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]....one 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 2002-08-01: War Plans

John has been definitely refuted here by the events that followed not only the downfall of the Baathist Iraqi state, but also Syria and Libya. Deposing Middle Eastern tyrants has shown us there are indeed worse evils. I suppose the one consolation we have is that while President George W. Bush was a true believer in the American gospel, spreading peace and democracy everywhere we go, whereas President Obama seems rather indifferent. This hasn't really affected our involvement in the Middle East since foreign policy is conducted by the same people under both Presidents, other than they do seem to have learned that Americans really don't want boots on the ground in the Middle East.

All of this might be less objectionable if our Deep State hawks were a little better at what they do. Instead, we get what Jerry Pournelle calls Incompetent Empire. We are exceptionally good at the breaking things and killing people part of Empire, what we are less good at is the political maneuvering afterwards. One needn't look far to find examples of competent Empire. Both the British and the Romans were quite adept at this kind of thing. The Deep State seems largely to be populated with folks who share whiggish understandings of human nature: democracy and liberty are culturally neutral goods sought by everyone at all times and in all places.

Something in John's favor is that he did understand that forms of government are culturally dependent, and that not all things are possible in all times and all places. John correctly notes that Iran is not liable to same weaknesses as many other Middle Eastern states. Some sort of state has existed in Persia for a very long time, the people there identify with their history and their nation. The last time we interfered in their internal affairs to any great effect, the Iranians rose up and threw us out. On the other hand, John felt that Iraq was a fictional country [it is], with a widely despised government [it was], such that you ought to able to depose one government and put another in its place without too much fuss [possible?].

If we were better at the game of Empire, perhaps we could have done this. As it turned out, we did not succeed.

War Plans

For the last week or two, we have been overwhelmed with plans for the war with Iraq. The invasion will happen next spring and involve a quarter-million regular Army troops, or it will happen almost immediately with just a few thousand members of the special forces. It will be a matter of all heavy armor or just air power, according to taste. The war will last some time between 72 hours and six months.

There really is a range of respectable opinions about strategy. Newspapers get an anonymous quote or two from someone associated with the military when they publish stories about these things, but I don't give special credence to these "leaks" from the Pentagon. In reality, the press has just been stating the obvious.

For me, at least, the obvious strategy has always been to shut down all intercity movement and communications in Iraq for a few days, install a provisional government based in the north and south, and then bring heavier forces to bear against the government's bunkers and other redoubts. From what I understand, the Iraqi military is largely irrelevant to the war it would have to fight. The heavy armor it favors simply cannot be used when the enemy has air supremacy. Small forces could defeat the large Iraqi military because that military would never be able to concentrate. The slow, massive, campaign favored by the US Army would obviate the advantages that Iraq offers.

A lightning campaign ought to foster or even create uprisings in the north and south of the country; the Iraqi government could be deprived of most of its territory at a blow. Additionally, the US should seek to eliminate the Iraqi government as a diplomatic actor within hours of beginning the assault. Ideally, that government should be unable even to communicate with its UN delegation. We might see not only most of Iraq's military quickly defecting, but also its diplomatic corps.

We have also recently seen another class of stories related to the war. These are assessments depicting the chaos that would follow the removal of the Baathist regime from Baghdad and the opprobrium in which the US would be held for doing such a thing. Unlike the matter of military strategy, such stories do not reflect a range of plausible opinions. They are uniformly tendentious. George Bernard Shaw, in his silly old age, opposed the British declaration of war against Germany in 1939. "What on earth would happen if we did defeat the Germans?" he would ask. "Is our policy to overthrow the governments of Germany and the Soviet Union, and replace them with the British constitution?" The difference between today's anti-war propaganda and that of 1939 is that Shaw was honestly stupid.

There is such a thing as overreaching, however. We see an example of this in Reuel Marc Gerecht's Weekly Standard article of August 5, "Regime Change in Iran?" The piece acutely points out that President Bush's approach to the war on terror is a species of "liberation theology." The article does not propose invading Iran while we are in the neighborhood, but simply that we should promote the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, not seek to engage it.

There are mysteries in this matter that do not apply to Iraq. One can plug and unplug the governments of most Middle Eastern countries because they are make-believe states to begin with. Their peoples barely tolerate them. This is particularly true of the Baathist government of Syria, the removal of which is the key to solving the Palestinian situation. Iran, in contrast, is a real country. It has a lively civil society and a notable cultural life, both rarities in the region. It even has an imperfect democracy. Gerecht's argument is that, with a little push, Iran could become a secular, democratic state like Turkey.

Maybe, but I have misgivings. For one thing, the Wilsonianism-with-teeth that the Weekly Standard promotes really is a "liberation theology," even if the people who favor it imagine that they are encouraging secular neutrality. Muslims often look on Western secular humanism as a kind of Protestant Christianity, and they have a point.

Islam is not a "medieval" civilization awaiting its Reformation. Mohammed was a sort of Luther, who brought simplicity and egalitarianism to the orthodoxies and heterodoxies of the Middle East. He even brought "sola scriptura," which would not enter Christianity for another 900 years. Islam is in fact a fossil Reformation. You can shatter a fossil, but you cannot get it to grow again.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site