Dueling Civilizations: Islam and the West

Since September 11th, 2001, there has been much pontificating and theorizing about the “why” behind the murderous suicide attacks on New York and Washington. I have been underwhelmed by most of the analysis.

We have heard the phrase “Islam is a religion of peace” repeated like a mantra. The boilerplate articulated by Western politicians and cultural leaders since 9-11 is that the religious affiliation of the fanatics who crashed those airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was irrelevant to their development as terrorists. It is asserted that the vast majority of Islamic states and their peoples are neither associated with nor sympathetic to terrorism.

This is indeed what many believe, or want to believe, but there is little proof supporting the thesis. It is simply politically incorrect to imply anything else.

Consequently, most commentary on the topic has been so couched in the taboos of P.C. ideology that it has served more to obscure rather than clarify. The central underlying issue is, as historian Bernard Lewis presciently observed back in 1990, that we have a “clash of civilizations” – Islamic vs. Christian and post-Christian; rigid theocratic hierarchy vs. permissive secular modernism – fueled by what Lewis calls the Muslim world’s “downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression.”

The classical Islamic definition of “peace,” and our default assumptions of the meaning of “peace” in the West, are quite dissonant.

In classic Islamic belief, the world is divided into two antagonistic categories: the Dar al-Harb (“abode of war”) and Dar al-Islam (“abode of Islam”). Within this dualistic construct, “peace” can only abide where Islam has total political and cultural domination. Anything existing outside the Dar al-Islam sphere is fair game for military and cultural conquest. Classic Islam maintains that Islam is universally sovereign and completely justified in taking control of the whole world by force if necessary, and that anyone who rejects Islam is an idolator and an infidel.

The Koran counsels Islamic faithful [9.5]: “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush . . .” and [9.29]: “Fight those who believe not in Allah and the last day . . . until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.”

A literal interpretation of those verses and others enables Muslims to affirm their religion as “a religion of peace” while assenting to slaughter and oppression of infidels with no sense of self-contradiction. It is arguable that Osama bin Laden’s interpretation of Koranic inspiration for attacking the infidel West is not totally dissonant with classical Islamic teaching, although I expect that many modern Muslims are, to say the least, conflicted on these issues or in rationalistic denial.

Failure to comprehend the dualistic worldview of classical Islam will serve the West ill in what is certain to be ongoing tension with the Islamic world.

However, on one point the Islamists are absolutely correct. There is real, fundamental debasement in moral corruption in Western society. Muslims are rightly horrified by the moral rottenness of our culture, and our tolerance – and even promotion – of virtually every sort of decadence. They see this in our movies, television shows, on the Internet, and in our popular music.

The Islamists, to their credit, perceive the pernicious consequences of Western moral, philosophical, and spiritual decay much more clearly than those of us immersed in it do, and they react in what they perceive as self-defense against the spread of the evils of permissive culture into their world.

From their perspective, the war against the West is a war against a corrupt civilization too self-absorbed and morally debased to defend itself against its own spiraling cultural depravity. Islamic contempt for a dissolute culture that refuses to see itself for what it is becoming has considerable moral justification.

In this regard, the Islamists put most avowed Christians in the West to shame. It is no credit to serious Christians that they tend these days (with a few exceptions, who get dismissed as fringe extremists) to live in quiet accommodation with the moral chaos of our society. Tolerance at the individual level, in the sense of eschewing coercion, is one thing, a Christian virtue, but to abandon the Church’s prophetic mandate is dereliction of Christian duty.

I believe that Islam’s theological convictions are mistaken, but at least Muslims, by and large, don’t prevaricate about them. That distinction is their main strength and our great weakness. As a bishop of my church, Robert Crowley SSC, observed in the aftermath of 9-11:

“We have turfed God out of our schools, out of our courts, out of our governments, and out of our marriages and homes. We have turned our ‘entertainment’ into a running sewer. Furthermore, in our churches we have so diluted His teachings, His commandments, and His warnings that the well of that pure water of grace is polluted . . . And we expect God to rush to our rescue? . . . read the prophets!”

Christianity in the West is demoralized and drifting, battered throughout the last century by simultaneous assaults from the disciples of Marx and Freud, the former contending that evil springs from unjust social conditions created by faulty political and cultural systems (Christianity being no one of the main alleged culprits), while the latter regards it as a product of psychological dysfunction. Both are in aggressive denial of the essential Christian belief that evil stems neither from social injustice nor psychological maladjustment, but rather is endemic to human nature – the doctrine of original sin.

Marxism provided a rationalistic pretext for establishment of brutal dictatorships that murdered millions, while Freudianism created a philosophical launching pad for moral relativism and the unraveling of the Christian cultural fabric. The Islamists can legitimately lay claim to some moral high ground in fearing and rejecting all this.

It has been widely asserted that the 9-11 attacks were an “assault on our way of life,” and so they were, but that way of life is inextricably linked to the Christian ideals and principles that created the social culture in which it was developed.

As frustrating as this may be to secularists and pluralists, Western civilization is essentially Christian-based civilization. Even in this largely post-Christian era, the “clash” Bernard Lewis describes is still between Christian civilization, adulterated and degenerate though it is, and Islamic civilization. The two cannot coexist without tension – and most of the time they can’t even communicate intelligibly.

A failure of Western reality perception is the notion that Islam can be reasoned with. It is naive and foolhardy to wishfully proceed as if Islam operates on the same sort of foundational moral and philosophical assumptions as we do.

Islam has always been a war religion that has conquered and expanded by military force and has only been stoppable by superior military force. Diplomacy and reason never work with Islam. The Western liberal obsession with “dialogue” has always been futile in confrontation with Islamic intransigence and self-righteousness. Indeed, had it not been for superior military power and resolve the use it, Europe would be a Muslim society today. It was barely more than 300 years ago that the advance of Kara Mustafa’s Islamic armies into the West were halted at the gates of Vienna. The date was September 11, 1683, and anyone who thinks that’s a coincidence just doesn’t get the dynamic that’s in play.

Cognizance of these realities is inhibited by the fact that vast numbers of Westerners today are post-Christian secularists or pluralists, ignorant of religion and convinced that the world would be a better place if religion could be done away with altogether – or possessed of the notion that all religions are morally equivalent, so “why can’t we all just get along?” Both propositions are useless in addressing the clash of civilizations.

Suggesting that we would be better off without religion because dissonant religious convictions breed conflict is no more realistic than maintaining that we should all stop breathing because it spreads germs, or that people must stop having sex because of AIDS and overpopulation.

Atheism and radical secularism are a denial of essential human spirituality. The universality of religion in all cultures (even officially atheistic communism is obliged to define itself as in opposition to religion) should clue us in to the futility of advocating “no religion” as a panacea, however much that may appeal to an irreligious minority of self-styled cultural elites in the decaying West.

The essential claims of Islam are fundamentally in conflict with the essential claims of Christianity. Both religions claim exclusive, universal, moral sovereignty.

Last week, the imam at the mosque in Saint John, New Brunswick, observed that knowledge of Islam among non-Muslims has grown exponentially since 9-11, and that “no one on the face of this Earth now can stand in front of God on the day of judgment and say that they haven’t heard of Islam. The judgment is on them to either accept or reject.”

On the other hand, Jesus said: “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned.”

Anyone unwilling to affirm these respective claims has no right to call themselves “Islamic” or “Christian.”

But while the rival universalist claims of Islam and Christianity are irrevocably on collision course, there are major distinctions. Christianity, notwithstanding certain defective interpretations and applications throughout history, is not a religion of coercion. Jesus declared that unbelievers are damned, but he respected their right to make a free will choice whether to accept or reject His gospel – the principle from which springs in adulterated form the secular dogma of “tolerance.”

Islamification, on the other hand, is almost always a one-way street. There is no religious freedom in Islamic culture. No one leaves Islam under Islamic regimes. To try is to die. Indeed, there are few converts from Islam to anything else under any circumstances. Anglo-French historian Hilaire Belloc argued that Mohammedanism is essentially a Christian heresy that has adopted Christ’s admonition to “go forth and teach all nations,” adding the sword as a persuasive catalyst.

By contrast, there is no imprimatur in the Christian message for oppression of, much less slaughtering, unbelievers. Christians believe that the entire universe is under Christ’s sovereign authority but also respect the rights of others to be wrong, so long as the others are willing to peacefully coexist. Unfortunately, classical Islam is not prepared to reciprocate.

And here is where we find the justification for vigorous defense of the battered carcass of Western Christian civilization, despite its many distempers and shortcomings. The uniquely Western (and fundamentally Christian-derived) values of individual freedom, consensual government, a free press, disinterested inquiry, and religious and political tolerance are worth preserving, and nothing to apologize for, despite the fact that we have of late confused freedom with license and tolerance with indiscriminate permissiveness.

For all our faults and moral failures, the West is still, thanks to residual Christianity, a better place to live than Islamic nations. We have much to atone for, but cultural suicide and capitulation to Islam is not the answer.


Charles W. Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987. He lives and works in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia, on the shore of Indian Harbour Lake and in sight of the Atlantic Ocean. His newspaper columns are syndicated across Canada, and he writes regularly for several magazines, as well as doing Mac website journalism.

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