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.

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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

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