Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Once again I must apologize for the lack of activity here. Most of my online work has of late appeared elsewhere. Below I have reprinted several of the more recent essays. I do not intend to abandon this blog. As a friend once put it, it is quiescent, not moribund.posted by Paul Cella | 12:12 PM |
I have often thought, and perhaps even dared to put my thoughts to paper, that one of the more noble effects of the sort of policy I have called for, of ruthless intolerance of totalitarian Islam, is the succor it would give to true Muslim moderates. What if a moderate Muslims, harried by the antipathy of his more pure fellows, threatened with death, driven from respectability, rendered mute and weary, could expect the law to favor his sanity over the insanity of his coreligionists? What a blow would be struck in this war if the jihadists that have infiltrated, and in many cases conquered the prominent Western Islamic political organizations, felt a pressure to hold their tongue against the despised moderate, for fear that the latter had the force of law behind him!
Alas, it is not so.
In June, The Wall Street Journal reported on a chilling case [scroll down] in San Francisco, where, by shrewd legal maneuvering, another moderate was driven from the mosque he founded by a wild-eyed preacher who hardly spoke English but knew a moderate when he saw one — and hated him.
These, friends, are again the wages of Tolerance. If the law must remain pristinely neutral between religions, then it cannot distinguish and condemn the Islam that affirms as just and noble any cruelty, any oppression, any terror, as long as it is visited upon the infidel (or the apostate, which is what the moderate is to this sort of Muslim). It must wait until he acts; it cannot attack his doctrine. The law cannot become the instrument of the deliberate sense of the community in saying that this doctrine of jihad — this doctrine which lends to brutality and treachery the glow of piety — is depraved and intolerable. Under the tyranny of Tolerance, we the people have no legal means available to us to say something so simple and so just as this:
“Whether or not it is proper to primitive or ‘true” Islam, whether or not it is an authentic doctrine of the religion of Mohammed, whether the jihadist is the ‘true voice’ or Islam or an unspeakable perversion of it, one thing is true, and we are not afraid of saying it is true. We say it without apology, for part of the who we are is that we hold these truths: The doctrine of jihad (or the ‘lesser jihad’ for you pedants) is a wicked doctrine, and we will not tolerate it.”
I say again, Tolerance is a terrible tyranny — a tyranny most of all of the mind; and it, more than most anything else in the whole wide world, oppresses us, and obstructs an effective prosecution of war against our enemies.posted by Paul Cella | 12:10 PM |
Ever since it began, I was skeptical of the American adventure in Iraq. I do not write on it very often, for various reasons of principle and expedience, but I want to take a moment to set down some thoughts on the matter — thoughts that, in truth, amount to merely a fragment of an essay. It will take the form of a revisitation of an earlier essay.
On the very eve of war, I wrote an article for TCS which laid out some of my unease with the (then prospective) American invasion of Iraq. There has been very little since then to make me regret my words. On the contrary, there has been much to reinforce it. Below is a sketch of my assessment of that essay today. It may be of interest to readers, or it may not. That it is of interest to me may be taken as evidence of a petty vanity, of idleness, or merely of a kind of innocent astonishment that writing set down three years ago does not now embarrass me.
I wrote that “I support a war of self-defense, but I am very skeptical about the idea of preemptive war” — and I stand firmly by this. The issue of preemptive war, which focused the controversy back in 2003, has since receded from view because the supposition of Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons proved false; but I remain profoundly wary of it. The justice of any war will always be a matter of intense controversy; but as a matter of principle, it is not enough that there is a potential threat; the threat must be manifest, imminent. I don’t know who among the cast of characters urging war more alarmed me, those who endeavored by skillful sophistry to make the doctrine of Just War embrace preemptive war, or those who, recognizing that it could not, abandoned it without apology.
The consequences of this war, on our prestige in the world, on our freedom of action, on the vicissitudes of our domestic politics, have been considerable. We have exposed our military to some of the most terrible duties it has ever seen; and our want of preparedness for the occupation has exposed it, also, to the sort of dreadful corruptions that exploded into our living rooms with the Abu Ghraib scandal. It fills me with horror and anger to imagine some poor reservist thrown into duty as a prison guard in a dusty prison in Mesopotamia, guarding men who may or may not deserve to be there, speak not his language, intensely resent his presence, and may or may not be wicked terrorists. Where all this question of detainees and interrogations and torture will eventual lead is a matter for conjecture, and there can be no doubt that the disloyal instincts of many on Left have sown confusion all around us, but the situation is a spectacular muddle and disgrace, and possibly will prove to a be a terrible dishonor. We have on our hands, as well, a bloody insurgency, which shows no signs of abating. The boldness and ruthlessness of our enemy, and his callousness, beggars the imagination. What effect our war has had on that faction of Islam which is our enemy, which has been our enemy, in fact, for many a long century but which only became real to us on September 11, is difficult say. It has made clear his bottomless depravity. It has made clear, as well, that we have no better answer to a terror war than anybody else.
I wrote, also, that “I am frankly fed up with the fanciful, even utopian schemes of some conservatives about a huge and comprehensive democratic revolution in the Arab world.” This point, which comprised the bulk of my article, stands today as all the more pressing. There have been occasional salvos on the question of Democracy over the past few months, but the quarrel has hardly diminished in importance or controversy. Several days ago a collection of the ever-earnest politicians of the Democratic Party boycotted a historic speech in the House Chamber by the Prime Minister of Iraq — precisely because this representative of Iraqi democracy was insufficiently hard-line in is pronouncements about a terrorist organization. There was certainly cynicism afoot in this ostentation, and the irresponsibility of a frustrated opposition as well; but it points again to the problem we have wrestled with at regular intervals — a problem that can be adequately summed up in the question, What if democracy in Islamic lands issues in solid victories for our enemy? What if totalitarian Islam, against all the cherished and hoary universalism of our idealists, is actually popular? What then, my dear enthusiast of Democracy? I have on occasion thrown at my interlocutors in this quarrel a quotation from Edmund Burke: his definition of Jacobinism as the idea “that all government, not being a democracy, is a usurpation.” Burke, who was once held in the highest esteem by the progressives of his day, made himself a lonely and largely friendless man by the end of his life, by bringing all his power of oratory and fulmination to bear against the Jacobin movement. Burke is, of course, the father of Conservatism; and here in America he is afforded a particular affection because he delivered in the House of Commons two speeches in defense of our Revolutionaries of unparalleled brilliance. This passage here is one of my favorites; no one in England knew America better than Burke, and here in one flourish of genius, he shows why England’s policy was folly:
From Burke we Conservatives have learned a hard principle: the “temper and character” of a people are “unalterable by any human art.” It matters not that the party which has been for twenty-five years the bearer of Conservatism in America has of late announced its repudiation of this principle: the Conservative must stand by it. The temper and character of Islamic peoples are indeed unalterable by human art; but in their veins not the blood of freedom but of piety and honor circulates. That our philosophers have since the 15th century worked to drive piety from the world of politics; that their epigones, marching with the preachment of their later implications, have forgotten this project; that, in short, we have made our own political theory ignorant as mud when it comes to religion, does not alter its influence elsewhere. A faction in our politics has worked itself into a frenzy over a looming Theocracy, erected by American Christians; this would comical were it not so distracting from more important matters. In truth most of our Christians in politics are advancing a political theory that emerged from a revolt against the authority of Christianity. It is possible, though in my view unconvincing, to read John Locke as a friend of Christianity; it is not possible to extend that favor to Niccolo Machiavelli or Thomas Hobbes. Yet these are our teachers. Witness the immediate recourse of so many commentators to the language of economics, which is of course the issue of a political theory which cast God out of the public square and grounded human political equality on self-interest. All men are equal because they share a desire to possess, or to acquire, or to dominate and command respect. The philosophers who sought to free acquisitiveness, the libido dominandi of St. Augustine, from the chains by which earlier Christians (and earlier pagans) had bound it, were in point of fact subversive of Christian authority; and it is something of a puzzle why later moderns, many of them Christians, would come to imagine that the political creed of this revolt, should command assent on account of the status still afforded Christianity. According to Christian doctrine, all men are brothers under (1) the Fatherhood of God and (2) the judgment of the Fall. According to modern political philosophy, all men are brothers — and orphans — on account of their material desires.
I see that I have ranged too far afield. My point is that the political theory behind the war in Iraq is, to my eye, a sloppy admixture of Christian sentimentality and a theory of politics subversive of Christian and Conservative teaching. How Conservatives — even if they thought Saddam was an imminent threat — can in good conscience sign on to this, is hard to understand; unless we stipulate that either (1) they do not know their political theory or (2) they do not know their history. Of the partisans of Democracy — or at least a particular class of them — I deployed a biting quotation from Cardinal Newman: “they ‘are so intemperate and intractable that there is no greater calamity for a good cause than that they should get hold of it.’” This strikes me as uncharitable, but perhaps there will be some allowance for the irritation a man feels when his cherished doctrine is rather awkwardly conflated with a dogma antagonistic to it — and everyone acts as if there has been no change.posted by Paul Cella | 12:08 PM |
Crowds of journalists have of late flocked to Cyprus, that storied island nation, and as it happens Cyprus was in the news on this very date — exactly 435 years ago, at the Siege of Famagusta.
Cyprus can lay claim to being the first country on earth governed by a Christian sovereign, the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, converted by St. Paul, along with Sts. Barnabas and Mark, on his first missionary journey. It remained Roman (and Byzantine) for 800 years, excepting a brief period of Arab occupation, until its conquest by the Crusaders under Richard the Lionhearted. By the mid-15th century, when all the Christian world was shaken by the fall of Constantinople, it came under Venetian influence, and soon after became an important possession in that illustrious city’s Mediterranean empire. The coat of arms of the Lion of St. Mark, and the protection of her galleys, preserved the island in Christian hands until July of 1571.
On some pretext, authenticated by a pliant mufti, the Sultan succeeded in nullifying a treaty of peace he had signed with Venice; and he declared, on fine Islamic principle, that since Cyprus had once been Muslim, it should again come under the peace of the ummah. “Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth!” He raised an army of nearly 100,000 men, many of them the dreaded Janissaries, and put it under the command of an ambitious general, Lala Mustafa Pasha, his former tutor. The invasion force landed in July of 1570 in the southern district of Limassol. Lala Mustafa did not expect much resistance. The Greek Cypriots were Orthodox and agrarian, and had little fondness for their Catholic and Capitalist Venetian masters. After a six-week siege, the city of Nicosia, in the center of the island, capitulated on a guarantee that the lives of the Venetian troops and Cypriot townsmen would be spared. But Lala Mustafa betrayed his pledge and put most of them to the sword, many after terrible torture. The young boys and girls were enslaved and sent to the harems of leading Turks. One among their number merits particular mention: Amalda de Rocas by name, she choose death over dishonor and captivity, setting fire to the powder magazine of a slaver ship before it even reached Anatolia.
Famagusta is on the eastern side of the island, a fortress town. Its governor was a proud Venetian, Marcantonio Bragadino, and his resolve was only stiffened by Lala Mustafa’s macabre gift to him of the head of Nicosia’s governor. The Turks laid siege to Famagusta, and commenced a fearsome bombardment; but the town, defended by men outnumbered almost twenty to one, nonetheless resisted valiantly. The fury of Lala Mustafa was exceeded only by the impatience of the Sultan, who had visions of sailing his enormous fleet up the Adriatic to invade Venice itself. The banners of St. Mark still flew over the town nearly a year later. Venice was never more deserving of her emblem the Lion of the Sea. The determination of the Venetians, and their Greek subjects (who now, in the face of a pitiless enemy, we may guess, had set aside their resentment of the Italians), postponed a renewed Ottoman war against Mediterranean Europe, and secured precious time for Pope St. Pius V to organize, through patient negotiation, the Holy League of Catholic Europe, which under Don John of Austria met the Turks several months later in the Gulf of Corinth at one of the bloodiest and greatest naval battles in history: Lepanto.
At last, in July of 1571, a section of the main wall of Famagusta was, after countless costly attempts, blown apart, and the defenders — now reduced to a mere two thousand men — were forced to surrender. The terms of their surrender were remarkably favorable: military honors, safe passage, and the liberty of the townsmen. Whether Bragadino trusted his enemy’s word, when he rode out on August 4, beaten but unbowed, to deliver the surrender, can only be conjectured; that he recognized his defeat was clear enough. In the event Lala Mustafa, enraged at the pride of the Venetians, turned to treachery again; and, as Paul Fregosi writes, “Now began one of the most horrendous scenes of individual savagery recorded in the history of the Jihad.” The Janissaries fell upon Bragadino’s honor-guard, dismembering them; they cut off Bragadino’s ears and nose and threw him into a dank cell, where he languished for two weeks before being dragged out, beaten and humiliated, and flayed alive. His ruined body, filled with straw, was hoisted on Lala Mustafa’s galley and carried away to Constantinople.
News of this cruelty reached the marines and sailors of the Holy League only two days before the Battle of Lepanto began. Bragadino’s own brothers commanded two of the Venetian navy’s newest innovation: the massive galleasses, capable of delivering six times the firepower of a Turkish galley, which would prove instrumental at Lepanto. Word of the Agony of Famagusta spread throughout the fleet, and hardened the Christians against their enemy. “It is a good day to die,” declared another Venetian. And on that day the cruelty of the Turkish conquerors of Cyprus was avenged, and the menace of the Turk on the Mediterranean delivered a blow from which it would never fully recover. The Ottoman Standard, a banner inscribed 28,900 times in gold with the name of Allah, a treasure once carried by the Prophet himself, can still be viewed — in Venice.posted by Paul Cella | 12:04 PM |