Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Friday, July 15, 2005
The bombings last week in London concentrate the mind on three questions, all of them exceeding difficult, and the first two of which profoundly complicate the all-important third.
The first difficult question is: Is this the authentic voice of Islam? And it is a question that no non-Muslim can presume to properly answer. If I answered, “Emphatically yes, this is the authentic voice of Islam: and it is also the voice of our enemy,” men would rise in righteous anger at my presumption. But when our leaders — non-Muslims to a man — pronounce in solemn tones, just as confidently, “No; Islam is a religion of peace,” there are no charges of presumption.
What we can say confidently, while yet avoiding the presumption, is that those who believe that “civilization” should be “brought” to us by the gruesome massacre of London commuters, or Spanish commuters, or New York office-workers, believe this because, over and above it, they believe the claims of Islam. In short, we non-Muslims (while we are still free to speak our minds) can appropriately say that our enemies strike against us in the name of Islam; they find their inspiration, their motivation, their justification, in the precepts of this great religion which has stood as the adversary of our once-unified civilization for many a long century. It may be that they have perverted the teachings of this religion; it may be that they have misunderstood some of its ambiguous teachings; but it may also be that they are faithfully applying those teachings. Again a non-Muslim is in no position to judge of this.
The second question goes to the very heart of the theoretical framework American leaders have sketched as a solution to the problems of the Muslim world. In brief, it calls into question the whole solution itself, and may force us back to the drawing broad, so to speak, if we are serious about facing it. The question is this. If it is demonstrated, as now seems pretty clear, that the perpetrators of the London bombings were British citizens or legal residents, will there be any reflection on what this means for the neoconservative theory that democracy is the cure for Islamic terrorism? If, in other words, the perpetrators of these bombings were citizens or long-time residents of one of the world’s most stable and historic democracies, and thus partakers of all liberty and equality that is offered as the panacea for the troubles of the Muslim world, what does it say for the plausibility of said theory that London’s first suicide bombers were reared up in the very cradle of Western liberal democracy?
Just maybe, it says that there is something unique about Islam that confounds our facile universalism, something unique and ancient about Islam that renders nugatory the easy platitudes so dear to us, something unique and ineradicable that reveals (yet again) that there are deeper things to stir the hearts of men than material prosperity and free elections.
But here is the really pulverizing question — pulverizing not least because it is so muddled by the difficulty of the foregoing two. But being muddled, it is no less important. By now, every free nation in the world still possessed of its senses knows it must face this self-interrogation: Are we or are not going permit (or perhaps continue to permit) the emergence, within our midst, of totalitarian Islam? Again I deliberately leave open the question of whether “totalitarian Islam” really means “Islam in the modern world” or merely “a perversion of Islam in the modern world.” But to repeat: The people of the free nations of the world, the citizens of the West (or her descendents if in fact the West is no more), are now confronted with sufficient evidence that the efforts to call totalitarian Islam into existence in every free nation are well underway; that such efforts will be materially supported from the home bases of totalitarian Islam, and may be spiritually supported by the very nature of Islam as such*; and that those efforts can, at least to some degree, be encouraged or discouraged by the actions of our own governments.
The instinct of most of us is not even to face the question, to decline the self-interrogation altogether, and get on with our barbeques and reality shows; but face it we must, because ultimately the threat it signifies is neither fleeting nor mild, but rather persistent and existential.
The answer we should give is this. We — whatever other free nations choose to do or not do — are going to put certain considerable obstacles in the way of totalitarian Islam; we at least are not going to encourage its development on our shores; we at least are going to say, in the manner republics “say” things publicly, such that it is clear to the leaders of this movement, its sympathizers and facilitators, both here and abroad, to the world at large, and most importantly to ourselves, that we will not tolerate totalitarian Islam. Rather, we will place very substantial burdens and abridgements, of varying social, political and legal character, upon those holding the beliefs associated with totalitarian Islam. We will make the price for sympathy with it very high indeed. We will not extend to it our beloved constitutional and civil rights; we will not, to the extent possible, let its sympathizers and facilitators, much less its foot soldiers and officers, into our country, and we will deport with dispatch those already here; we will exclude its representatives from service in our government, status in our society, safety under our laws; we will, in short, prohibit totalitarian Islam, in thought, word and deed.
Now we will, to be sure, make every effort to distinguish between our real enemies and those merely linked to them by accident of birth or confession. We have always been a generous country, and we will take heed not to forsake that generosity now, not least because we know that extending it to the right people will help us in this war immensely. We will be discerning, and when failing to discern, genuinely contrite. But we will give no quarter to our enemy. We will make him fear: fear that we are onto him, fear that we have turned his neighbors against him, fear that we have made him our agent without his knowing, fear that perhaps this radical Islam thing may be more trouble than its worth — or better: fear that, after all, it may be a little off in its apprehension of the duties of man to God.
And make no mistake: this is no mere matter of Free Speech. The Islamist being struck at is generally not the Islamist attempting to exercise his constitution right to free speech; it is rather the Islamist who, having given his allegiance wholly to totalitarian Islam, has acted to systematically conceal this fact. We will not merely abridge his freedom of speech; we will also abridge his freedom of thought.
Now often the way a republic speaks is through legislation, and if legislation is called for, let our politicians find some time in their busy schedules to actually legislate. This is tough stuff: no one said it would be easy. If we must write laws to exclude totalitarian Islam from First Amendment protections under “clear and present danger” precedents, let it been done. If we must write laws to exclude totalitarian Islam from Equal Protection considerations, let it be done. Would such things be delicate business? Indeed it would: among the most delicate we as a people have ever undertaken. But that, friends, is the burden of self-government. And even if legislation along these (admittedly a bit shocking) lines is never enacted — even if it is never even really considered — we as a people must face the question I posed above: Are we or are not going permit the emergence, within our midst, of totalitarian Islam? We must face it and answer, such that most everyone understands, No.
posted by Paul Cella |
2:52 PM |
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Mr. Kevin Grace trains his mocking polemics against some poor Irish fool I’ve never heard of (and another very rich Irish fool everyone has heard of), and the result is, as usual, worth a good chuckle. And I hasten to note Chesterton’s very apt reminder that funny is not the opposite of serious.
While you’re at it, look over the last few days and weeks worth of writing at Grace’s site, The Ambler. He’s been pouring it out lately: I’m only half-way through it myself. But do not expect to read anything with the least whiff of what is called political correctness at The Ambler. Mr. Grace has bravely banished it; and for my money, any blogger — and certainly any blogger who writes this well — who banishes that petty tyranny deserves at least a reader’s loyalty.posted by Paul Cella | 3:48 PM |
Monday, July 11, 2005
I apologize for the lack of content around here of late. I am, as it were, stuck in a kind of summer blogging malaise, punctuated by some vacation time spent in various warm and lovely locales. I do have some longer essays in the works, several of which are scheduled to appear in print over the next couple of months. I will certainly alert readers of those when they appear.
I was part of a “Book Roundtable” at Redstate discussing Thomas Woods’ book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. The link to that is here.
I want to also express my thanks to my many loyal readers and commenters. This meager blog would not be what it is without you.posted by Paul Cella | 12:50 PM |