Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, December 22, 2005  

The Vatican seems to be taking a significantly more realistic and therefore confrontational attitude toward Islam. On December 13, Monsignor Walter Brandmüller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, gave a talk on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the birth of Pope St. Pius V, victor in the great naval battle of Lepanto. It is unflinching:

But on the part of the Muslims, from the earliest times, even while Mohammed was still alive, conversion was imposed through the use of force. The expansion and extension of Islam's sphere of influence came through war with the tribes that did not accept conversion peacefully, and this went hand in hand with submission to Islamic political authority. Islamism, unlike Christianity, expressed a comprehensive religious, cultural, social, and political strategy. While Christianity spread during its first three centuries in spite of persecution and martyrdom, and in many ways in opposition to Roman domination, introducing a clear separation between the spiritual and political spheres, Islam was imposed through the power of political domination.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the use of force occupies a central place in Islamic tradition, as witnessed by the frequent use of the word “jihad” in many texts. Although some scholars, especially Western ones, maintain that jihad does not necessarily mean war, but instead a spiritual struggle and interior effort, Samir Khalil Samir again clarifies that the use of this term in Islamic tradition — including its usage today — is essentially uniform, indicating warfare in the name of God to defend Islam, which is an obligation for all adult Muslim males. Those who maintain that understanding jihad as a holy war constitutes a sort of deviation from the true Islamic tradition are therefore not telling the truth, and history sadly demonstrates that that violence has characterized Islam since its origin, and that Mohammed himself systematically organized and led the raids against the tribes that did not want to convert and accept his dominion, thus subjecting the Arab tribes one by one. Naturally, it must also be said that at the time of Mohammed warfare was part of the Bedouin culture, and no one saw anything objectionable about it.

Brandmüller also firmly rebuts the regnant prejudice against the Crusades:

According to this representation, Western Christians were invaders in a peaceful region that was respectful of the different religions — the Holy Land, which back then was part of Syria — using religious motives to disguise imperialist ambitions and economic interests.

But the idea of the crusades emerged, above all, as a reaction to the measures that the Fatimid caliph Hakim bi-Amr Allah took against the Christians of Egypt and Syria. In 1008, al-Hakim outlawed the celebrations of Palm Sunday, and the following year he ordered that Christians be punished and all their property confiscated. In that same year of 1009, he sacked and demolished the church dedicated to Mary in Cairo, and did not prevent the desecration of the Christian sepulchers surrounding it, or the sacking of the city’s other churches. That same year saw what was certainly the most severe episode: the destruction of the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, known as the Holy Sepulcher. The historical records of the time say that he had ordered “to obliterate any symbol of Christian faith, and provide for the removal of every reliquary and object of veneration.” The basilica was then razed, and Ibn Abi Zahir did all he could to demolish the sepulcher of Christ and any trace of it.

Next Msgr. Brandmüller expounds the “biggest difference between Christianity and Islam”: the understanding the human person. “From a historical point of view,” he avers, the very idea of the rights of man “is a cultural fruit of the Christian world”; while under Islam, “the concept of the equality of all human beings does not exist, nor does, in consequence, the concept of the dignity of every human life.” Islamic law “is founded upon a threefold inequality: between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, and between freeman and slave.” More: the human male “is considered a full titleholder of rights and duties only through his belonging to the Islamic community” [my emphasis]. “The most irrevocable of these inequalities is that between man and woman, because the others can be overcome — the slave can be freed, the non-Muslim can convert to Islam — while woman’s inferiority is irremediable.”

The conclusion simply draws out some of the uncomfortable implications in all of this:

If this characterization of Islam is destined to remain unchanged in the future, as it has been until now, the only possible outcome is a difficult coexistence with those who do not belong to the Muslim community: in an Islamic country, in fact, the non-Muslim must submit to the Islamic system, if he does not wish to live in a situation of substantial intolerance.

Likewise, on account of this all-embracing conception of religion and political authority, the Muslim will have great difficulty in adapting to the civil laws in non-Islamic countries, seeing them as something foreign to his upbringing and to the dictates of his religion. Perhaps one should ask oneself if the well-attested difficulties persons coming from the Islamic world have with integrating into the social and cultural life of the West are not explained in part by this problematic situation.

We must also recognize the natural right of every society to defend its own cultural, religious, and political identity. It seems to me that this is precisely what Pius V did.

I find this most encouraging.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:47 AM |

Wednesday, December 21, 2005  

Mr. Bill Luse sallies forth against a tenured debunker to vindicate the good name of St. Thomas More. Bill does not give us these longer essays very often these days, but when he does we are reminded of why we wish he would.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:10 AM |

“This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam Won! ... Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.”

So declared an exhilarated Omar Alghabra upon winning the Liberal Party nomination for a parliamentary district in Toronto. Oddly, he delivered this exclamation to an audience that included many Coptic Christian — who not likely to be particularly receptive to it.

Victor Fouad of the Canadian Coptic Association was there, and fired off this letter to several newspapers:

Having won the Liberal nomination for Mississauga-Erindale, Omar Alghabra shouted to the audience, “This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam Won!” He went on to praise how “Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.” His performance was witnessed by hundreds including Rogers Cable, and his theocratic rant was cheered by many in the audience.

These are chilling words to a nation that has been identified as a terrorist target by Osama Bin Laden and has witnessed how “Islamic power is extending” itself into Western democracies through the slaughter of innocents in Madrid, London, New York, Beirut, Netanya, Bali and practically every country in the world. The Islamist declaration of Liberal candidate Omar Alghabra could have come from an al Qaeda mouthpiece.

And the Liberals dare to say that Stephen Harper is scary! I will take my chances with a free vote on same-sex marriage over a Liberal parliamentarian preaching the same expansionist Islamic rhetoric that incites those who will kill and maim innocent Canadians.

Clearly, the lives and values of Canadians are expendable to the Liberal party as long as they have a winning candidate.

Mr. Fouad also wrote Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, but received no response. “I was surprised that Prime Minister Martin showed no interest in such a dangerous mixing of religion and politics,” said Mr. Fouad. “Since he has said nothing about it and this candidate is still representing the Liberal Party of Canada, I have to assume that Alghabra has the endorsement of the Prime Minister.”

Perhaps not the endorsement, but certainly the acquiescence, which is quite sufficient. In any case, Alghabra’s exclamation is decidedly truer than the impotent platitudes that Liberalism erects as barriers to this militant faith.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:07 AM |

Friday, December 16, 2005  

It has not attracted as much attention, but something similar to what happened some weeks ago in France is now happening in Australia: Urban strife with clear racial and religious undertones.

Four churches in Sydney’s southwest have been attacked in 24 hours as the city’s riots spread from race to religion.

A community hall linked to a Uniting church was burned to the ground early yesterday, carol-singers were spat on and church buildings peppered with gunfire. [. . .]

Police believe the attack on the hall, in the suburb of Auburn, was intended to destroy the Uniting church next door, while nearby St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, which has a primarily Chinese congregation, had all its front windows smashed. Three of the attacks were on churches within minutes of each other. The night before, Molotov cocktails were used in an attack on an Anglican church in Macquarie Fields in the city's far southwest.

The situation is complicated by the fact that a sizeable portion of the Arab population is Christian:

Arab Christians have suggested the attacks on churches may have been meant as a violent attempt to “shame” the city’s Lebanese Christian community into supporting Lebanese Muslims in the race-hate war, which began as a battle against young white males over use of suburban beaches.

But the statements of public officials leave little doubt about the unambiguous racial character of the violence.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma has called on people not to renounce their Australian identity in the face of intimidation by Lebanese gangs — even if it means being bashed.

His advice came after victims of rioting in Sydney told how they were asked if they were Australian before being attacked by large groups of Middle Eastern men. [. . .]

He said if he were approached by such a gang he would say he was “proudly Australian”, even if it meant being attacked.

We have, as well, the usual intimations, carefully veiled, of insufficient vigor from the politically correct bureaucracies that oversee the police:

The police response to the riots came under the spotlight last night when it emerged that officers were ordered to stay away from a gathering of Lebanese men in Sydney's west on Monday.

The Seven Network said a police incident report instructed officers to stay clear of Punchbowl Park, from where gangs later travelled to the riot hotspot of Cronulla.

Discerning observers have been anticipating this catastrophe for quite awhile: It does not require any great quality of prescience, but only some immunity to the virus of Liberalism, to predict that the social consequences of mass immigration will not all be happy. For a long time we the West have been content to imbibe the illusions projected before us by Liberalism — that all peoples are perfectly compatible, that the identity of a nation is infinitely elastic, that differences of culture and religion are ultimately superficial — and it is increasingly plain that our disillusionment will be shattering. It may even be fatal.

It is often answered that the solution to mass immigration is integration or assimilation; these words are repeated almost like an incantation. But the sad irony of this cast of mind — which has been aptly described as “right-wing Liberalism” — was perhaps captured best in a brilliant passage in C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, in which he lamented the ceaseless “clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.” The right-Liberal removes the organ of national identity and demands the function of assimilation. He abets the liquidation of the very identity to which the immigrant is expected to assimilate.

Assimilation in the past came precisely because the American identity was affirmed without apology. Norman Podhoretz, in his book My Love Affair with America, gives us a good picture of this process when he describes, in his boyhood, the concerted and successful effort by a New York City public school teacher to eradicate his Yiddish accent. Podhoretz remarks that without this rather brutal force of assimilation, which essentially destroyed an element of his ethnic identity, his success in America would never have been possible. By giving young Norman a proper command of spoken English — and consequently, he notes, a love of the language — she set him on the path he later took to literary success. I ask the reader to consider the manifold obstacles we have subsequently erected in the path of any school teacher who aspires to such an undertaking in her, let us say, Hispanic students. Not merely do we now condemn such forceful assimilation, but we positively encourage its opposite.

The right-Liberal clamors for the very qualities he is rendering impossible. He censures the citizen who affirms the culture of his homeland against the culture of the foreigner; then turns around and assures us that the foreigner will naturally adopt, without pressure or incentive, the very culture the affirmation of which he has censured.

The results of the experiments in this dubious theory are slowly coming in — in Europe and now Australia.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:43 AM |

Thursday, December 15, 2005  

One of the most heartening reports I have read in a very long time is here. According to Paul Sperry:

[A] key Pentagon intelligence agency involved in homeland security is delving into Islam’s holy texts to answer whether Islam is being radicalized by the terrorists or is already radical. Military brass want a better understanding of what’s motivating the insurgents in Iraq and the terrorists around the globe, including those inside America who may be preparing to strike domestic military bases. The enemy appears indefatigable, even more active now than before 9/11.

Sperry quotes a sensitive briefing paper: “Political Islam wages an ideological battle against the non-Islamic world at the tactical, operational and strategic level. The West’s response is focused at the tactical and operation level, leaving the strategic level — Islam — unaddressed.” All too true. And the analysts are not cringing from difficult conclusions:

So far the conclusions of intelligence analysts assigned to the project, who include both private contractors and career military officials, contradict the commonly held notion that Islam is a peaceful religion hijacked or distorted by terrorists. They’ve found that the terrorists for the most part are following a war-fighting doctrine articulated through Muhammad in the Quran, elaborated on in the hadiths, codified in Islamic or sharia law, and reinforced by recent interpretations or fatwahs.

One almost wants to stand up and cheer. Then there is this:

In analyzing the threat on the domestic front, the Pentagon briefing draws perhaps its most disturbing conclusions. It argues the U.S. has not suffered from scattered insurgent attacks — as opposed to the concentrated and catastrophic attack by al-Qaida on 9-11 — in large part because it has a relatively small Muslim population. But that could change as the Muslim minority grows and gains more influence.

It would be difficult to imagine a conclusion more perfectly calculated in its implications to inflame the sensibilities of the politically correct. That the Pentagon is contemplating it is cause for celebration.

The public conversation on Islam has often had an almost surreal aspect to it. The plain words of an enemy who understands himself to be acting under the mandate and with the blessing of his religion, and in this belief finds ample justification in the scriptures and traditions of this religion, cannot be taken seriously. In their place we get platitudes or, if platitudes fail, denunciation. The enemy declares that we are marked for death or subjugation because we are unbelievers. He declares that enslavement, massacre, plunder and deceit — all are acceptable in the war against the unbeliever. He cites chapter and verse, and in many cases great Islamic philosophers and jurists across the centuries, to defend his actions. And we are told to ignore his words. The enemy does not mean what he says. The whole drift of this mentality is to ask us, off at the end, to die for political correctness.

There are many causes worth dying for, but this pathetic ideology is not one of them.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:08 AM |

My friend and former colleague Josh Trevino opposes capital punishment. He does so with all the force of his gifted pen.

He argues that what really provides the base of support for the death penalty in America is “organized death-as-spectacle.”

This is the rationale for the death penalty in the United States. It is not a deterrent; it is not a just punishment; it is not a pragmatic alternative to incarceration. It is a shoddy acquiescence to the same impulse that sent gladiators and hapless blacks to their deaths in bygone days. How, really, may an unseen green chamber deep within a California prison compare to the spectacle of the Colosseum, or a bonfire with a writhing Negro? In America, it must do.

He refers, of course, to the late Stanley “Tookie” Williams, recently executed in California for the murder of four people. Josh has no patience for him or his defenders; “Stanley Tookie Williams spent the flower of his youth as a hideous slaughtering beast, and there is no reason to take his much-touted redemption as anything but cheap charlatanism . . . He dies a martyr in the eyes of those who mourn and admire him. These people are fools.”

But, according to Josh, no less fools are those who sought his execution. “They are men who do not examine their endorsement of this killing overmuch. It does not bear examination.” They are many of them hypocrites: “They are likely to be the same men who decry government inefficiency and denounce the activist state, except, of course, when it’s killing people. Then, presumably, big government comes into its own.” Much worse, they are impious, because the policy they endorse “usurps” what is properly God’s alone and precludes “the possibility that the condemned may find mercy and repose in the Lord.” [There is a reply to this, which St. Thomas gave, that even if the criminal is unrepentant, he is benefited by being prevented from committing more sins.]

This is not the realm of reason. Stanley Tookie Williams was never within it; and those who wished him dead followed in his bloody footsteps in their surrender to the urge to slaughter. The former, at least, lived as amoral outright.

Josh’s strictures against those of us to support capital punishment are severe indeed. One must strain to discover in his polemic any space for respectful disagreement. We have departed the “realm of reason” and “followed” in the “bloody footsteps” of the killer himself to “surrender” to our “urge to slaughter” and our “base urge” to make Williams “a corpse.”

The implications of this stridency are significant, and I respectfully submit that they have not been thought through with sufficient vigor. The reader of this argument longs to hear how exactly Josh will extract the doctrine of Just War from the enveloping logic which casts any notion of justice that deliberately contemplates the taking of human life from the purview of the State. If justice on this earth excludes the possibility that we might will the death of sufficiently evil men, how it is possible to pursue a just war?

But the true rationale for capital punishment is indeed justice. It is an approximation of the transcendent order of justice which God has ordained and which the legitimate sovereign, that is, the State, has an obligation to protect, despite the impossibility of its perfect achievement here below.

That a great many mistake vengeance for retributive justice is beyond dispute; that others simply revel in the spectacle Josh eloquently describes is also surely beyond dispute; but these dire evils do not mitigate the duty imposed upon the justly-constituted sovereign to protect the transcendent moral order.

Some (including the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church) answer that the modern secular State no longer recognizes the transcendent moral order, and therefore has no authority to protect a thing it denies. The argument is cogent and powerful, but the implications are equally so.

For of course the Just War theory hinges as well on the recognition of a transcendent moral order, which it is the State’s duty to protect. A State which does not recognize this order cannot wage war to vindicate a justice it denies. I do not say that the Catholic position (which Josh seems to cleave to) forces us into pure pacifism, but it does narrow the range of just war very dramatically. It leaves, as I see it, only a war of manifest and immediate defense within the realm of licit action.

I for one am not yet willing to concede that the modern State has abandoned higher law; but when that day comes (as well it may), reason and obedience will compel me, not merely to renounce my support for capital punishment, but also to move dramatically toward the pacifist position.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:04 AM |

Friday, December 09, 2005  

Peggy Noonan, as is her wont, manages to articulate a common enough argument in a way that is somehow new and striking. Yesterday she gave us the old “rule of law” argument against illegal immigration, but, indeed, somehow it sounds novel.

What does it mean that your first act on entering a country — your first act on that soil — is the breaking of that country’s laws? What does it suggest to you when that country does nothing about your lawbreaking because it cannot, or chooses not to? [. . .]

If you assume or come to believe that that nation will not enforce its own laws for reasons that are essentially cynical, that have to do with the needs of big business or the needs of politicians, will that assumption or belief make you more or less likely to be moved by that country, proud of that country, eager to ally yourself with it emotionally, psychologically and spiritually?

Any man who scoffs at these questions is, I submit, scoffing at patriotism itself, and is, I further submit, no better than the most febrile of our multiculturalists whose contempt for patriotism is forthright.

Mass immigration in this country functions in many ways like crippling inflation — an inflation of something most precious: our citizenship as Americans. As John Zmirak once put it, “It’s like turning the Federal Reserve over to the General Assembly of the United Nations, so that other countries could inflate the dollar out of existence” — except that it’s worse. For along with our citizenship, we inflate into oblivion or sovereignty. How often do we hear, in the course of the bitter dispute* over immigration, that this or that plan of enforcement is too impractical to carry off? That the border is too long to secure? That the numbers of illegals are too large to deport? That convictions of employers are too difficult to attain?

What is this, in its mass, but a confession that, as a friend of mine once sharply put it, we are no longer a sovereign nation? Our territorial integrity cannot be preserved. A kind of invasion from without cannot be stopped. Our laws are transgressed with impunity. All that we might do to safeguard our national sovereignty is vanity. This is the counsel of the immigration enthusiasts. Ms. Noonan is quite right to read them her stern lectures about what is means to love a country, and what is means to spit on it.

“Our elites are lucky people.” Born into privilege, they “run the world from a desk.” They are complacent and reckless with dear and delicate things. “The problem with our elites,” these lucky complacent people, is not an overabundance of “compassion and open-mindedness.” No: when it comes to immigration, “they are unknowing and empty-headed.” Without much forethought on the matter, they have consented to make America in their minds primarily a market and only derivatively a country. They “ignore the human questions.” “They don't know, most of them, what others had to earn, and how much they, and their descendents, prize it and want to protect it.”

This means that “this great question, immigration,” which points to even greater questions like the question of our nature and destiny as a people, “is going to be decided by people who . . . don't know what it is to grieve the old country and embrace the new country.” By people who “think it was without a cost, because it was without cost for them.” In short, by people who know not what citizenship means, and care not whether it endures.

The standard reply to an argument like this is a sharp shout of “nativist!” I welcome Peggy Noonan to the ranks of the nativists.

* Bitter because few issues give evidence like immigration of a more concerted thwarting of the republican will of the country.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:02 AM |

Tuesday, December 06, 2005  

Mustafa Akyol’s recent essay on Western materialism and Islam certainly raises some intriguing questions, such as: How much of the antipathy that so many Muslims feel toward the West can be explained by reference to our “naked public square”? That is to say, are most Muslims who wish us harm energized in their detestation by the atheistic decadence of our popular and academic cultures?

Addressing ourselves to this question with the seriousness it deserves would be, I trust, a fruitful enterprise in many ways; but I have grave doubts about how finally fruitful it would be in illuminating the true reasons for the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. In short, I fear that the inquiry into our decadence, a decadence which derives in large part from the philosophical quackery and nihilism of the modern academy, would prove a distraction from the question of Islam and the West. We need only reflect on the ineffaceable fact that the confrontation between Islam and Christendom — that more solid and coherent ancestor to “the West” — antedates the arrival and ascendance of atheistic materialism as the organizing principle of Western philosophy by some eight hundred years. Our ancestors were struggling against the Turk and the Muhammadan before even the arrival of the nominalists.

In the second half of his essay Mr. Akyol elaborates his opinion that Intelligent Design might act as a “bridge” between Islam and the Christian West:

As the history of the cultural conflict between the modern West and Islam shows, ID can also be a bridge between these two civilizations. The first bricks of that bridge are now being laid in the Islamic world. In Turkey, the current debate over ID has attracted much attention in the Islamic media. Islamic newspapers are publishing translations of pieces by the leading figures of the ID movement, such as Michael J. Behe and Phillip E. Johnson. The Discovery Institute is praised in their news stories and depicted as the vanguard in the case for God, and President Bush's support for ID is gaining sympathy. For many decades the cultural debate in Turkey has been between secularists who quote modern Western sources and Muslims who quote traditional Islamic sources. Now, for the first time, Muslims are discovering that they share a common cause with the believers in the West. For the first time, the West appears to be the antidote to, not the source of, the materialist plague.

I leave the merits of ID entirely to the side here, for they are irrelevant to my point. But let us posit, arguendo, that ID does prove capable of beating back the “materialist plague” in the West, and thus kindling a new-found respect for Westerners among Muslims. Are we to believe that this development would dim the passions of totalitarian Islam and remove the goad that drives fervent men to jihad? I don’t think we can reasonably expect that. The goad of jihad is not in the West; it is in Islam, and it is felt keenly by that (not insignificant) faction of this great religion which understands itself to be faithfully carrying out the clear mandates of the faith when it murders and tyrannizes in the name of Allah. And in this path of holy war, of course, that faction finds ample justification in the scripture and traditions of Islam.

Christians and Jews, no less than materialists, when they hear the call to the Muslim faith, must submit. It is true that “People of the Book” are offered, instead of the stark choice between conversion or death, a third option of brutal subjugation under dhimmitude. But the hard fact is that for totalitarian Islam, the mandate to conquest and subjection, pillage and enslavement, will not be mitigated in the least by the conversion of the West to the way of light and reason. The Prodigal Son of Western thought will return not to a quiet home of merry-making, but to a tense standoff between his house and a very old adversary.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:26 PM |
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