has long been that Benedict intends to take a new diplomatic approach toward the Muslim states, an approach based on reciprocity, i.e., a demand that the religious freedom accorded by European states to their Muslim minorities be accorded by Muslim states to their Christian minorities. He intends, in other words, to hold Muslim states to the same standard that the Western states hold themselves. This would be a significant break with the diplomacy of John Paul II and former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, which avoided criticism of Muslim states in the hopes of obtaining good treatment for Christians living within their borders. Under Benedict XVI, it seems, there will be no more appeasement. ... Still, Benedict went about this noble business in a very imprudent way. ... I would not have made the point quite as Benedict did, but in opening a frank conversation about the historical use of force by Muslims in spreading their faith, Benedict has done the world a service.

The significant points about this entry are that:

(1) It appeared so late;
(2) It is not by Father Neuhaus;
(3) It does not discuss the possibility that prudence may be inapposite.

This can get only more interesting.

* * *

UPDATE 2:06 PM Indeed it just did get more interesting. Fr. Neuhaus has made a long posting wholly in support of not just Benedict's position, but also his choice of words. Fr. Neuhaus says:

It can be argued that the Regensburg lecture will turn out to be the most important statement by a world leader in the post–September 11 period.

That assessment may or may not be true. It is now certain, however, that the Vatican's course is deliberate.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-15: The Benedictine Jihad

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to students and professors at the Auditorium Maximum of the University of Regensburg in Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006. (Matthias Schrader/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Pope Emeritus Benedict later gave a speech in Jordan that is sometimes described as an anti-Regensburg speech, but I honestly think he really believed what he said both times.

The Benedictine Jihad


Guy Fawkes Day came early in the Muslim world, to judge by these scenes of effigies of Benedict XVI being burned. The cause of the commotion is the address that Benedict gave at the University of Regensburg earlier this week, Glaube, Vernunft und Universität: Erinnerungen und Reflexionen.(Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections). An English version is available here. This assessment may be premature, but it looks as if this could turn into a worldwide campaign comparable to the Cartoon Jihad. Unlike that earlier episode, the reaction to Benedict's remarks does not seem to have been planned in advance. However, the earlier incident created a network for disseminating disaffection of this sort. The Benedictine Jihad will provide an instructive test case, not least because, this time, the criticism of Islam was real.

I discussed the pope's remarks earlier here. In this entry, I would just like to summarize more precisely what he said. As the title of the lecture suggests, Benedict's subject was the intellectual climate of the universities. He was making the same kind of argument that John Cardinal Newman (and Allan Bloom, for that matter) made for "liberal education." Benedict's understanding of the matter is that the concept of "reason" has to be expanded beyond the physical sciences to include the liberal arts and theology: each discipline with its own methods, but each a necessary part of the life of the mind. The interesting aspect of the lecture was the historical dimension.

Benedict argues that Greek philosophy and Hebrew thought as expressed in the Old Testament converged on the same high evaluation of reason. The culmination of this convergence is the first sentence of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word." The term for "Word" here is "logos," the rational aspect of the world in Greek philosophy and term that John applies to Jesus. Thus, Christianity is, in its essence, both Greek and Hebrew; the place where these traditions meet is reason. It is this "reason" that Christinaity proclaims as the human face of God. It is also, the pope reminds us, the metaphysical principle that created Europe.

As Benedict points out, this position has become controversial. The late Scholastics moved away from the the sort of confidence in reason that we find in the theology of Thomas Aquinas. Rather, the late Scholastics argued that God was wholly transcendent and cannot be apprehended even in part by reason, even by analogy. The extreme view of the sovereignty of God that we find especially in some forms of Calvinism continued that trajectory. Pascal put this view pithily: "the God of the philosophers is an idol." In any case, what began as a preference for philosophical austerity turned into skepticism of reason as such. The result today is that reason in the academy shrank to nothing more than logical method, tolerated in the physical sciences but carefully isolated in a philosophical vacuum. As more than one commentator has pointed out during the past two centuries, this makes impossible "the university" as it was historically understood.

What put His Holiness in hot water was his observation that this rejection of reason, expressed as an understanding of God as wholly arbitrary, was an early feature of orthodox Islam. (This is true, though as Aquinas was aware, there have been Muslim theologians as keen to appropriate the Greek philosophical tradition as were the High Scholastics.) The philosophical criticism in itself is no harsher than what Benedict said of some Protestants, or even implied about some of his own academic colleagues. However, Benedict chose to make the point through statements made in 1391 by the Byzantine Emperor Maunel II Palaeologus, to the effect that Islam was inherently destructive and coercive because it conceived of God as irrational.

The Emperor Manuel was not quite the last Byzantine Emperor, but by his day the Turks had whittled the empire down to little more than Greater Constantinople. That city would fall in its turn in 1453. Manuel had little inclination to wax irenic on matters Islamic. Benedict XVI's case is by no means as desperate as the emperor's, but he seems to share the view that this is not a time when the first priority is to find common ground.

We have reached an age in which the chief defenders of reason in the classical sense are found in the Vatican. That may tell us something about the future.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-11: Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

Pope Benedict XVI blesses Elisabeth, left, and Viktoria in Altoetting, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 11, 2006.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Wolfgang Radtke, Pool

I'm back after a nice vacation. Let's jump back into the Long View re-posting project!

This is a reprise of Pope Emeritus Benedict's tour of Bavaria in 2006. 

The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."
"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."
"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Memorials; Media Via Islam; Evangelism; Thriller Device


Regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001, I have no remarkable recollections, though I live maybe a mile and a half from the WTC site, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. In retrospect, I recall just three useful points:

(1) The National Guard and the state either had plans on-file or improvised very effectively: emergency medical facilities appeared out of nowhere. What seemed like every fire-truck pumper in creation was heading through the Holland Tunnel within two hours.

(2) The local police were clueless. They managed to panic the quiet crowd that had gathered on the river at Exchange Place. They are still no good at this kind of thing, to judge from the way I saw them handle a bomb scare in the same neighborhood a few months ago. If you want t move a crowd out of harm's way, you must promise information even if you don't have it; simply yelling at the crowd to move produces obduracy and actually slows the evacuation down.

(3) The Internet, which was designed to maintain communications even in the event of an atomic attack, stopped working completely for most of the day. It was unreliable for several days thereafter. Similarly, cellphones seem to be the one form of communication you can be sure will not work in a civil emergency.

My area is crowded with commemorations today; I'm going to one myself this evening. These memorial events are all well and good; certainly they are better than the permanent architectural memorials that have blighted the landscape since 2001. It's uncanny: all the ones I have seen are dreadful. They are maudlin and awkward; many of them incorporate rusting bits of metal from the World Trade Towers, which seemed like a good idea at the time but which now makes them look like trash. (The one successful use of WTC material is in the memorial at St. Francis of Assissi Church in Manhattan, in a little memorial to Fr. Judd, the Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center: the Franciscans had the sense to burnish the metal and laminate it.) The memorial to be built at the World Trade Center itself looks as if it will be the worst of all.

The one saving grace about these mistakes is that, for the most part, they are strangely fragile and will be easy to throw away when they quickly deteriorate. But why are they so unsatisfactory?

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the shabby heart of Islam:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca [the Grand Mosque] of the few places where Muslim male and female worshippers can pray ... Some say women are already being kept away....Osama al-Barr, head of the hajj institute...He said the restrictions apply only to the five daily Muslim prayers and that women would be free to roam the premises at will after the prayers and to circle it during the main annual hajj pilgrimage.

One would think that the chief city of a world religion would be a splendid showcase of architectural treasures and a seat of learning. There are in fact such places in the Islamic world: Qom and Najaf, and even bloated Qairo, for instance. By most accounts, however, people who make the Hajj find that Mecca is outwardly as inspiring as Kennedy Airport, and the structures associated with the holy sites are as banal as a post-Vatican II Catholic Church. The interesting point about the story I quote above is that the authorities who have so poorly served the physical needs of the holy places seem also to be making arbitrary changes to the rituals at the physical heart of the religion. The Saudi regime has neither the authority nor the theologically credibility to do this kind of thing. For that matter, their propaganda of Wahhabism seems, at last, to be causing a backlash.

As I have remarked before, it is a mistake to look a Reformation in Islam: Islam is a Reformation. The instability in the religion comes from Islamism, which is archaistic but not really traditional, and for that reason not stable. It's the negative image of the liberal Christianity of the first half of the 20th century. Hard as it may be to imagine now, it could share the fate of liberal Christianity.

* * *

Evangelical Christianity at least has a future, according to the ever-dyspeptic Spengler at Asia Times, but yet he finds it wanting:

Evangelical Christianity is the source of America's strength and the long-term key to its global influence, as denominations of US origin gain converts faster than any other faith. Faith has kept the angel of demographic death away from America's shores while the first-born Christian cultures in Europe wither and die. Yet evangelical leaders display episodes of appalling silliness, betraying a bucolic backwardness that bans the enormous evangelical movement from America's governing classes....That is the misery of the West. The evangelicals have no fear of offending Muslims and say what they think; the crafty old men of the Vatican understand the issues far better, but are afraid to speak them above a whisper.

However, the craftiest of the crafty old men in the Vatican is Benedict XVI; who, on his current tour his native Bavaria, observed that the problem with the West is not Islam, but the West's own loss of the transcendent. Though he would never put it so tactlessly, he seems to agree with Mark Steyn that the jihad against the West is in the nature of an opportunistic infection. More interesting, Benedict also seems to be taking up Hocking's project of securing the "unlosables" of modernity by anchoring them in a transcendental framework:

"The tolerance which we urgently need includes the fear of God -- respect for what others hold sacred demands that we ourselves learn once more the fear of God."

On a more immediate level, Benedict continues to wax evangelical:

"We impose this faith upon no one," the Pope observed. "Such proselytism is contrary to Christianity. Faith can develop only in freedom. But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to be open to God, to seek him, to hear his voice."

"The world needs God. We need God, but what God?" the Pontiff asked. "The definitive explanation is to be found in the one who died on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate ... love to the end.

Readers may be surprised at how shocking this sounds to many Christian theologians today, even in the Catholic Church.

* * *

Writing a thriller, are you? You will need at least one secret society. The World Federation of Nocturnal Adoration Societies isn't really a secret, but they do have the advantage over the Illuminati of actually existing:

History: The federation was established at a meeting of representatives of National Nocturnal Adoration Societies, organized in Rome by the Venerable Archconfraternity of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, of which they are all members, enjoying the privileges and benefits granted to the archconfraternity by Pius X in 1906...The federation is governed by the general assembly which convenes every four years, coinciding with the international Eucharistic congresses, with the participation of the delegates of the member associations; the executive board, comprising the president, the vice president, three directors including a canon lawyer, a secretary-treasurer, a deputy secretary and the ecclesiastical assistant.

There is nothing sinister about all-night prayer vigils. So, if you must use the federation as a plot device, let them number among the good guys.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-07: The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City

   Mohammad Khatami  By Ali Rafiei -, CC BY 4.0,


Mohammad Khatami

By Ali Rafiei -, CC BY 4.0,

In retrospect, I think I agree with Mohammad Khatami that American policy in Iraq in the first half of the 2000s led to increased terrorism and instability. John Reilly was often harsh on Iran and Iranian politicians in his blog, and this post is no exception. To be fair to John, Iran was and is a patron of Hezbollah, a player in the bloody factional politics of the Middle East that is considered a terrorist organization by the US and EU. And of course there was the 1979 Tehran Embassy thing, and Iran really was working hard on a nuclear program.

On the other hand, important men in the Iranian version of Shia Islam tend to have philosophical educations heavy on Plato and Aristotle, much like Catholic priests. The first female Fields medalist, Maryam Mirzakhani, was from Iran. Before the embassy takeover and Iran sponsoring attacks on Israel via proxy after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, Iran was the traditional American ally in the region. Hell, pursuing a nuclear program in the hopes of either getting real military independence, like Israel, Pakistan, and India, or major concessions, like North Korea, seems like a winning geopolitical strategy to me.

Khatami, in particular, probably didn't deserve John's ire, but I also don't think we should pretend that the Twelver branch of Shia Islam that is predominant in Iran would be popular with the US public if they knew what it was or what it meant, or that Iran wants things that the US foreign policy establishment wants.

I do suspect that we could reach some kind of reasonable compromise with Iran, but to be honest I don't think much of the opinions of most US middle east foreign policy experts either. I want things my own countrymen [at least the ones who talk about it all the time] don't appear to want, like staying out of land wars in West Asia.

The Court Historian; The Creepy-Crawlies; The Abandoned City


Personnel Selections for the McCain Administration are perhaps premature. Nonetheless, correspondent DD sends this advisory from ABC News that Niall Ferguson has entered the circle of the senator's advisers. This is newsworthy, we are told, because Ferguson Compares America to British Empire:

Sept. 4, 2006 — - A recent New York Times article about John McCain's growing "kitchen cabinet," contained a piece of information that might have been meaningless to many American readers, but resonated strongly with most British ones.

According to a McCain aide, the article said, one of the senator's unofficial advisors as he ponders a possible run for the White House is the British-born Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. ... London-based columnist Johann Hari... wrote that Ferguson had been positioning himself to become "court historian to the imperial American hard right."

The New York Times article, by the way is from August 21: McCain Mines Elite of G.O.P. For 2008 Team.

Ferguson is most notable, at least to my mind, for his methodological use of alternative history, which he explains in Virtual History. His views on the relevance of the British imperial precedent are explained in his book, Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. As I remarked in that review, his chief analytical blindspot is that he does not distinguish between a national empire and a universal state.

Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is touring the United States and speaking at venues from the National Cathedral to the Kennedy School of Government. He is regaling the natives to this effect:

But the former president, a moderate who was succeeded last year by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already made news since his Aug. 30 arrival, attacking the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism while hinting there was room for agreement with Tehran on recognizing Israel and stabilizing Iraq. "As America claims to be fighting terrorism, it implements policies that cause the intensification of terrorism and institutionalized violence," Mr. Khatami, an Islamic cleric, said in a speech to a North American Muslim convention in Chicago over the weekend.

I have thought about this kind of apologetics for years, and I finally have a suitable reply. It's based on the game-theory notion that you can force your opponent to take an action you want by convincing him that you cannot control your own actions. Thus, in a game of highway chicken, for instance, you can make your opponent swerve by ostentatiously tossing your own steering wheel out your driver's side window. Another way to do it is convince your opponent that you cannot be swayed by rational argument. Thus, a reply to President Khatami might go:

"Yes, we are very unreasonable. What will you do to mollify us?"

The Persian's principal stop, by the way, will be at a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN-sponsored body of which he is a founding member. In fact, he seems to be speaking before every creepy-crawly Islamist front-organization in America. Should the pro-Islamist network expand, will its progressive nodes have second thoughts when they realize just how implacable the Islamists are on culture-war issues? That has not happened in Europe.

This just in: it should make the next few weeks even more interesting:

Diplomats at the United Nations were sent into disarray yesterday when President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he intended to attend the General Assembly of the world body on September 19 and to debate his country's nuclear program with President Bush, who is due to address the Assembly that day.

* * *

Those readers hoping for civilizational collapse (and I know some of you are) should take a look at these images of an abandoned city in Russia. This sort of thing happens in the American Midwest, too, but rarely with so much waste of concrete. Note that there are none of the elements that routinely turn up in fictional treatments of this kind of thing. There is no "back to the land" efflorescence of neo-peasantry; neither is there any tendency to local control. The people just packed up and moved to other cities.

* * *

Yes, the Democrats are making overtures to the religious vote, as we see from the Faithful Democrats site. It's not a bad effort, though one must wonder who the audience is. In any case, the problem with asking "what would Jesus do" in a political context is that Jesus routinely responded to peace-and-justice questions with wisecracks.

* * *

You already knew I would link to this item:

NORWICH (Reuters) - Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Sheldrake seems to produce nice, testable claims, but does anybody ever test them?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-09-01: The Overthrow of Islam

The politicization of religion is a nuisance. Unfortunately, it is often less than clear what counts as politicization when you get started.

The Overthrow of Islam


"Taking the turban" was the term that American and European mariners called the practice of formally embracing Islam when captured by Muslim pirates. One took the turban to lengthen one's life and to avoid slavery. As we all know, two journalists working for the Fox network recently revived the custom (though not, alas, the term) when they were captured by a previously unknown Palestinian group. The incident occasioned these thoughts from Mark Steyn:

The bad news is that Islam will soon be able to enforce submission-conversion at the point of a nuke. The good news is that any religion that needs to do that is, by definition, a weak one. More than that, the fierce faith of the 8th century Muslim warrior has been mostly replaced by a lot of hastily cobbled-together flimflam bought wholesale from clapped out European totalitarian pathologies. It would have struck almost any other ruler of Persia as absurd and unworthy to be as pitifully obsessed with Holocaust denial as President Ahmadinejad is: talk about a bad case of Europhile cultural cringe. But in today's mosques and madrassahs there is almost as little contemplation of the divine as there is in the typical Anglican sermon. The great Canadian columnist David Warren argues that Islam is desperately weak, that it has been "idiotized" by these obsolescent imports of mid-20th century Fascism. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but, if Washington had half the psy-ops spooks the movies like to think we have, the spiritual neglect in latter-day Islam is a big Achilles' heel just ripe for exploiting.

To this one might ask, "weak in what sense?" We know from many decades' experience that the Stockholm Syndrome can turn submission based on fear into submission based on conviction. The answer Steyn's piece implies is that Islamist Islam has been drained of the content that might form the basis of conviction. Violent Islamists go to mosques, according to this view, in order to have their political and social views reaffirmed, in rather the way that some people go to liberal churches in order to hear their progressive politics preached to them. Maybe this is true, but we should recall that the liberal denominations in the West have been losing members for two generations. As one wag put it, why go to hear a in sermon on Sunday what one has read over breakfast on the editorial page of The New York Times? Conservative denominations have been gaining adherents, but their conservatism is theological rather than political; to the extent these denominations support a political view, that support is a side effect.

Perhaps Steyn is suggesting that Islamism collapses when submission can no longer be enforced at gunpoint. The problem with that hypothesis is that it fits badly with the fact that the idiotized Islam to which Warren refers works best in its Western colonies, where the state, as yet, gives no coercive support to Islam. The more interesting possibility is that Islamism might awaken spiritual needs that it cannot satisfy. In that case, Islamism might be like the Hindenburg: a huge and impressive vehicle that could explode in a shower of apostasy (presumably through conversion to Christianity) given a little encouragement.

* * *

If you look into the void intelligently, the void will look back at you intelligently. Web searches have a similar quality. If you insist on finding a statistic online, even a statistic that could not possibly be compiled, the Web will give you a number, such as this assertion that 660-plus Muslims an hour are leaving Islam. That link is, actually, more interesting as a gateway to sources for the evangelization of Muslims. The subject is scarcely new: the Time Magazine cover story for June 30, 2003 was Should Christians Convert Muslims? My own answer to that question is "Yes, obviously!" I am particularly ashamed of the reluctance of Catholic institutions to become involved in evangelization efforts. However, I am also aware that pursuing such a policy for reasons of geopolitics is to do so for the wrong reason. Evangelization conducted for any purpose other than the good of the prospective convert is likely to have ironic results. One such result, for instance, might be the creation an idiotized, synthetic parody of religion; a Christian version of Islamism might be just as much of a nuisance as Islamism.

We hear now of Christian undergrounds of recent converts in Muslim countries. This is unprecedented. It was notoriously the case for centuries that Muslims almost never converted. If this trend continues, it is likely to do so because it is nobody's policy.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2006-01-09: Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam

I had forgotten this short bit on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI claiming that Islam cannot reform, which is, as John noted, in line with what Muslims say too. It is also true that the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence are quite clever at finding ways to be flexible in interpretation. An example that springs to mind is Mudarabah (مضاربة)  and Musharakah (مشاركة or مشركة) home purchase contracts, that avoid the prohibition of charging interest, but otherwise work much the same as a mortgage.

The Salafi movement, which is misleadingly called a reform movement on Wikipedia, is in part a reaction to this brand of cleverness, seeking to return to a simpler way of doing things.

Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam


A world without pillars: that seems to be Wretchard's assessment today at The Belmont Club:

. Of the pillars that held up the political world in 2003 only a few remain standing. Arafat dead; Sharon in a coma; Schroeder a factotum of Vladimir Putin; Chirac a shadow of himself; the European Union moribund, the UN a standing joke; Blair badly weakened and America obsessed with cookies left on browsers on government websites. And 2006 just beginning. Interesting times indeed.

This is the important thing about the international system in the 21st century so far. It's not that the United States alienated its traditional allies and showed disrespect for international institutions, though arguably some of that happened, too. It's that the alliances, and indeed some of the allies, have been revealed to be too insubstantial to rely upon, and that few of the international institutions remain credible. The flipside of this, of course, is that America's foreign interlocutors must be wondering whether Washington is about to enter another impeachment spiral.

* * *

One long-predicted Chinese collapse has finally occurred:

Once one of the hottest markets in the world, sales of homes have virtually halted in some areas of Shanghai, prompting developers to slash prices and real estate brokerages to shutter thousands of offices...Although the city's 20 million residents represent less than 2% of China's population of 1.3 billion, Xie says, Shanghai accounts for an astounding 20% of the country's property value... today, prices at [one] complex have fallen by a third, and the lines of frenzied buyers are gone.

Does this mean that the Middle Kingdom will now be riven by real-estate riots? Possibly not, though it does make hash of the near-term effort to fix the banking system.

Actually, I am more concerned about the value of real estate locally. Property-tax rates have just increased by about 15% in Jersey City. The people are irate.

* * *

But the rump government of New Orleans is beyond satire:

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7 - The city's official blueprint for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina, to be released on Wednesday, will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission...But ultimately, the areas that fail to attract a critical mass of residents in 12 months will probably not survive as residential neighborhoods, ...People who rebuild in those areas will be forced to leave, according to the proposal. Though such a requirement would be emotionally wrenching, the commission will propose a buyout program to compensate those people at the market price before Hurricane Katrina, but it is not clear whether there will be federal financing for such a program.

The state of Louisiana, at least, realizes what nonsense this "plan" is, and certainly the federal government is not going to donate a nickel toward implementing it. Meanwhile, though, urban activists have secured court injunctions to prevent state and local authorities from clearing the remains of ruined houses, including houses whose ruins are now blocking the streets. Nothing will serve but the election of a new municipal government by the people who have actually returned to the city. The old mayor and council have prevailed upon the state to delay the election, however.

* * *

That Spengler at Asia Times follows the statements of Benedict XVI very closely. So do I, or so I thought, since Spengler found this and I did not:

Now Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ...Strange as it may seem, the pope must whisper when he wants to state agreement with conventional Muslim opinion, namely that the Koranic prophecy is fixed for all time such that Islam cannot reform itself. If Islam cannot change, then a likely outcome will be civilizational war, something too horrific for US leaders to contemplate.

Note that Muslim jurists have long since become adept at interpreting the Koran to make its application flexible, quite without rejecting the principle of its immutability. Still, the Koran does pose problems for political science that the Christian Bible does not. The Bible does not purport to be a law code or a constitution, though dim Christians have used it for that purpose. Note also that Benedict would probably be horrified if he knew his assessment was being used as an argument that intercivilizational war is inevitable. Maybe he reads Asia Times and is horrified already.

* * *

Speaking of horrors, headlines like this call up memories of old movies:

Stolen human tissue ends up in several mountain patients who went into the hospital for surgery

And was any of the material a criminal's brain?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: A History of the Crusades

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Steven Runciman at Cambridge in 1925, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Sir Steven Runciman's three volume history has seen quite a bit of criticism in the last twenty-five years. However, it tells a hell of a good story, and you can learn something even if you disagree with Runciman's take.

A History of the Crusades
By Sir Steven Runciman
Cambridge University Press 1951-54
(Paperback 1990: ISBN 0 521 34770 X)
Volume I: The First Crusade and the Foundations of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (376 Pages)
Volume II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East 1100-1187 (522 Pages)
Volume III: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades (528 Pages)


Sir Steven Runciman (1903-2000) was the Edwardian That Time Forgot. Perhaps the leading 20th-century authority on both the Crusades and on Byzantine civilization, he tells the tale of the former largely with an eye to vindicating the latter. The resulting assessment of the Crusading movement was thus somewhat harsh. The last sentence of this history runs: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.” Gibbon, to whom Runciman was often compared, could not have coined a more telling anathema. What makes this a great history is that readers who do not accept that assessment will still find these volumes enjoyable and useful.

A History of the Crusades” is chiefly a military and dynastic history. Large tracts of it are densely genealogical. This was unavoidable: the string of Crusader states along the Levantine coast, collectively called “Outremer,” were small, feudal, principalities, whose politics was the interaction of a few great families. Runciman sometimes discusses economics, but gives surprisingly little sustained attention to culture and religious history. In any case, the work rises above the details to reveal Outremer as an incident in the history of the Near East. Outremer was possible only during an era of shifting balance, from the 11th to the 13th century, between the Caliphate of Baghdad and the Byzantine Empire of Constantinople. When the balance was destroyed, by the Mongols and by the Crusaders themselves, Outremer soon fell, too.

Byzantium had actually recovered nicely from the explosive Islamic expansion of the seventh and eighth centuries. By the end of the first millennium, there was a reasonably stable international system in the Near East. Byzantium was the acknowledged protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the region. Constantinople was by far the largest city of Christendom. The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, which represented Sunni orthodoxy, was becoming more venerable than powerful; the allegiance of the rulers of places like Mosul and Damascus was increasingly nominal. Meanwhile, the Fatimid Caliphate of Cairo continued on its own Shia course. Jerusalem was under its control, but Cairo encouraged the profitable flow of pilgrims and traders to the Holy Land. In the 11th century, however, the Seljuk Turks arrived from the east. They quickly revealed the fragility of the region.

The Turks were largely but not exclusively Sunni Muslim. They reduced the Caliphate of Baghdad to ceremonial significance. In the countries they conquered, their rulers adopted the Arabic word “sultan,” meaning “authority,” as the title for the holder of real political power. They went far west, sacking Jerusalem (only Christians were spared), but failed to conquer Egypt. Most important, they ended Byzantine control over most of Anatolia in 1071, at the Battle of Manzikert. That battle was the proximate cause of the Crusades.

The 11th century is also the time when the Latin, Roman Catholic Church of the West and the Greek, Orthodox Church of the East are usually said to have split. The Great Schism occurred in 1054, when the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople exchanged mutual anathemas. Runciman makes very clear, however, that neither side regarded the differences between the Latin and Greek churches as permanent until the 13th century, or even the 15th. In fact, it was during one of the partial reconciliations between Rome and Constantinople that the Emperor Alexius I asked Pope Urban II, almost as an afterthought, for Western assistance in driving back the new Muslim encroachments onto historically Byzantine territory. The idea was that this would again make it possible for Western pilgrims to visit Jerusalem safely.

Western warriors fighting for Byzantium were not a novelty. The emperor's own Varangian Guard of Englishman and Vikings is familiar to every student of history (and indeed to every student of the better comic strips). Companies of Frankish knights had long featured in the empire's armies. (At least in the beginning, most of the “franks” in the east were from what would become France, but the term later referred to any Westerner.) Alexis I would no doubt have been satisfied with one or two thousand extra mercenaries. What he got was a mass movement.

Urban II preached the First Crusade at Claremont in France, in 1095. The nobility and the laity jumped at the chance to free the Holy Places from the infidel. Runciman makes much of the idea that the Crusades appealed most to the younger sons of feudal lords, who otherwise could have looked forward only to lives as landless poor-relations. This idea has been questioned since; certainly the leaders of the First Crusade were among the most eminent men of their time. He also never quite comes to grips with why the crusading movement so appealed to ordinary people. He suggests that the average peasant may have confused the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly one. Be this as it may, as long as the Crusade was a popular movement, it was liable to spark pogroms against the Jews in Europe. Before the Crusade proper even set out, rabbles of religious fanatics swarmed toward the east.

Not without a certain amount of pillage and rapine, the First Crusade arrived in the neighborhood of Constantinople in reasonably short order. The emperor tried, with mixed success, to extract promises from the Crusaders that any of the recently lost Byzantine territory they might recover would be returned to the empire. The Crusaders and the imperial army soon did recover big chunks of Anatolia and northern Syria. The Crusaders rather exceeded the emperor's expectations when they recaptured Antioch independently. To everyone's surprise but their own, the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099. It was not actually true that they slaughtered all the inhabitants (many were ransomed), but their introduction to the region was not such as to endear them to the locals.

Nonetheless, the Crusaders settled into the region quickly enough. They became participants in local politics, fighting with and against the Muslim powers. There was much intermarriage between the Crusaders and the local Christians, particularly the Armenians. Franks newly arrived from Europe, eager to fight the infidel, were often shocked by the Franks of Outremer, with their penchant for native dress and relative religious tolerance. The newcomers thought the Franks of Outremer became soft, and maybe they were right. Though the Franks of Outremer had their territorial ambitions, they were not keen to launch further Crusades of their own. They welcomed Crusades from Europe only when their own situation was desperate. Of the five major Crusades, only the First was completely successful. Only the first three were even directed to the Holy land.

According to Runciman, the real beginning of evils between the Latin and Greek Churches was the Crusader tendency to install Latin Rite bishops into sees that had once been occupied by Greeks. The filoque clause, which was the nominal theological difference between the Greek and Latin churches, was negotiable. The problem was that the Crusaders were sometimes not above deposing an existing Greek hierarchy and replacing it with Latin incumbents. Gradually, despite many compromises, this led to overlapping jurisdiction, bishops in exile, and finally the end of intercommunion between the two rites.

Outremer, during the brief life of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, was something of a fool's paradise. Runciman suggests that there may never have been more than 2,000 adult Frankish nobles, outside the military Orders that arose to defend Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself, for that matter, was a singularly bad place for a capital city. Far more durable was the string of coastal cities and forts, as far south as Jaffa or Ascalon, that owed some degree of allegiance to the King of Jerusalem. (Antioch, though a Crusader state, was nominally a vassal of Byzantium.) Nonetheless, the Kingdom was not without good points. Despite his antipathy, Runciman allows that it was a remarkably tolerant place. Oaths could be taken in its courts on the Bible, the Koran, or the Torah, as the witness chose. Indeed, the Kingdom was thick with law. The real power lay in a High Council, which was not quite either a parliament or a supreme court, where there was some representation for the bourgeoisie and the clergy, as well as the aristocracy. Runciman does note, however, that the only contribution of Outremer to civilization seems to have been its formidable military architecture; Frankish forts were designed with an eye to the fact their garrisons would be relatively small.

With its small population, exposed position, and threadbare economy, the Kingdom's survival rested on two conditions. The first was that the Sunni rulers of Damascus were scarcely on speaking terms with the Shia of Cairo. The other was that, despite the chronic friction between Outremer and the Byzantine Empire, the emperor probably would not have allowed the Kingdom of Jerusalem to be wholly overrun. The latter circumstance no longer applied after the Battle of Myriocephalum in 1176, in which the Byzantine army suffered a defeat at the hands of the Turks from which it never recovered. Meanwhile, the famous Kurdish leader, Saladin, eliminated the Fatimid Caliphate in a palace coup, and so united Damascus and Cairo under a Sunni dynasty. After a siege and negotiation, he accepted the surrender of Jerusalem in 1187.

Saladin might have gone on to destroy all of Outremer, but maybe he was not terribly eager. He needed Palestine to ensure communication between Syria and Egypt, but the Frankish ports had their uses. In any case, the Third Crusade soon arrived. (The Second, which occurred 40 years earlier, had been directed at Damascus; the less said the better.) The history of the Third Crusade makes the best story of the whole Crusading period. The conflict between Richard the Lion Heart of England and Saladin reads like a single combat. In any case, the result was that Outremer survived, with its capital at the port city of Acre. The Crusaders had to settle for access to Jerusalem, rather than actual possession. The second Outremer arguably made better sense than the first. It was more defensible. It also did not contain any provocative holy places. Maybe this was less important than we might think, though. One of the revelations of the last century of the life of Outremer was how little the powers of the Muslim world cared for Jerusalem as a religious site.

We see this point illustrated in the Fifth Crusade (we will get to the Fourth in a moment), which was launched against Egypt in 1217. The Crusade was supposed to take Cairo, and it petered out to a sad end. However, when it briefly seemed to have some chance of success, the sultan actually offered to give Jerusalem back to the Franks. In perhaps the oddest episode in the whole history of the Crusades, the Franks did get it back, in 1228, by negotiation rather than by war. The negotiator was the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who eventually ran out of excuses not to go on the Crusade he had long promised. Runciman presents him as an evil genius, half an easterner himself because of his upbringing in still partially Muslim Sicily. Be that as it may, he acted like no other newcomer from Europe ever had before. Relying purely on diplomacy, he acquired limited control of Jerusalem for the ruler of Acre, including an access route from the coast. He also acquired the title to the kingship of Acre for his own line, by marrying the princess with the best claim to the throne. She did produce an heir, dying soon thereafter. That line, as well as Frederick's provisions for Jerusalem, came to an end not much later. Still, Frederick's career in Outremer shows what you can accomplish in the Middle East, if you speak the relevant languages and are unburdened by scruples.

The second Outremer was also more commercially viable than the first, because it was becoming increasingly Italian. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was a vigorous feudal state in the Norman mold. The Kingdom of Acre, and the gaggle of tiny states it led, was more like Genoa or Pisa or Venice, whose quarrelsome citizens made up a larger and larger percentage of the inhabitants of Outremer's cities. Acre and Antioch, indeed, were governed by communes on the Italian model, though they also owed allegiance to feudal lords. The drawback to the Italianization of Outremer was that the whole Crusading movement was increasingly subservient to the interests and policies of the Italian maritime republics. The effects of their rivalries on the already fractious internal politics of Outremer was bad enough. More seriously, Italian influence also led to the greatest scandal of the whole Crusading era, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade.

Runciman claims that this atrocity set at naught the whole purpose of the Crusades, which was to defend Christendom against Islam. The Fourth Crusade, he says, so weakened Byzantium that it lost the ability to defend the Balkans from the Turks, thus leading to the sieges of Vienna in the 16th and 17th centuries. Well, maybe, but Byzantium was clearly in decline long before the sack. It had been losing commercial ground to the Italians in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea for years. This was in part because the imperial government sold trading privileges for ready cash, but also because the trade routes of the world were shifting. Byzantium itself was losing population and territory in Asia Minor and the Balkans. It is not clear how much difference the Fourth Crusade really made.

We do know that the Venetians, with a pretender to the throne of Constantinople in tow, diverted the Crusade from its announced destination and seized the city by force and guile. (Runciman points out that the pope honestly thought the Crusade was headed to the Holy Land, though Eastern historians have claimed otherwise.) When the pretender proved unable or unwilling to pay the Crusaders the amount agreed for their services, they dispensed with him and his dynasty. They then began what must have been among the most remarkable three days of looting in human history. When they were finished, they created the Latin Empire of Constantinople, complete with a Latin patriarch instead of a Greek one.

The Fourth Crusade made Byzantium itself a Crusader state, but only briefly. The Latin Empire never controlled the Byzantine Empire's hinterland, where several successor states immediately sprang up. The Palaeologus Dynasty retook Constantinople in 1261 and reestablished the Byzantine Empire, but meanwhile the world had changed. The empire by then was just one of a number of Orthodox states, one with a great lineage but few resources. More important, the Islamic world had become a harsher place.

One of the impressions I took away from this history was that the legend of Prester John was essentially correct. The Mongols were not themselves predominantly Christian, but their neighbors and onetime overlords, the Kerait people of northeastern Asia, were Christians of the Nestorian variety. The Mongols absorbed the Kerait territory and leadership, as well as their script. Although the Mongol empire, at least in the beginning, made a point of religious tolerance, there was heavy Christian influence among the advisers of Genghis Khan. There was even more Christian influence on Hulagu, who conquered southwestern Asia and eventually became the Ilkhan of Persia.

In the 13th century, there was quite a lot of coming and going between the principal courts of Europe and those of the khans, all with an eye to coordinating an attack on Islam. European representatives to the Mongol capital at Karakorum were exasperated by the Mongol principle that there were no sovereign states in the world, only current and future vassals of the Great Khan. Nonetheless, encouraging words were exchanged. Rather more substantive talks took place with a Nestorian priest from Hulagu's court, who said Mass for Edward I of England and received communion from the hands of the pope himself.

None of this really came to much. The Franks of Outremer was actually more cautious about allying with the Mongols than were their cousins in Europe. It was the local Christians, the Armenians and the Georgians, who accompanied Hulagu when he destroyed Baghdad in 1258. Few world cities have been as thoroughly destroyed as Baghdad was. While they were at it, the Mongols slew the Caliph, who had surrendered to them, and ended the Abbasid Caliphate, along with the Old Regime of Islamic history. (That is the reviewer's phrase, by the way, not Runciman's.)

A shadowy line of Abbasids, whose legitimacy Runciman doubts, continued at Cairo for some centuries. This was merely for show, however. The new legitimacy in the Muslim world was passing to people like Baibars, the new sultan who came to power in Cairo at about the time of the Mongol disaster. A member of the Mameluk corps, and so technically a slave, he overthrew what was left of Saladin's genteel but decadent dynasty. He then set about creating a ruthless and rather intolerant order to the south and west of the new Turkic and Mongol powers. The destruction of Outremer was part of this process. There was none of the courtesy or moderation of Saladin's day. With some exceptions, the cities of Outremer were dismantled and the inhabitants killed or enslaved. Acre itself fell in 1291.

There were later campaigns, against Egypt or Anatolia or in the Balkans, that are dignified by the term “crusade.” The interesting thing is that it became harder and harder to organize crusades, even as the Ottoman threat from Islamic world began to crystallize. Runciman speculates about why. Though he does not use the term, one might say that the Crusade had become a Sorelian myth that had overstayed its welcome. Sorelian myths are not lies, or not necessarily lies. They are the justifications for which power is exercised. The Crusade had long been the reason that governments gave for raising taxes, or for making and breaking alliances, or sometimes just for a bit of piracy. Even when Crusades met with some success, the benefits were not the sort of thing for which one started a Holy War. People were still willing to fight for God and country. They just no longer saw a Crusade as the way to do it.

As we saw at the beginning of this review, Runciman's assessment of the Crusades is wholly negative. Quite aside from the question of religious tolerance, he disparages the secondary benefits that are often claimed for the Crusades. Outremer did little or nothing to facilitate contact between Islam and Christendom, he claims. There was fruitful contact during the Crusading era, but it happened in Sicily and Spain. Outremer itself produced advances in military engineering, but no new art. More to the point, it did not make Christendom any safer. Quite the opposite: by its assault on Byzantium, the Crusades left Europe open to invasion.

Runciman does allow that Outremer might have made a decisive difference, if it had cooperated with the Mongols. Though he restrains himself from elaborating the what-ifs, he hints that, in the 13th century, it might have been possible to end Islam as we know it. With some Western aid and encouragement, the Mongols might have become the ruling stratum all the way to Egypt. It is likely that they would have embraced some form of Christianity, then the religion of large minorities in the Muslim world, and in some places even majorities. Islam, with Baghdad in ruins and with Mecca and Medina soon to follow, might have shrunk to the status of the heterodox Christian churches of the Byzantine Empire. There are problems with this scenario, but not so many that it could not serve as the premise of a counterfactual novel.

More seriously, let me suggest that, if the Crusades did not do much good, they also did not do much harm. The Islamic world became a more desperate and dangerous place after the 13th century, but that was not the Crusaders' fault. Though Outremer never went entirely native, it was never regarded with holy horror by its Muslim or Byzantine neighbors. It was eccentric, but then eccentricity was normal in a part of the world where, for instance, the Assassin sect was a weighty international power. For the most part, Outremer seems to have offered more stable government, and indeed more just government, than the other societies of the region. It is even possible that the Crusades did contribute to the defense of Europe. Though the Byzantine Empire had reestablished a frontier after the Battle of Manzikert, it was a diminished frontier, one that would have left the ports of the Levant in hostile hands. Without the Crusades, Constantinople might have fallen far earlier than 1453, and more catastrophically than in 1204.

Considerations like these would not have impressed the men of the First Crusade, of course. They were on a mission from God. What God actually thinks of their enterprise has yet to be announced.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

A History of the Crusades
By Sir Steven Runciman

The Long View 2005-06-27: Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح, Public Domain,

By Unknown - تصاویر تسخیر لانه جاسوسی – 100تصویر با شرح, Public Domain,

Spengler [David P. Goldman] and John Reilly had sets of ideas that were mildly adversarial and mildly complementary. I don't know whether they ever corresponded. For example, Spengler was right that democracy in the Middle East would unleash terror and war. John Reilly was right that Iran is a far better country than most in the Middle East, with institutions that work and an economy that isn't purely driven by oil. Americans are still annoyed with Iran following the hostage crisis, but Iran used to be a firm ally in the Middle East, a counterweight to the Sunni majority.

John also looks further into the idea that something about China's role in world politics is a bit off. Here, John makes a distinction between an empire and the Empire, a universal state. The People's Republic is an empire in the first sense at present. Whether it can fill the second role remains to be seen.

Persian Populist Surprise; Terraforming; the Emerald City


There are many things that might be said about the overwhelming election victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election. One notes the cosmic coincidences: President Ahmadinejad is just as surprising a victory for populism as the defeat of the EU constitution; or, to some people, the reelection of President Bush. However, the increasingly pessimistic Spengler at Asia Times has his own take in a piece called Iran: The living fossils' vengeance

That is the great gift of Islam, which offers much more to the faithful than the ordering of traditional life. It promises to impose the system of traditional life upon the world. Islam is the vengeance of tribal society upon the cosmopolitan empires, first against the Sassanids and Byzantines, then against the Holy Roman Empire, and now against the West. The Muslim does not cower in his village waiting for the inevitable encroachment of a hostile world, but seeks to impose his will on the world....In their provincial smugness, President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice understand none of this. The more the Middle East opens its political process to the will of the people, the worse things will be for Washington.

By no means: democratic political processes contribute to world order even if the content of the politics being processed is reprehensible. That's what the Kantian Peace is all about. Granted, there is no special virtue in plebiscitary dictatorships. What we have in Iran is quite different: a populist theocrat who works under institutional constraints and who has a constituency to placate. Things could go very wrong with Iran, but not as wrong as when the Ayatollah was in flower.

* * *

On the subject of ways to improve the planet, Acta Astronautica is floating a solution to global warming that is slightly less crazy than it seems:

The power of scattering sunlight has been illustrated naturally, the scientists note. Volcanic eruptions, such as that of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, pumped aerosols into the atmosphere and cooled the global climate by about a degree. Other researchers have suggested such schemes as adding metallic dust to smoke stacks, to flood the atmosphere and reflect more sunlight back into space.

In the newly outlined approach, reflective particles [in orbit in a ring] might come from the mining of Earth, the Moon or asteroids. They'd be put into orbit around the equator. Alternately, tiny micro-spacecraft could be deployed with reflective umbrellas.

And how much would the ring cost?

$6 trillion to $200 trillion for the particle approach. Deploying tiny spacecraft would come at a relative bargain: a mere $500 billion tops.

If that sounds too high a price, the article reminds us:

[T]he Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is estimated to cost the world economy some $150 billion a year.

On the whole, I think that turning the Earth into a scale model of Saturn would be a bad idea. On the other hand, something like this around Venus might be really useful, if you have any interest in terraforming.

* * *

Usually, I either disagree with Mark Steyn or grind my teeth because I did not think of something he said first. Regarding the continuing embarrassment of the Flag-Burning Amendment, he hit the nail on the head:

The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment on flag burning last week, in the course of which

Rep. Randy ''Duke'' Cunningham (Republican of California) made the following argument:

''Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment."

Unlike Congressman Cunningham, I wouldn't presume to speak for those who died atop the World Trade Center. ...maybe some would think that criminalizing disrespect for national symbols is unworthy of a free society. And maybe others would roll their eyes and say that, granted it's been clear since about October 2001 that the federal legislature has nothing useful to contribute to the war on terror, and its hacks and poseurs prefer to busy themselves with a lot of irrelevant grandstanding with a side order of fries, but they could at least quit dragging us into it.

If you could not burn it, it would not be worth saluting.

* * *

Students of the better newspapers, and indeed of many of the worse ones, will not have failed to notice the flurry of items about the Chinese Threat, which, apparently, grows daily on the economic, military, and diplomatic levels. Whenever you see this many stories and columns on the same subject but without an obvious news-hook, you have to wonder whether they are being orchestrated somehow. In this case, it is hard to imagine any puppet master who could pull the strings of both Mark Steyn and Paul Krugman.

Krugman, we should remember, is actually a pretty good economist during the brief periods when he takes his medication and is able to talk about something other than the malice and folly of President Bush. He notes that expansion of the Chinese economy is different in kind from that of Japan in the 1980s. The Japanese seemed to be buying up every thing in the world in those days, but Japan did not have geostrategic ambitions. China does.

There are ironies here. Donald Rumsfeld was made Secretary of Defense precisely so that the US would be ready for a war with China about Taiwan, if worse came to worst. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have been one long distraction to him. He has always been keen to conduct the War on Terror on the cheap. China is the reason.

Citing Hardt & Negri just encourages them, but they do provide an important distinction between the roles of the US and China in today's world.

In their terminology, the US is "imperial," in the sense of working for the preservation of a world system with some claim to embody universal justice. The US actually does what the UN World Police is supposed to have done, had it ever existed. The current situation is institutionally unsatisfactory: it leads to challenges along the lines of, "Who died and made you boss?" The role of the US would be intolerable, if any other solution were on offer. There isn't. Probably, there won't be.

China, in contrast, is "imperialist" in the 19th-century sense. Its geostrategic aims are simply exported nationalism. To some extent, it regards those ambitions and the shaky rules of world governance as incompatible.

In its own way, China is just as much of a jellyfish empire as the EU: if it tries to act as a world power, it will break up. However, the process of break up would be quite compatible with a nuclear exchange.

If ever there is a New Rome, it might not be Washington, but some new capital in Kansas: Emerald City, perhaps.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2005-06-21: Goodness & Victory

Maybe John lived in the alternative history of S. M. Stirling's Conquistador, where the US fought in the MIddle East and won a durable victory.

Goodness & Victory


Even the Spengler at Asia Times reads opinion polls and forms the opinions they are designed to create, or so we must surmise from his latest column, Why is good dumb?:

No Western leader has tried harder to be good, but looked dumber, than America's...President George W Bush, over whom evil is about to triumph. ...[George Bush personally is not stupid, since] every insider account of the Bush White House portrays the president as a crafty operator, very much in control. Besides, now we know that the president earned better grades at Yale than his Democrat challenger, John Kerry...[However, the president has declined to do the smart thing.] A simple punitive expedition against Saddam Hussein, followed by side-deals with the Kurds and Shi'ites to secure oil supplies, would have served Washington's "imperial" requirements, had that been the objective. Bush actually believes he is building democracy in the Muslim world.

...What makes the US uniquely good is that it is uniquely Christian. I do not mean that Christianity is a unique fount of goodness - far from it - but rather that Christianity proposes a universalized form of good. ...As the only nation with no ethnicity, America is the most Christian, and indeed the last Christian nation in the industrial world as a practical matter...Good people cannot as a rule understand wicked people. They do not wish to be wicked, and cannot understand why anyone else would wish to do so....To embrace death is the extreme of evil [which is the essence of Islamism].

But Scripture tells us otherwise:

John 1:5 And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not.

And if you don't like the Bible straight, The Lord of the Rings repeatedly makes much the same point: e.g. The Fellowship, Book II, Chapter 6, page 366:

In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposed one to another; and ever they strive in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet.

To put the matter less metaphysically: even before 911, there were scholars and public officials in the West who were trying to understand Islamofascism, though they often poorly informed about what actual Islamofascist groups were doing. The Islamofascists themselves, however, even when they had studied in the West, rarely had a clue about the motives and capacities of liberal societies. The ideologies they embraced made the West, the real West, invisible and incomprehensible.

This is an important moment in the course of the war, partly because of what is happening on the ground, but also because of the "lose the war now" campaign among the Bush Administration's political opponents. In the past few weeks we have seen two fraudulent media campaigns, coordinated with increasingly irresponsible statements by members of Congress.

One campaign, involving the so-called "Downing Street Memos," argues that the Bush Administration in early 2002 had made the political decision to go to war and was falsifying intelligence to that end. It makes this argument against the text of the memos. The other campaign, made up out of whole cloth, branded the Administration with "Koran abuse." That hoax re-injected into political discourse the concept of sacrilege, a development which we may be sure will torment the hoax's perpetrators in years to come. There is, of course, public weariness with American and Iraqi casualties, a subjective sentiment that is easily transformed by the magic of modern polling into the statement that the public objectively believes the war to be unjustified.

We might compare the current situation to April of last year, when the Coalition lost control of Falluja and Kufa simultaneously, and there was speculation about planning for a "fighting withdrawal." At the time, I wrote:

George Bush and his Administration have their faults, but lack of resolve is not among them. They have a virtue: they won't try to compromise with people who can't be trusted to keep an agreement. Those are the essentials.

The ability to see who cannot be negotiated with is in fact one of the marks of goodness; the corrupt always believe that those with whom they deal are as malleable as themselves.

Something else that I also wrote at that time does need further comment now:

It will be seen, presently, that the opponents of the Coalition and of the nascent Iraqi government have done their worst, and their worst is no great shakes.

Actually, the worst the enemy can do is pretty bad, though not in the way we might have feared. There is an insurgency in Iraq, but the daily carnage we read of is only peripherally related to it. The Islamofascists aren't really running an insurgency: they are running a campaign to sicken the Iraqis into political catatonia.

We were wrong to dismiss the term, "the War on Terrorism," as a piece of rhetoric that needed to be rephrased in a more sophisticated manner. We are in fact fighting against a tactic. If the Suicide Jihad fails in Iraq, it will fail everywhere. If it succeeds in Iraq, then it will be tried everywhere, and often succeed. It would certainly be used by confident Islamists, now with secure bases in countries the US would be too demoralized to invade, in spectacular 911-style attacks in the West.

Does this mean that, for the indefinite future, there will be reports every morning that another restaurant has been bombed, or another queue of pensioners has been murdered? No: and neither is the new conventional wisdom true that the Coalition is going to have to keep about the same level of troops in Iraq for years to come. When peace comes, it will come suddenly. Consider this story: Marines See Signs Iraq Rebels Are Battling Foreign Fighters

"There is a rift," said [a UN official], who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians."

The nationalist insurgent groups, "are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans," while the Jihadists have a purely ideological agenda, he added.

Possibly the only thing that could lose the war at this point would be a date certain for a withdrawal.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: What If the Second Temple Had Survived AD 70?

A fun bit of alternative history exploring the likely impact of the survival of the Second Temple upon the religion and politics of the Middle East.

What If the Second Temple Had Survived AD 70?


This note takes issue with Donald Harman Akenson's recent book, "Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds." You can find my review of the book by clicking here

--John J. Reilly




Akenson's governing assumption is that the key event that created Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism was the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in AD 70. Actually, he holds that there never was such a thing as non-rabbinical Judaism. Akenson uses the words "Judahism" to refer to the religion of Yahweh that existed in Palestine between the end of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BC and the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. This was a religion of very many sects, which often had little in common and sometimes were mutually hostile.

One growing sect after about AD 30 was the Jesus Faith. Another was the closely related (and therefore antagonistic) movement known to us as the Pharisaism. (Akenson makes the interesting observation that we know of just two self-proclaimed Pharisees. One was St. Paul, the other was Flavius Josephus, the turncoat author of "The Jewish War.") Like the rest of Judahism, these two groups greatly revered the Temple, and their religious practice was closely connected with it. According to Akenson, it was only the destruction of the Temple that made it possible for them to become separate religions. They then set themselves to replace the physical temple with mental temples. Thus, the Christian scriptures came to refer to Jesus as the Temple, while the rabbis came to equate studying the rituals that had been performed in the Temple with actually conducting them.

The year AD 70 (well, the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-73) is a comforting landmark to historians of religion. God alone knows precisely when Jesus was born or what the Sadducees really believed. For scholars of religion to study the first century, they must interpret and reinterpret partisan texts of ambiguous provenance, all while living in terror that someone will blow their beautiful theories to smithereens. (As, indeed, they themselves plan to do to the theories of their colleagues.) For the Jewish War, in contrast, they have vivid first person accounts and sober descriptions by the standard historians of the second century. Scholars are greatly tempted to attribute decisive significance to this event for the perfectly understandable reason that they happen to know a lot about it.

The problem is that the fall of the Temple need not have been decisive for the history of either Christianity or Judaism.

The case of Christianity need not detain us. It is possible that the whole of the "Jesus Faith" was reconfigured after AD 70 to show that it had always been independent of its homeland. Maybe all that the earliest Jesus People wanted was to add a little filigree about the Messiah to their Temple-based religious practice. Perhaps the entire canon of the New Testament grossly misrepresents both the life of Jesus and the careers of the Apostles, particularly that of St. Paul. Well, maybe. The problem with this sort of argument is like the problem with the argument that God created the world in 4004 BC, fossils and all, to look as if it were billions of years old. The fact is that the texts of the New Testament say what they say. They do not suggest that the Temple was central to the concerns of the earliest Christians, or even to Jesus himself. If the New Testament is judged to be wholly misleading on this matter, then fancy can wander freely. However, the result will have nothing to do with history.

With Judaism, the matter is more complicated. The Mishnah, the code of the "oral law," does consist in large part of loving recollection of the structure of the Temple and the rites performed there. Prayers for the reconstruction of the Temple featured in public and private devotions for centuries. These observations, however, do not address the question of whether this preoccupation could not have developed had the Temple not been destroyed.

The obvious analogy is Islam. Like Judaism before AD 70, Islam has a ritual center, in Mecca. It has a legal tradition, the Sharia, which resembles the Babylonian Talmud in seeking to be completely comprehensive both of secular life and religious practice. It has a Book, the Koran, which like the Torah is held to be a special, textual revelation from God. If anything, the Koran is even more insistent on the importance of the ritual center at Mecca than is the Jewish canon about Jerusalem, since the Koran enjoins Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca if they possibly can.

Something else that Judaism and Islam have in common is that their adherents have been spread out all over the world for a very long time. This was true of Judaism (let us forget this "Judahism" hypothesis) even during the period of the Second Temple. This is not the kind of thing you would normally expect of a cult tied to a particular place, which is what is usually meant by a "temple religion." The religion of the Classical world, like that of much of the Far East today, is built around the particular shrines of local gods. Grand abstractions like "Zeus" or "Shiva" are really for poets. The piety of the practitioners of these cults is always local. They worship the god of one temple because he is the god of where they live. If they travel, then naturally they worship the gods of the places through which they pass. To do otherwise would seem nonsensical.

In contrast, what Judaism and Islam, as well as Christianity and some forms of Buddhism, have in common is that they are fairly portable. You can find God wherever you are, and if a holy book directs your attention to a sacred site on the far side of the world, then the site's sacredness comes from the book and not the other way around. This is true today in the case of Islam, even though a ritual center is an important part of its theology. It also has been true of Judaism since the Babylonian Captivity. The term for this is monotheism, and it has more to do with how a religion works than do the details of its ritual dimension.

That said, though, it is hard to imagine that the destruction of the Second Temple did not have some effect on the evolution of Judaism. Here is what might have happened if the Angel of Death had passed over the Temple in AD 70.

It is not difficult to imagine a history in which the Temple survives. The Roman-Jewish War was also a civil war. The contenders actually held different parts of the Second Temple and fought each other as the Romans invested the place. Supposedly, the Pharisees were not really very keen on rebelling against Rome in the first place. That is why many of them were expelled from Jerusalem by the zealots. One of their leaders, Yohanan ben Zakkai, then made a deal with the Emperor Vespasian to allow Yohanan to found the academy at Jamnia, where the Mishnah began to be composed. Suppose that, instead of abandoning Jerusalem, the Pharisees had contrived to gain control of the Temple complex, or some large fraction of it. They might then have negotiated with the Romans to, in effect, trade Jerusalem for the Temple by holding the later against the rebels. Though much of the city might have been destroyed in the Roman assault, still the Temple would have been spared.

Thereafter, the Temple would have continued to function as a ritual center as before, but with some differences. For instance, immediately after the rebellion was put down, the Temple would have found itself in the odd position of being a huge religious center without much of a surrounding population. The Temple would have been in small danger of being abandoned: Jews from all over the world came to visit and sent donations. Doubtless Jerusalem would have been rebuilt, as it had been before. Still, activity in the Temple would have begun to shift away from ritual and toward scholarship, particularly if the Pharisees were running the place. This would have accelerated trends that had long existed in Judaism.

Even before Babylonian Captivity, the prophets complained that God was less impressed by offerings in the Temple than by, say, the fair treatment of tenant farmers and the even administration of justice. The ethical dimension to Judaism would certainly have continued to develop, whether there was a temple or not. There is also some reason to suppose that the ritual practiced at the Temple might have begun to change dramatically.

We have to remember that, when we talk about ritual in this context, was are talking about animal sacrifice. This, of course, was typical of temples throughout the ancient world: they were abattoirs. The difference was that the Jerusalem Temple was huge, one of the wonders of the world, and to some extent it must have been a terrifying place. While this assessment may seem to be the projection of modern delicacies onto ancient people, there is some evidence otherwise. Noted Jewish authorities, including Maimonides himself, have argued that animal sacrifice was a brutal practice that God sought first to restrict and then to eliminate. Also, for what it is worth, we should remember that the other major religious survivor of first-century Palestine, Christianity, dropped the practice of animal sacrifice from the first. (This was the case even though Christianity, too, retained the basic texts on the subject in its Old Testament.)

Ironically, the emphasis given to the old rituals in the Mishnah and the Talmuds was due precisely to the abruptness with which they were cut off. In the normal course of events, one suspects, temple sacrifice would have become rarer and more symbolic, until eventually no actual animals were killed at all. As it was, though, all the early rabbis were left with were memories to record, which they did with great thoroughness.

We must therefore imagine the Temple continuing to function through late antiquity, becoming all the while less like a Classical temple and more like an academy. There was one more major Jewish revolt in Palestine, the Bar Kochba rebellion of the 130s. It is entirely possible that the continued existence of the Temple would have defused this uprising. That rebellion is famous in the study of Messianic millenarianism. (Bar Kochba was called the Messiah, though he may not have claimed the title for himself.) However, richly endowed religious foundations usually take a dim view of militant endtime movements, as the history of the Catholic Church illustrates.

Even if the influence of the conservative Temple failed to prevent the outbreak, the existence of the Temple would still have altered matters. It is likely that the Temple authorities would have stood aloof from the rebellion. Jerusalem might have been declared an open city, or it might actually have resisted Bar Kochba in the name of Rome. Even if the insurgents gained control of Jerusalem for a period, in this case the Romans would have had no reason to destroy the city or the temple when they reconquered the country. Unlike the situation in AD 70, there would have been a normative form of Judaism, one more concerned with the affairs of the spirit than with those of this world. The Romans would have made haste to reestablish this orthodoxy in its chief center as soon as they could. This would have been the quickest way to restore peace. After all, this was pretty much what the Emperor Vespasian did with Rabbi Yohanan.

By the time Christianity became the Imperial religion in the fourth century, it is quite likely that Jerusalem would have been a university town, like Athens or Alexandria. Like them, it would have had increasing trouble with the Imperial government's wildly gyrating religious policies. In the fifth century, these resulted in the closing of the academies in Palestine in which the Jerusalem Talmud was composed. In 529, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed even the Academy at Athens. It would thus be reasonable to suppose that, sometime in those centuries, the Temple would have been converted into a church, and the associated schools into seminaries.

In the seventh century, with the appearance of Islam, the role of Jerusalem in world history would have become considerably different. It is conceivable that the attraction of Jerusalem, with the Temple intact, might have preempted the choice of Mecca as the center of Muslim worship. (Mohammed prayed to Jerusalem for a time, even without the Temple.) This would have had considerable consequences for the development of later Islamic civilization. Neither Mecca nor Medina are suitable points from which to administer a great empire. They are too isolated, too small, and they depend on local resources that are too thin. To a lesser extent, the same is also true of Jerusalem. As the Ummayid and Abbasid Dynasties realized, Damascus or Baghdad was far preferable. However, if Jerusalem had been the goal of the Haj, with the Temple now the holiest of Mosques, it was close enough to the Mediterranean's major trade routes that it could have continued its role as a center of learning. Jerusalem is wrongly placed to be a large city. With the Temple, however, it would never have become a backwater.

In later centuries, Jerusalem would have been captured and lost by the Crusaders, patronized and abused by the Turks. Its political history might not have been dramatically different from that in our own world. The biggest difference would have come in the 20th century. In 1900, Palestine was a relatively lightly populated country. Its cities, including Jerusalem, were of mainly historical interest. Had the Temple been the center of Islam, however, these things would not have been the case. Certainly the enterprise of Zionism would have been inconceivable. Jews might well have had easy access to the Temple by the second half of the 20th century. Christians have been able to hold services in the Hagia Sofia under the Turkish Republic, to take a comparable case. Nevertheless, we must consider the possibility that one consequence of the preservation of the Temple in the first century might have been the non-existence of Israel in the twentieth.

Copyright © 1999 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise Book Review

Pelagius, thorn in the side of the Umayyads

Pelagius, thorn in the side of the Umayyads

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise
by Dario Fernandez-Morera
ISI Press 2016
$29.95; 358 pages
ISBN 978161017095

It has been quite a while since I've read a proper work of non-fiction in book form. I tend to get all of my non-fiction reading as journal articles, blogs that usually reference journal articles, or international consensus standards. Thus my book reading tends toward fiction as a palate-cleanser and method of winding down.

However, I saw this one on the shelf at my local public library, and I just had to take a look. One of the most fun things about reading is way one can make connections between all of the different things on my mind. Here, I found a perfect alignment between Stirling's Ice, Iron, and Gold, the Way of St. James, and Islamic millennial movements like the Almohads. I love it when everything comes together.

Fernandez-Morera has written a rather polemical book. I don't mean this as a criticism; I rather like polemical books, as long as the author can make a case. Fernandez-Morera can indeed make a case that in popular Western culture, Islamic Spain has been consistently presented as something that it was not. As evidence of this, Fernandez-Morera starts each chapter with a quotation from a well-known person or persons claiming it was a paradise of tolerance between different religions and ethnicities. These quotations are generally pulled from other works of popular history, although in at least two cases, Carly Fiorina and Barack Obama, the setting was a political speech. Whatever specialists might say in their journals, I think this is the popular conception.

The rest of each chapter is devoted to listing counterexamples to this myth of tolerance, focusing on broad topics such as Jihad, women, Jews, or Christians. Here, I am a little less convinced that Fernandez-Morera has made his case. While I do think the broad outlines of what Fernandez-Morera says are broadly true, I can find some examples of analytical overreach. For example, the colonial practice of renaming places in order to assert control comes up in several chapters. Broadly, this is correct, but footnote 119 in Chapter 1 says:

Ironically, the word Istanbul, used to eliminate the memory of the politically and religiously charged Constantinople, arises from the conquerors' mispronounciation of the Greek phrase εις τήν πόλι "eesteen pohlee" or "To the Polis!"—that is, "to the CIty!", or "to Constantinople!"

That is certainly one interpretation. Another is that the invading Turks ended up calling the city the exact same thing the locals had been calling it for 1,000 years: "the City". In a strange twist, this ended up confirming my prior belief that any idea labeling itself as "colonialism" is probably dumb. [although I am open to alternative explanations]

I also suspect some exaggeration by exclusion in the chapter on the Jews. While I appreciate the important context that Jews were used by the invading Muslims as a counter to the initially more numerous Catholics, the Jews themselves seem to have enjoyed the wealth and status that resulted, at least until the more literal-minded Almoravids and Almohads showed up and ruined the party.

On the gripping hand, I wept for the Visigoth culture of Spain that was destroyed by the invading Berber armies. All that remains now is a few ruins, and the Mozarabic rite of the Catholic Church. If you want a flavor for what might have been, then L. Sprague de Camp's classic Lest Darkness Fall imagines a world in which the Visigoths weren't destroyed [albeit helped by a visitor from the future].

I ultimately found this an interesting book, but probably one I remain cautious about. I am not really familiar with the popular historical literature that Fernandez-Morera is reacting against, and I suspect that the book would probably seem far more reasonable in light of the many foolish assertions made on this subject. Considered in isolation, I think many of the things said are narrowly true, and perhaps broadly a bit misleading, but that is very context dependent. I think this book is worth a read as a counterweight to far more seriously flawed popular histories of Islamic Spain.

My other book reviews


The Long View 2004-09-08: Death Cult

Here, on the grounds of millenarian movements and apocalyptic expectations, I think John was at his best when describing what Islamic terrorism is. There is a link to esoteric fascism too, the ideology of Tradition. Pray that men such as these don't have their day in the sun.

Death Cult


Peter Preston wrote a piece for The Guardian that appeared on September 6, entitled Writing the script for terror. He is incredulous of the idea that the Beslan Massacre was the work of international terrorism. He is also patronizing toward Tom Clancy, which is easy to do, but ill-informed: Clancy's novel, Rainbow Six, described a school hostage taking and the sort of force needed to deal with it, a point worthy of attention. Chiefly, though, he implies that the best way to deal with incidents like Beslan is not to report them, or at least not to report them so prominently:

For the difficult, inescapable thing, watching those pictures, is an eery feeling of manipulation. Somebody planned this and reckoned the cameras would be there....Two bleak things follow. One is that - whether or not it exists on any organised level - we shall gradually come to identify a force called international terrorism, a force defined not by the coordination of its strikes or creeds but by the orchestration of its inhuman propaganda. I manipulate, therefore I exist...The other thing is self-knowledge for media-makers and media-watchers.

Certainly the Islamofascist strategy is based on creating spectacles. However, I don't think that "we shall gradually come to identify a force" behind this propaganda. I think the force has done a pretty good job of identifying itself.

* * *

The strangely ubiquitous David Brooks writes in The New York Times (September 7) about this force:

We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.

This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.

This new phenomenon is just as nightmarish as Brooks suggests. However, if it's a cult, it's a cult without an essential theology. The massacres are apocalyptic, both in the popular sense of indiscriminately destructive, and in the scholarly sense of revealing the insubstantiality of the ordinary world. However, the death cult seems to be only incidentally related to eschatological belief systems. It's a mime, a ritual.

Nonetheless, I think I have some notion of what's going on here. In an e-book, I suggested that the final phase in the life of a great culture is a tendency toward pure destructiveness. I called that "The Terminal Apocalypse," to distinguish it from earlier versions of millenarianism, which are revolutionary and often creative. Of course, this tells us nothing about the subjective state of the people who experience this terminal mood. Brooks suggests this:

It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide.

Maybe, but I would remind readers that people do the worst things for what they imagine to be the best reasons. The terminal apocalypse seems to have something to do with the spiritual autonomy sought by esoteric fascists: neither life nor death, nor the failure of all one's historical hopes, can deflect the adept from his course. He can be killed, but not defeated.

This brings us to the question of how to manage these people. Brooks says:

This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.

It is not true that the followers of the death cult make no demands and cannot be negotiated with. As Anonymous tells us, al-Qaeda fundamentally wants the United States out of the Arabian Peninsula. That could be negotiated. The people who did Beslan want the Russians out of Chechnya. That could be negotiated, too. The problem is that the death cult is what its followers do, not what they want or believe.

Surrender doesn't help. The Russians actually tried that, after Yeltsin's first attempt to subdue Chechnya by force failed. They withdrew, in the expectation that a provisional government would form with which they could do business. What actually happened was that the state in Chechnya disappeared, and the chaos began to spill over into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation. The state similarly disintegrated in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Somalia. The same would be true in Palestine, were it not for subventions from Europe.

The rubble produced by the death cult is contagious. Perhaps it, too, cannot be defeated, but only killed.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2004-09-01: The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

John prediction record on this post is almost zero. The only thing in here I can find that didn't get disproved by subsequent events is the statement that the Islamic terror attacks on the US and European nations was another theatre of an Arabian civil war. 

The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion


If you are running for president, and the only real reason to vote for you is your promise to successfully prosecute a war in progress, you don't want to see headlines like this one in The New York Times today:

In Retreat, Bush Says U.S. Will Win War on Terrorism

It is not hard to see what President Bush meant last Monday when he said that the United States would never defeat "terrorism": terror is a tactic, not an enemy, but we might hope to defeat the current crop of enemies who favor it. The president's spin doctors have been occupied in explaining some version of this distinction since the president failed to make it, and in fact, the statement probably did negligible harm. However, this will not be the last time we go through a drill like this, and the reason is not George Bush's relaxed attitude toward semantics.

One can only repeat that "The War on Terror" is not just a misnomer; it's an evasion. The real war is an Islamist offensive launched against the West, with the collapse of the morale of the United States as its main strategic objective. Anonymous calls this war a Jihad, which is what its current principal proponents call it, but in many ways it is also an Arabian civil war being fought in part on Western territory. "Jihad" will do. "Islamist Offensive" will do. What will not do is "War on Terror," which turns the conflict into a long, twilight struggle, in which victory is not just impossible, but unimaginable.

* * *

Reports about the WMD question in Iraq continue to appear. Consider this one from The Washington Times of August 16:

Saddam Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries, U.S. investigators have discovered.

The recent discovery by the Bush administration's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is fueling speculation, but is not proof, that the Iraqi dictator moved prohibited weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria before the March 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition.

Sooner or later, it will no doubt be proven that the Baathist government exported substantial weapons stocks, and the industrial plant to produce them, as soon as it was certain that the invasion would occur. That, however, will only begin the debate we would have begun to have in the summer of 2003, if the stocks had been left in place: was the United States really threatened by some tons of obsolete chemical and biological munitions, much less by a mothballed nuclear program?

Answering that question would require quite as much subtlety as the Bush Administration has had to deploy in the current situation, in which only traces of the WMD programs have been found. The fact is that those stocks, whether in Syria or Iraq, were never more than a token of the Baathist government's refusal to forgo weapons of that class, even after half-a-generation of UN sanctions. That persistence showed that the regime itself was the problem, not the regime's policies.

We have by no means heard the last of this argument.

* * *

Speaking of things we have not heard the last of, I had an epiphany after reading this recent critique of John Kerry's Neo-Vietnam Strategy (forgive the lack of a link):

"Kerry may be judged naive to have thought that Vietnam would be a golden credential . . . and not an inevitable source of controversy," [David] Broder [of the Washington Post] writes. "In a 2002 conversation, Kerry told me he thought it would be doubly advantageous that 'I fought in Vietnam and I also fought against the Vietnam War,' apparently not recognizing that some would see far too much political calculation in such a bifurcated record."

Whether or not the strategy was naive, I could not shake the feeling that it was familiar. Finally I remembered: this was the premise of Billy Jack (1971). That was, of course, just about the time that John Kerry was beginning to craft his political personna. The synopsis for the film goes like this:

Plot Outline: Ex-Green Beret karate expert saves wild horses from being slaughtered for dog food and helps protect a desert "freedom school" for runaways.

The theme song for the film was actually a successful single, with lyrics whose aggressive moral smugness characterized the era:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven;
You'll be justified in the end.

Billy Jack and its sequels occasioned a memorable parody by Saturday Night Live, in which Billy Jack, played by the singer Paul Simon, beats up everyone in an ice-cream parlor who insults his runaway students. Then one of the students makes an ice-cream cone with scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and cherry. Glaring into the camera, she says: "See: white, black, and red. If the whole world could be like this ice-cream cone, Billy Jack would not have to kill so many people!"

But I reminisce.

* * *

On a happier note, it's not impossible that we could soon be pleasantly surprised on the energy front:

Later this month, the U.S. Department of Energy will receive a report from a panel of experts on the prospects for cold fusion--the supposed generation of thermonuclear energy using tabletop apparatus. It's an extraordinary reversal of fortune: more than a few heads turned earlier this year when James Decker, the deputy director of the DOE's Office of Science, announced that he was initiating the review of cold fusion science. Back in November 1989, it had been the department's own investigation that determined the evidence behind cold fusion was unconvincing. Clearly, something important has changed to grab the department's attention now.

An interesting point is that, like the Internet, Cold Fusion seems to have been one of those low-priority government projects that have created so much of the modern world:

THE FIRST HINT that the tide may be changing came in February 2002, when the U.S. Navy revealed that its researchers had been studying cold fusion on the quiet more or less continuously since the debacle began. Much of this work was carried out at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, where the idea of generating energy from sea water -- a good source of heavy water -- may have seemed more captivating than at other laboratories.

One lives in hope.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Against the Modern World

This book review is part of the reason I distrust Religious Studies departments. Anything influenced by Evola and Guénon probably bears close watching. John's warning here is pretty important in the post 9/11 era as well:

If you've been reading about Islam in English, you have probably been reading material heavily influenced by Traditionalism. The discipline of "religious studies" was largely founded by "soft Traditionalists."

It is always hard to come at a religious tradition from the outside. The relatively unknown ideology of Tradition makes that even harder.

I've been following Tradition for fifteen years now. As John says, there is a danger in thinking this movement stronger and more prevalent than it actually is. However, the alt-right, much in the news of late, really is influenced by Tradition. Or at least a small number of relatively uninfluential Twitterati are. The broader populist political movements in the West are not. Even the Russians don't pay much attention to Tradition.

I've also often felt relieved that Guénon deemed Catholicism [Christianity in general really, but he was from France] unsuitable ground for Tradition. Like John, and other authors who have studied Tradition, I find something intriguing about the idea, but at root, it seems wicked and perverse. Some seeds fall on on stony ground.

Against the Modern World:
Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century
By Mark Sedgwick
Oxford University Press, 2004
370 Pages, $35.00
ISBN 0-19-515297-2
Companion Website:

“Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may prove helpful here; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of 'clerks,' some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.”

--C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters

This general history of the Traditionalist movement starts with the author in a smoldering building in Moscow, wondering whether the security services had just tried to burn out his borrowed apartment in order to impede his investigation of the Tradition-influenced National Bolshevik Party. As a matter of fact, they hadn't, and the National Bolshevik Party turned out to be more a political performance-art ensemble than a serious political party. Still, anyone who has tried to assess the place of Traditionalism in 20th-century intellectual history has probably experienced something like his mild paranoia.

If you've been reading about Islam in English, you have probably been reading material heavily influenced by Traditionalism. The discipline of "religious studies" was largely founded by "soft Traditionalists." That is also true of some fields of anthropology, particularly regarding the Plains Indians. The paranoia sets in when you learn there is good reason to look for Traditionalism in the works of an apparently endless list of authors, including Thomas Merton, T.S. Eliot, and E.F. Schumacher. (Prince Charles is involved, too, a little.) The fact that some academic Traditionalists take care not to cite their Traditionalist sources only adds to the impression of a vast, shadowy network that includes everyone in the world but you.

Happily, this sober survey does not spin conspiracy theories. It also does not make the mistake of overestimating its subject, a movement that is important but not central to understanding the last century. The author, Mark Sedgwick, is a young British scholar at the American University in Cairo. He encountered Traditionalism while studying the spread of semi-secret Sufi orders among Westerners, a process that began in the early 20th century. From there, the study spread to mutations in French Freemasonry, to the development of the theory of esoteric fascism, and then to the nihilist political violence of the 1960s and '70s. The story goes on to Eurasianism, which is an anti-Western but increasingly respectable school of thought in Russia, and to the effects of Traditionalism on Islamism and on the politics of non-Arab Muslim countries.

In addition to paranoia, one of the dangers of studying Traditionalism is that you soon bite off more than you can chew. The only flaw I find in this book is that it does not cover nearly enough. Also, a note on nomenclature: self-identified Traditionalists generally refer to their system in print as "Tradition" or "tradition." However, this survey settled on "Traditionalism," so this reviewer is not going to argue.

Traditionalism is firmly rooted in Western hermeticism. Its most important element, "perennialism," may be traced to Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) of the Platonic Academy of Florence, who developed the hypothesis of the "philosophia perennis." (The term was coined later, though: Sedgwick credits Agostino Steuco at around 1540; Aldous Huxley, in The Perennial Philosophy, credits Leibnitz.) Ficino used the "Corpus Hermeticum," a venerable collection of neoplatonic texts, to argue that a primordial metaphysical basis lies behind all the world's major religions, which could therefore be said to be transcendentally united.

The problem was that the "Corpus Hermeticum" was not as venerable as the Renaissance thought. In the early 17th century, it was proven that the "Corpus" dates from the early centuries of the first millennium, and not from ancient Egyptian times, as had been supposed. Thus, it no longer seemed so remarkable that the texts contained Platonic and even Christian elements. Still, though Ficino's arguments for perennialism had been discredited, the idea never entirely went away. It received new support in the 19th century, when the availability of Vedanta texts made it possible to argue for metaphysical universals on a cross-cultural basis.

That was where René Guénon (1886-1951) came in. Traditionalism was his creation, and its history is largely the tale of his influence. The son of an ordinary French bourgeois Catholic family, he wandered from what otherwise might have been a conventional teaching career into Indic studies and thence into the occult milieu of the Belle Époque. His Traditionalism was a reaction to the Theosophy and spiritualism of the time, though a disinterested observer might be forgiven for concluding that it is simply another school of the same sort.

To the principle of perennialism, Guénon made two powerful additions. One was the principle of “initiation.” This meant that spiritual advancement required a direct link to the supernatural, which usually meant induction into a chain of adepts going back to some historical source of power. In his occult phase, which lasted until about 1920, Guénon was initiated into no fewer than six Masonic or mystical groups. One of these was the Sufi order, the Shadhiliyya Arabiyya. Guénon took the Arabic name “Abd al-Wahid.” Sedgwick insists this initiation was not a conversion; certainly Guénon did not begin to live as a Muslim for another decade.

One of the most important consequences of the principle of initiation was a tendency toward “vanguardism” (a term Sedgwick does not use). Traditionalism sought to create an elite, sometimes thought of as a saving remnant of the Western world. Traditionalism differs from Theosophy and other occult sects in that it has never sought a mass audience. In practical terms, this meant that Traditionalism expressed itself in Masonic groups and other semi-secret societies. When it took the form of Sufi orders, it often turned them into clandestine organizations, which is not how Sufism works in Muslim countries.

Guénon's second innovation was “inversion,” the principle that all the change in the Western world since medieval times was for the worse, indeed that all historical change is a decline. What the West thinks of as progress is really decay, leading to an inevitable collapse. Guénon defined modernity in terms of the privation of the good: “If everyone understood what the modern world was, it would immediately cease to exist.” Inversion gave Traditionalism its apocalyptic content. In some contexts, it gave Traditionalism revolutionary potential, as adepts sought to hasten the end of modernity.

When discussing Traditionalism, there is always the danger of attributing to Guénon projects that were really worked out in detail only by his followers. Still, it does not falsify his system to say that his general intent was to create an order of persons who could make the West a Traditional civilization again, either by arresting its decay or rebuilding it on Traditional lines after its collapse. The most interesting constraint on this ambition was Guenon's rejection of Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular as a possible basis for reconstruction. He sometimes wavered on this point, and there have always been Christian Traditionalists; in Paris, Guénon is still a “Catholic” author. Generally, though, Guénon argued that the chain of initiation had been irremediably broken in the Catholic Church. Thus, the true Tradition was to be sought in Vedanta, Sufism, Freemasonry, Taoism, or even High Paganism, but not in the public spiritual heritage of the West.

If Sedgwick is to be believed, one of the key inflections in the development of Traditionalism, the turn toward Islam, was an accident. Guénon's metaphysical point of reference was always Vedanta. Nonetheless, in the 1920s, when he wrote his principal books, Guénon seemed to be just a slightly eccentric Catholic intellectual. (His most-cited books, incidentally, are The Crisis of the Modern World (1927) and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945).), He attended Mass regularly with his devout wife. For a time, he lectured at the Catholic Institute in Paris, where he was a protégé of Jacques Maritain. He did get into increasing trouble for declining to acknowledge Catholicism as the fullest expression of the truth, and he was quite capable of equating the Third Eye of Shiva with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In any case, after his wife's unexpected death at the end of the decade, Guénon made an unsuccessful business trip to Egypt. Perhaps simply because it was cheaper, he remained in Cairo, and took up the life of a Muslim. He started a new family. He did not abandon his perennialism, but thereafter advised his growing cadre of followers of the necessity to observe the full practice of one of the great Traditions, as he observed the Sharia.

The spread of Sufism in the West during the 20th century is a tale in itself, one that intersects only at points with Traditionalism. Sedgwick names Robert Graves as a Sufi, for instance, though apparently not of a Traditionalist order. (I would suggest that Graves's novel, “Seven Days in New Crete,” actually expresses the Traditionalist agenda quite well, but there's the paranoia again.) Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorf, the alchemist and numerologist who managed the Thule Society in Munich in the 1920s and who founded the party that eventually became the Nazi Party, was also a Sufi, but again, not a Traditionalist. (Hitler was neither, by the way.) There is even something called “Neo-Sufism,” which divorces Sufi initiation from Islam entirely.

By far the most important Sufi in Traditionalist history was Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), a man of complicated Franco-German parentage who acquired Swiss citizenship, but finally created a sort of commune in Bloomington, Indiana. Guénon seems to have entertained high hopes that Schuon's Alawiyya order (later the Maryamiyya order), then based in Switzerland, would develop a way to indigenize Traditionalism in Europe. That might spare the old continent the indignity of eventually being culturally annexed by alien Islamic societies. Schuon's version of Traditionalism had its own trajectory, however.

Schuon rejected Guénon's position that Christianity had lost the power of initiation: both baptism and confirmation really were the initiations they claimed to be, in his estimation. Schuon, in fact, is among the best-known exponents of the transcendental unity of religions. However, he went beyond perennialism to something like universalism, which mixes and matches elements of the major Traditions: a grave error for most Traditionalists. Moreover, he seemed to acquiesce in the belief among his followers that the Traditions were united, not just primordially, but in himself. In any case, he had considerable effect on several academic disciplines. His keen interest in Native Americans, for instance, ensured that friendly anthropologists would write about Black Elk from a Traditionalist perspective.

Traditionalism has often sought political influence, and not without success. For instance, the Iron Guard in Romania, which supported the alliance with Nazi Germany, grew out of a sophisticated Christian Traditionalist movement, the Legion of the Archangel Michael. Mircea Eliade famously supported the Legion, though he distanced himself as the movement became less spiritual and more political. However, the most important political Traditionalist, and indeed the best known of all Traditionalists after Guénon, was the Italian occultist, Baron Julius Evola (1896/8-1974).

Evola was able to get a hearing in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany for his ideas about the cultivation of elites and the need to reconstitute the Holy Roman Empire on a non-Christian basis. Sedgwick emphasizes, however, that Evola had little effect on policy. The loss of World War II set Evola free. His philosophy was arguably a kind of existentialism; hence, perhaps, its influence in the postwar world, along with other kinds of existentialism. In the 1960s and '70s, Evola's ethic of “spontaneismo armato” inspired first a wave of rightwing anarchism, and then spread to the left.

Evola's ideas, and perhaps Evola himself, were connected with some early attempts to forge a “Red-Brown” alliance against the liberal West, a story that Sedgwick misses. However, Sedgwick gives considerable attention to efforts along these lines in post-Soviet Russia. Chief of these is the Eurasian Movement, organized by the Traditionalist and former-dissident, Alexander Dugin. Dugin's movement is not a political party; it maintains institutions to advise the government, which apparently takes it seriously.

Eurasianism combines the geopolitics of Sir Halford Mackinder with the Slavophilism of Konstantin Nikolayavich Leontyev. Its model of world history is a struggle between the spiritual Heartland and the materialist Atlantic Bloc. In this version of Traditionalism, Russian Orthodoxy plays the role that Islam plays in other versions. Russia's destiny is no longer to spread Marxism-Leninism, but to promote Slavic Christianity.

The same dissident group that produced Dugin also produced Gaydar Jamal, who somehow manages to support Russian policy in Chechnya while maintaining links to the Islamist leader Hasan al-Turabi of the Sudan. Jamal's own version of Islamism is heavily influenced by Traditionalism, but has enough orthodox Islamic elements to make it difficult to classify. It is possible to speak of a “Red-Brown-Green” coalition (with green as the color of Islam) in some contexts, but Sedgwick reports that Traditionalism has little influence in the Arab world, except perhaps in Morocco. Its profile is higher in Turkey, Iran, and Malaysia, where its role is more cultural than political.

The most important Traditionalist institution of the 20th century was the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy. It was founded by the eminent scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and generously funded by the last shah's government. The Academy was a serious academic institution, created to study Islamic art and philosophy, as well as modern science, from a Traditionalist perspective. Sedgwick notes the ironies in its history. Though Nasr is a man of conservative disposition who endorsed the monarchy as a Traditional form of government, the studies his Academy sponsored were a part of the renewal of enthusiasm for Iran's spiritual past that ultimately overthrew the shah. The academy survived the Islamic Revolution, but Nasr sought exile in the United States, where he is now an ornament to the faculty of George Washington University.

Actually, for followers of a philosophy with a name that suggests reverence for the past, Traditionalists are peculiarly liable to get into trouble when they try to deal with actual history. Ananda Coomaraswamy, one of the earliest of Guénon's followers, was already in an unassailable position as curator of the Indian collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts when he became a Traditionalist. He continued to do valuable work, and he added an esthetic element to Traditionalism that it never lost. However, even his admirers noted that his interest in history evaporated in favor of metaphysics. Guénon himself failed to get a doctorate from the Sorbonne because his thesis on Indian philosophy dispensed with the historical-critical method. When scholars influenced by Traditionalism do not cite to Traditionalist authors, they were not necessarily trying to conceal the connection; the sources are sometimes just too embarrassing.

One could add a critique of Traditionalism as a kind of fancy-dress. Guénon was relatively isolated in Cairo: he soon discovered that the spiritual East of Traditionalism often had little to do with the merely eastern East. From the 1970s into the '90s, the face of “Islam” in Italy was largely that of another European Sufi, Felice (Abd al-Wahid) Pallavicini. Unfortunately, his career as a participant on interfaith dialogues was interrupted by the immigration of Muslims, who pointed out that his theology and practice were not very orthodox. Particularly in the Arab world, the open exponents of Traditionalism are told that perennialism is not an Islamic doctrine. Indeed, in the Islamic world since the 19th century, the Sufism that Guénon identified with initiatic Islam has been in retreat before Salafism and Wahhabism.

Despite these weaknesses, and the odd turns that Traditionalism has sometimes taken, Sedgwick cautions that we should not dismiss Traditionalism as evil or deluded:

“Traditionalism was the exhilarating attempt to reinstate a divine order, the response of sensitive and intelligent individuals to an alien world...”

He doubts that it has much of a future in the West, where it is merging with the esoteric background from which it came. However, it may have an impact on those societies that are still trying to decide between East and West. Whatever you think of this assessment of Traditionalism's future influence, it is certainly high time that more attention was paid to its impact on the past.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2004-04-14: Failed Campaign

Actually, al-Mahdi is like Jesus in Christian eschatology, in that he is the one who will reorder the world in complete justice.

Failed Campaign

The events on the ground in Iraq are progressing as well as can be expected for that difficult enterprise. The long-expected Islamist attempts to foment civil war have occurred. The situation could change within hours, but it looks as if the Coalition has successfully called the bluff of the anti-democratic opposition. That does not mean that the anarchy will suddenly stop, but that the opposition to the Coalition program for Iraq will abandon it as their chief political tool.

The campaign that seems to be unraveling is the one to use foreign policy to undermine the Bush Administration. Consider this editorial in today's New York Times:

Happily, President Bush finally held a prime-time news conference last night. Unhappily, he failed to address either of the questions uppermost in Americans' minds: how to move Iraq from its current chaos, and what he has learned from the 9/11 investigations...But his rhetoric, including the repetition of the phrase "stay the course," did not seem to indicate any fresh or clear thinking about Iraq, despite the many disturbing events of recent weeks...The second issue that has overwhelmed the nation in recent days is the 9/11 investigating commission.

There is a serious disconnect from reality here. The nation was not "overwhelmed" in recent days by testimony before the 911 Commission. The press coverage was overwhelming, but the public took little note. Despite the generally anti-Administration reporting slant, the hearings seem to have helped Bush rather than otherwise. There are several reasons for this, but the upshot is that Richard Clarke is the most unsuccessful media creation since Ja Ja Binks.

As for the Times editorial complaint that the president merely declared that he would stay the course, you wonder whether the editorial editors read their paper's own news analysis in the same issue:

He could have simply talked Tuesday evening about the crimes of Saddam Hussein or the fear that chaos in Iraq would breed terror in one of the most volatile corners of the world.

But he did far more, reaching for the kind of language about America's moral mission in the world that seemed drawn from the era of Teddy Roosevelt, whose speeches he keeps on the coffee table of his ranch in Texas. He described an America chosen by God to spread freedom. He never used the word "crusade," which touched off a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world when he uttered it soon after Sept. 11, 2001. But he described one.

Lyndon Johnson used to declare crusades, too. George Bush, however, is willing to actually conduct one. The political class should be giving thought to what would happen if the Bush plan for the Middle East succeeds.

* * *

Meanwhile, my opinion of Democratic challenger John Kerry has gone up. He has scrupulously avoided giving aid and comfort to the surrender wing of the Democratic Party. No one, reading his prudently sparse comments about the current situation in Iraq, would gain the impression that he plans a withdrawal. Nonetheless, whether because of political necessity or conviction, much of what he does have to say about Iraq is manifest nonsense:

DURHAM, N.H. (Reuters) - Democratic challenger John Kerry said on Monday Washington needed to "de-Americanize" the transformation of Iraq by replacing U.S. administrator Paul Bremer with someone like top U.N. aide Lakhdar Brahimi...

"He's one of the most skilled and capable people with respect to Iraq and the Middle East," Kerry said. "He can talk to all the parties. He would be a perfect example of somebody whom you could ask to really take over what Paul Bremer's doing, de-Americanize the effort and begin to put it under the United Nations' umbrella."

President Bush, in last night's press conference, mentioned the role of the UN in Iraq, too, but only as an arbitrator. Kofi Anan has pointed out that the country is too violent for the UN to administer. In a situation like this, for the US to ask the UN to take a larger role would be like leaving a message for help on your own answering machine. To put it another way: the US and the UN are both international utilities. The US sometimes represents the world in a more realistic sense than the UN could.

* * *

Also, the UN, or elements of the UN system, display symptoms of chronic delusions of grandeur beyond anything that emanates from Washington. God knows why anyone would want to know the religious opinions of the transnational class, but these people persist in organizing conferences to foment global religious unity. Maurice Strong and Ted Turner make a particular nuisance of themselves by funding and organizing these events.

I mention this because I recently reviewed a book, The Coming World Civilization, written by William Ernest Hocking about 50 years ago. The theological reasoning was all worked out, even then. I am still trying to figure out why I had not run across Hocking before.

* * *

Speaking of the political appropriation of religion, one of the things to keep in mind about Moqtada al-Sadr is that he is leading an apocalyptic movement. Here's what a couple of Usual Suspects had to say about the matter on last night's PBS News Hour:

JUAN COLE: Muqtada al-Sadr leads a sectarian group within the Iraqi Shia who expect the end of the world, the coming of the promised one any moment...

REUEL GERECHT: I'm a little bit skeptical that you can buy out some of those folks. I think particularly with the Dawa Party and the Islamic -- and the Sadriyyun I'm not sure poverty is the driving force behind them. I do believe they in fact do have a millenarian impulse. Eventually we may have to deal with them in a fairly forceful way.

Al-Sadr's militia is called the Mahdi's Army, and of course the Mahdi is an endtime figure. The name means, "the divinely led one" or "the inspired one." The Mahdi is more a figure of Shia than of Sunni Islam. Being the Mahdi is not like being Jesus (Who, by the way, is expected in most Muslim eschatological scenarios to be the Judge of the Last Judgment). In more accounts, the Mahdi's career is interrupted by the eruption of ad-Dajjal, an Antichrist-like character. Ad-Dajjal is normally expected to be an apostate Muslim, but apocalyptic scenarios tend to accommodate themselves to events.

By the way: Najaf is repeatedly compared by commentators to the Vatican, at least as far as the Shia are concerned. May I point out that, back when the pope had armies, the Vatican was frequently attacked and occupied, generally by Catholics?    

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly 

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site


The Long View 2004-04-05: Mullah John Belushi

Muqtada al-Sadr

Muqtada al-Sadr

I don't know enough about Muqtada al-Sadr to have a real opinion, other than to say he is still influential twelve years later. I do know that Shia clerics like al-Sadr often study Aristotle and Plato, and that gives us something in common.

I also picked the first reasonable looking picture that came up on Google image search. The poor guy isn't always angry.

Mullah John Belushi

Moqtada al-Sadr is the sort of fellow who gives mad mullahs a bad name. He's pudgy; he glares at cameras from under a beetling brow; he reminds everyone of these characteristics by encouraging his followers to carry oversize pictures of him. He also seems to be fatally stupid. He's holed up in a major mosque, surround by an army of fanatics sworn to defend him to the death. Doesn't this guy know that extracting people like him from situations like that is what Special Forces were created to do?

I am sure you can follow the news as well as I can, so I won't clutter this comment with links. No doubt you have seen this note from the Iraqi blogger, Zeyad, which mentions, among other things, that Sunni hardliners are resisting al-Sadr's Army of the Mahdi. One hopes that this incident will concentrate the Sunnis' minds about what would actually happen to then if the US leaves prematurely. Dan Rather just looked earnestly into my eyes from the television screen and repeated unconfirmed reports that the uprising is being aided from Iran. If that's true, and the US makes a fuss about it, it could could backfire on the Persian reactionaries. There is also this bit of encouraging news: Dan Schorr on NPR's "All Things Considered" this evening used the term "quagmire." He has a history with that word, but maybe he has become so venerable that his editors hesitate to remind him of it.

The thing to keep in mind is that the uprising is happening at more or less a time of the Coalition's choosing. Al-Sadr would have done more to prevent a democratic transition than could the Sunni-based insurgency. Despite the fact the Shia establishment wants him gone, it would have been too much to ask of a transitional government to arrest him or to control his cult. It's never good when a situation arises in which hundreds of people could he killed. Still, what is happening now is by no means the worst that could have happened.

* * *

As we see from the Spanish experiment, surrender doesn't help. Despite having just elected a Quisling (or dhimmi?) government, the country is now met with fresh demands from the terrorists. An offensive planned for Holy Week-Easter Week by the terrorists may have been blunted by the explosion of a bomb factory; it's a shame that a Spanish policemen was killed in the incident.

Nonetheless, I see that anti-terrorism demonstrations in Spain still often have a "No Blood for Oil" theme. It still hasn't sunk in: the blood will flow whether the oil does or not.

* * *

Let no one be in any doubt about the superiority of American stupidity, however. Consider these excerpts from an Op Ed in USA Today: U.N. record in Iraq is strong:

There has been much discussion lately about the "scandal" of the U.N.-run oil-for-food program. The Iraqi Governing Council charges that hundreds of Iraqi officials, foreign companies and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein skimmed 10% or so from the humanitarian contracts...But let's be realistic. Iraq's economy plummeted from $60 billion a year in output to $13 billion. That's what brought about the terrible impoverishment...Though the U.N. is not yet involved in rebuilding Iraq, the U.S. is. But is its track record so much better? Have we forgotten that massive no-bid contracts were handed out to U.S. corporations such as Bechtel and Halliburton?...The U.N. is the better choice for nation-building with integrity and competence.

For some people, the UN is becoming what socialism used to be: not an institution, but a desire. Like the desire for ice cream, there is no argument against it. In fact, it's worse than ice cream, since there is no international equivalent of frozen yoghurt.

* * *

Does anyone keep track of the exotic weapons that may be headed for Iraq? There's the laser-armed humvee, for instance. That's for engineers to explode mines from a distance; it's not artillery. It sounds like a good idea, but it seems stuck in development.

Closer to being used is a horrible screaming-banshee machine called the Long Range Acoustic Device. It is supposed to be nonlethal. That's an improvement, I suppose, but I would not want to be in the first crowd on which it is used. I would say the same of the pain-inducing directed energy weapon, which is known to be in the works. I can't find links to it, oddly enough.

* * *

Much nonsense has been written about the role of religion in the current Bush Administration. George W. is more religious than his own father, perhaps, but not more than Bill Clinton, who goes through life with the manipulative, but real, piety of an Elmer Gantry. Be that as it may, some hostile critics say that Bush is motivated by the Armageddon scenario of the Left Behind series; others accuse him of aiming to legislate Biblical law, after the manner of the Reconstructionist movement.

Such gossip has enlivened many a wine-and-cheese party. However, as Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College recently noted, these imaginary horribles are mutually exclusive:

But there are major disagreements between [the Left Behind series and Reconstructionism], especially about eschatology -- that is, what the Bible teaches about the way human history will end. And those differences lead to very different ideas about how politics works and what it is for.

[Premillennialist] eschatology is, generally speaking, the default position for those who occupy the fundamentalist corner of the evangelical world. To be sure, many readers of the "Left Behind" books may enjoy the story without believing that LaHaye and Jenkins have rightly calculated every detail. But they will probably share the premillennialist view that human societies will not exhibit moral progress, but will deteriorate until the only option for redemption is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory, which will usher in the Millennium, the "thousand-year reign" of God. (What happens after that is disputed and complicated. Let's just say that eventually God wins.) contrast, generally don't believe in a Millennium in LaHaye's sense, and are pretty confident that Jesus isn't going to show up any time soon to rescue us. In fact, it is precisely because they don't believe in an imminent Second Coming that Reconstructionists are so determined to use Biblical law as the foundation for civilization. They'd like to build a world that Jesus would want to return to.

These comments are correct, but I would add something. Apocalyptic eschatologies often do describe history as a tale of degeneration, but there is a history of them adding brief periods of hope before the final crisis comes. That happened in the Middle Ages with the evolution of the legend of the Emperor of the Last Days. The Mahdi doctrine, found in some schools of Islam, is remarkably similar. Structurally, the Pretribulation Rapture itself fits in just this place on the timeline.

There is zero evidence of any of this in the Bush Administration. However, some such thought does seem to have occurred to Pat Robertson. The classification of eschatological ideas is necessary, but misleading. The end of the world is a felt necessity, like the the return to the tonic in music; but the music is jazz.   

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2003-09-04: Twilight Phenomena

This is your regular reminder that Gordon Chang is still wrong. He may not be wrong forever. Jean Raspail ended up being extremely right 42 years later. Raspail got some of the details wrong, but the big picture is very right. 

John said a lot of things about Iraq and the Bush administration that were very, very wrong in retrospect, but here is something he got very, very right:

What we see in Islamicism is the hardening and darkening of these mistakes. It is the mark of the products of Winter that they have no capacity for growth. At best, they simply summarize the great creations of the past. At worst, they are bombs, with no power but to destroy the heritage of their civilization. Thus, there is no real hope of victory for the Jihad against the West. Even if Western armies were driven from the Middle East and a new Caliph proclaimed in Baghdad, the effort would turn ruins to rubble. This what the Taliban did to Afghanistan: just multiply it by a thousand.

John's intense interest in Spengler and macrohistory allowed him to predict that something like ISIS would be fundamentally hollow, utterly without any creative spark whatsover, doomed to spend its energies in mindless destruction.

Twilight Phenomena

Here's a headline I've been expecting to see: A Heated Chinese Economy Piles Up Debt. It appears on the frontpage of today's New York Times. While the story is not alarmist, it does point to the big economic story of the next few years: the impending bust of the last and greatest East Asian economy. There is nothing very mysterious about China's enormous recent growth statistics. If a government allocates capital on a political basis, there really is no problem generating export-driven growth of 6% to 10% every year. The problem is that the booming enterprises are literally a waste of money. The huge conglomerates of South Korea and Indonesia used to be capitalized at tens of billions of dollars, but produced returns on capital of less than one percent. The effect of all that manufacturing was just to turn the local currency into dollars. This makes a certain short-term sense, if there are tempting dollar investments to be made. That was the case in the 1990s. It is not the case today.

This is not just an Asian failing. The artificially low interest rates of the 1920s put America of the 1930s into a situation like that of Japan today, but worse. Closer to the current Chinese situation was the American savings-and-loan industry of the 1980s, when politics disabled the regulators but kept federal deposit-guarantees in place. The result was "see-through" office buildings and a lot of bankrupt institutions, for which the taxpayers were responsible. Of course, one of the lessons of the S&L collapse is that these things need not be the end of the world. The depositors got their money back, and the assets of the busted lenders were sold off, without enormous net loss to the Treasury. For that matter, the Pacific Rim countries have pretty much recovered from their own pre-millennial bust. Japan is a special case, but far from a lost cause.

There are people who say that China is a special case that is also a lost cause. So argued Gordon Chang two years ago in The Coming Collapse of China, which is the book that got me looking for those "It's later than you think" headlines about the People's Republic. His diagnosis is both ominous and persuasive. However, it is the nature of apocalypses to be averted by insightful predictions of them.

* * *

Speaking of disaster averted, I see that just a few days ago a reputable source warned that a 1.2-mile-wide asteroid could collide with Earth in 2014. I can easily imagine why there are so many warnings like this. The first observations of an asteroid will generate nothing more precise than a wide sheath of possible future positions. These sheaths are routinely big enough to hit Earth, but the relatively tiny asteroids in them are not. In any case, this latest warning was withdrawn within 24 hours.

Still, no matter how many times this happens, it's hard not to speculate about what would happen if the warning did not go away. That date, 2014, was particularly interesting. It's far enough in the future that we might be able to do something to avert the impact, but close enough that we would have to start doing it immediately. One imagines that steps would also be taken to move people out of harm's way, should deflecting the asteroid prove impossible. In any case, for some time the Rock would be what history is about.

As with nuclear weapons, which flickered in the world of science fiction long before someone actually built one, I sometimes get the sense the world is reaching for an organizing principle like this. That is part of the explanation for the genuine popularity of the idea of global warming. This is not to say that people are longing for some common challenge that would make the world one: far from it. Rather, some such global menace would make the world conceptually coherent for a while.

* * *

The controversy over Mel Gibson's upcoming film, The Passion, continues to grow. It is hard to understand the objection that the film will incite antisemitism. No doubt it will portray the Temple priesthood unsympathetically, but the portrayal will have to be very unsympathetic indeed to be worse than that in Jesus Christ Superstar, which is one Passion Play to which millions of people know the lyrics.

The truly bizarre element in all this has been the behavior of the Anti-Defamation League. For months now they have been trying to alter or suppress the film: now they are complaining about the angry mail they have been getting about their attempts to alter or suppress the film. They have also, under Providence, generated more publicity, for what would otherwise have been a minor art-film, than could have been bought for any money.

I could demonstrate at length that it has never been Catholic doctrine that the Jews are collectively to blame for the Crucifixion. (The Creed says "suffered under Pontius Pilate," not "Caiphas," for one thing.) There has been a popular tradition to that effect, of course, which sometimes found expression in Passion Plays. However, even judging only by hostile accounts of the rough cut, there is no reason to suppose that Gibson's Passion was made with that intent or will have that effect. Surely the ADL has better things to do with its time than pick fights with people who don't mean it any harm?

* * *

Passion Plays provide some insight into the Exploding Martyr phase of the disintegration of Islam. Spengler said, and I think he's right about this, that Jesus was the first great figure of a Culture that reached its spiritual culmination in Islam after AD 1000, and its final political definition in Ottoman hegemony. Spengler's name for this Culture was "Magian," and it includes the ancient eastern Churches, Rabbinical Judaism, and other, smaller communities as "nations."

21st-century Islamicism stands toward the time of Jesus as deepest Winter does toward earliest Spring. There are real continuities. Islamism addresses many of the questions Jesus did: about the relation of the World to the Kingdom, about ideal and practical moral norms, and about the importance of martyrdom. The cult of martyrdom is, in some ways, a fossil form of the Passion. Islam in general gets the answers backwards: it's a Reformation that went entirely off the rails, which the Reformation in Europe never quite did.

What we see in Islamicism is the hardening and darkening of these mistakes. It is the mark of the products of Winter that they have no capacity for growth. At best, they simply summarize the great creations of the past. At worst, they are bombs, with no power but to destroy the heritage of their civilization. Thus, there is no real hope of victory for the Jihad against the West. Even if Western armies were driven from the Middle East and a new Caliph proclaimed in Baghdad, the effort would turn ruins to rubble. This what the Taliban did to Afghanistan: just multiply it by a thousand.

* * *

Visitors to the top page of my site will see that I just did a short review of John Crowley's Little, Big. This is a wonderful "autumn book," a category that does not lend itself to precise definition. It has something to do with esoteric subject matter, at least in my case, but also with woodlands and shortening days.

One of the few books with which I would compare Crowley's novel is Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. It is, of course, ridiculous to think that a small stand of woods might be a gateway to the collective unconscious. It is less ridiculous to think that a wood might be "haunted": there is evidence that some places are uncanny in a replicable, almost objective sense. One of the marks of a good autumn-book is that the author knows when to stop being plausible, however. Holdstock is particularly good at this.

There is a sequel to The Mythago Wood, by the way, even a sort of cult.

A novella that might interest some readers is William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland. The story was one of the products of the Occult Revival of pre-World War One days; so, though it's fiction, it incorporates quite a lot of theosophical doctrine. The story has little in the way of spooky woods, but there is another Occult Revival stage property: an isolated mansion in the darkest West of Ireland. Anyway, I'm happy to see it's been reprinted in an anthology: All Gothic 1: The Boats of the Glen Garrig & The House on the Borderland.

Most items in this category are ambiguously related to Christianity at best, but that need not be the case. Indeed, my favorite book in the autumn-book category remains C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength. As I may have mentioned once before on this site, the book antedates George Orwell's 1984, but one may read Lewis's book as an answer to Orwell's. Plus you get to meet Merlin, and there is some conversational Latin. What else could you ask for on a darkening evening?  

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site