The Proud Duck
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
So Congressman Tom Tancredo thinks that one possible response to a jihadist nuclear attack on the United States could be to bomb Mecca.
Islam Isn't Going Anywhere.
As if it needs saying, I think that's a really, really bad idea -- even though I suspect it would make a lot of people horrified by televised images of the radioactive ruins of, say, Boston feel better for a few hours. Even if one took the position that this really is a Samuel Huntington-style clash of civilizations between Islam proper and the West, I can't think of any major religion that ever went away simply because its holiest city was destroyed. Judaism didn't end with the destruction(s) of the Temple, after all.
I'm sure plenty of two-bit cults have been annihilated and forgotten over the centuries -- but it's a lot easier to do that kind of thing when the adherents of a religion are all behind the walls of one city, which you can lay waste and be done with it, Assyrian-style. Islam is never going to be beaten out of existence, even if anyone wanted to do it -- not with close to a billion people scattered around the whole world.
Islam, As Presently Constituted, Has A Problem.
Most Muslims are not international terrorists. But most international terrorists appear to be Muslims. It's not "Muslim-bashing" to question why this is.
A person with a truly decent character and enlightened mind can immerse himself in virtually any religion and find in it the foundation for a sublime spiritual life. The problem is that there is not an unlimited supply of decent, enlightened souls on the earth. With a very few truly saintly exceptions, most of us have at least one or two smudges of human viciousness -- which we are loath to acknowledge -- in some dark corner of our characters. And vast numbers of us couldn't reflect our way out of a paper bag with Google Maps directions printed on the inside.
The problem with Islam is not that, applied by the best that apply it, it cannot produce as much enlightenment as other religions. The problem is that it's insufficiently idiot-proof.
The Old Testament of the Bible contains plenty of accounts of God's chosen people waging whatever the Hebrew word is for "jihad" -- but those are historical accounts, not hortatory passages. The Koran, on the other hand, does have more than a few passages, aimed directly at readers, directing them to make war on the unbelievers. There is a strong sense that what ultimately matters is membership in the ummah, or Islamic world -- an attribute, incidentally, which Islam shares with not a few Protestant Christian sects that believe that Christian identity is all important, surpassing even the living of a Christian life. (I refer to the variation on the widespread Protestant doctrine of solafidianism -- salvation by faith alone -- which holds that once a believer adopts Christianity by an oral confession, his salvation is assured regardless of what he does later.)
It takes a particularly enlightened mind -- or an enlightening philosophical environment -- to reconcile a religious teaching that God is concerned mostly with whether a person identifies with a particular group with the reality of pluralism. Protestant Christianity in America has succeeded in making this reconciliation without too much of a mess (the odd abortion clinic bomber aside), I submit, because of two things.
First, Christian doctrine was largely formulated by the apostle Paul, who was highly educated and immersed in Hellenistic philosophy and culture, with the result that the civilization that developed in Christendom became a kind of hybrid between Athens and Jerusalem, as Leo Strauss put it. The "Believe as we do or be damned" aspect of Christianity -- which undoubtedly is there (see Mark 16:16; Acts 4:12) -- is thus balanced at least somewhat by a tradition of reason and universality.
Second, the American civilization in which what is probably the most significant concentration of Protestant Christianity is found has from the beginning been a pioneer of respecting different traditions, largely because since its earliest settlers were themselves religiously diverse, there was no alternative.
Islamic culture thus may face an uphill battle if it is to avoid producing a disproportionate amount of religious aggression.