Understanding Islam IX – Can the West rediscover its core?

Grasping the Nettle Part 1
By Paul Stenhouse MSC

MUCH IS made of the potential for global economic and social unrest from the millions of desperate refugees flowing into Europe from war-ravaged Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Central Africa and Afghanistan [2016].

This is the same Europe of which Pope John-Paul II wrote in 2003: ‘European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy,” on the part of people who have all that they need, and who live as if God does not exist’.[1]

Many if not most of the refugees are Muslim, and the countries they are fleeing – along with much of the Islamic and Arab world – are infested with Islamic radicals, fundamentalists and extremists who have declared a holy war on the West.

This is not a figment of our imagination. This is a message Islamic fanatics have proclaimed, written, communicated verbally on radio and TV, on video and facebook, and written in black and white and the blood of countless Christian martyrs, and many of their fellow-Muslims. It may be politically correct to ignore it, but it isn’t wise.[2]

Genuine refugees deserve all the sympathy and help that more fortunate countries can give. Economic migrants jumping the queue and terrorists, posing as victims, on the other hand, are a potentially serious problem for the host countries – especially those who appear to have to have cut themselves off from their ancient Christian roots. In 2002, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:

‘the question of the peaceableness of cultures, of peace in matters of religion, has . . moved up to become a political theme of the first rank.’

Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of The Sacred Congregation for the Faith when it published, in 2000, its groundbreaking Declaration on the truth of Catholicism, Dominus lesus, which spoke of the unique and universal salvation brought by Jesus Christ and the Church. Reflecting in 2002 on reaction to the publication. Cardinal Ratzinger described how ‘a cry of outrage arose from modern society,’ and also ‘from great non-Christian cultures’. Dominus lesus was said ‘to be a document of intolerance and religious arrogance that should have no place in the world today’.

The Catholic, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, could only respond to this reaction by putting to such critics the question that Martin Buber put to an atheist: ‘But what if it is true?’

The real problem, wrote the future Pope, ‘lies in the question of truth … what meaning does belief have, what positive meaning does religion have, if it cannot be connected with truth?’[3]

Dialogue is the reasonable and wise person’s preferred way of resolving disputes. But Marcello Pera, former President of the Italian Senate putting his finger on the crux of the problem – pointed out how relativism and political correctness eliminate dialogue as an option:

‘dialogue will be a waste of time if one of the two interlocutors states beforehand that one idea is as good as another’.[4]

Muddying the Water

A recent statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is symptomatic of the malaise of political correctness and double-talk that infects the West, and hinders it from finding solutions to the complex human dilemmas facing it.

During a visit to Saudi Arabia on January 23, only a month away from the Iranian elections in which hopes were pinned on the moderates and reformists headed by President Rouhani, Mr Kerry launched a verbal attack on Iran which has been making friendly overtures to the U.S. and the West.

It should be noted that the U.S. has not had normalized diplomatic relations with Iran for thirty-six years – since 1980 – in the aftermath of the student occupation of the US Embassy in Teheran in November 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis.[5]

Kerry stated that the U.S. ‘remains concerned’ about ‘some of the activities that Iran is engaged in in other countries,’ referring, one assumes, to Iranian support for Shi’a in Syria. He then, reportedly, criticised ‘Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hizbollah, its human rights record, and its development of ballistic missiles’.[6]

In the light of the triumph of the Iranian moderates – led by President Rouhani – in the elections held in late February, it remains to be seen if Kerry’s dalliance with the Saudis harms the fragile U.S./Iran rapprochement that followed the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of Western sanctions.

All this emerged during a media conference in Saudi Arabia whose anti-Shi’a paranoia lies behind much of the turmoil in the region.[7] The Saudis are building an almost one thousand kilometre long razorwire fence on their border with Iraq.[8]

This seems to indicate that they know that they are in more danger from Sunni ISIS, than from Shi’a Iran. Kerry’s sub-text also suggests that the U.S. remains un-concerned about Saudi activities in other countries [including, apparently, Wahhabi infiltration of U.S. mosques]; and unconcerned about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record; and unconcerned about Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missiles and any threat these might pose to neighbouring states. To cap this public display of diplomatic double-talk, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir added the usual Wahhabi mantra: ‘Iran remains the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism’.[9]

The Elephant in the Room

Speaking of double-talk: who or what pressed the lever that set in motion the destabilizing of the Middle East, which has led to the potential destabilizing of Europe by millions of frightened refugees and other displaced persons inundating EU countries? This is the ‘elephant in the room’ and it appears to remain shrouded in mystery. Or does it?

Hovering like ghastly spectres over the digital images of hapless refugees fleeing destroyed homes and businesses, murder and rape, are the misbegotten Western and U.S. foreign policy decisions [for ‘foreign’ read ‘commercial’] perpetrated on the world since, to take but one example, May 29, 1933.

That was the day when U.S. lawyer Lloyd Hamilton on behalf of SOCAL [Standard Oil California] signed an agreement with the treasurer of the new kingdom of Arabia, Sheikh Abdullah Suleiman, acting on behalf of new King Ibn Saud – formerly the leader of a band of Islamist bigots terrorizing the Arabian peninsular – awarding exclusive rights for six decades to SOCAL to extract oil from eastern Saudi Arabia including offshore waters and islands, for £35,000 down, payable in gold, and an additional £20,000 to follow in eighteen months.[10]

What the U.S. State Department subsequently called ‘the greatest commercial prize in the history of the planet’[11] was predictably a poisoned chalice. It has locked the U.S. [and, willy nilly, the rest of us] in a frenzied danse macabre with the Wahhabis, insanely swirling and twirling our way to … 9/11, and its predictably gruesome aftermath.

By 2011 the West had good reason to doubt the wisdom of what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called, in 2005, a policy of ‘creative chaos’ for the Middle East; and even better reason to doubt the appropriateness of what, in 2006, she announced as the ‘birth pangs’ of ‘a New Middle East’.

The birth pangs to which Condoleezza Rice referred were the hundreds of Lebanese dead, and the more than half a million Lebanese refugees left in the wake of the Israeli war against Hizbollah under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – which Hizbollah won decisively.[12]

By 2011, Libya was in chaos and Gaddafi had been killed; Yemen was – as it still is – in turmoil; Bahrain had shown its more brutal face; and the ‘New Middle East’ seemed like a sick joke. And, ominously, Syria had been nominated as the next domino to fall during the Arab Spring by the nameless string-pullers who were dissatisfied with the degree of ‘creative chaos’ achieved up till then.

TIME described Condoleezza Rice’s comment about ‘creative chaos’ as ‘Diplomatic Disneyland’.[13] ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ would have been closer to the truth. At least for the religious and ethnic minorities living in these regions.

It is worth recalling in this U.S. election year that in 2011 then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed confidence that the Arab Spring would allow Washington to advance ‘security, stability, peace, and democracy’ in the Middle East.’[14] Her confidence could not have been more misplaced. At the moment she is showing signs of being the Democratic front runner in the Presidential stakes. Would she, or Donald Trump, the Republican front runner, be any better able to assess the situation in 2016, and call the dogs of war to heel?

We have consistently maintained the unwisdom of further destabilising the Middle East and Central Asia by invading Afghanistan in 2002, and by the twin invasions of Iraq in 1990 and 2003; to say nothing of supporting al-Qaeda in the so-called ‘liberation’ of Libya in 2011; and supporting Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers during the impeachment of Hosni Mubarak; and the horrendous ongoing holocaust in Syria.

Al-‘Arabiya – the newsservice owned by Qatar, and propaganda twin of Qatar’s al-Jazeera – would have us believe that the Syrian bloodbath began when ‘protests erupted in Syria against the embattled leader’s rule, but tumed into civil war.’[15]

This smacks of a teenager’s excuse: ‘the car crashed’ when, in reality, he crashed it. The protests did not turn into civil war – they were turned into civil war; and the U.S., the U.K. and the West, along with the Saudis and the usual suspects, were complicit in what has followed.

No one should be surprised that U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia, and U.S. and Western support for Hafez al-Assad – Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless father – in his close dealings with the so-called civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, and subsequent occupation of Lebanon by Syria from 1990 until 2005 – could lead to the point at which we have arrived in early March 2016.

But it still needs to be stressed as the late Syrian Orthodox Patriarch pointed out to me in October 2012 in Lebanon – that Bashar al-Assad is not his father; and that Syria in 2012 was not Syria from 1975-2005.

Turkey in the EU

Turning to the EU, we find Mr David Cameron, just returned from Brussels, and confident that he has come laden with benefits – unique to Britain – that will enable his Conservative government to ‘keep’ its EU cake, and somehow manage to ‘eat’ it.

On his return he was featured on TV talking up the special benefits accruing to Britain from the proposal, seemingly oblivious of the resentment such a deal – were it to be approved by the British Parliament – might create among some other EU members, and many of his fellow Britons, including his bemused constituents.

This is the same European Union that – if reports of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan on October 19, 2015 are to be believed – is willing to speed-up the process by which Turks can travel to most EU countries without visas, and even to fast-track Turkey’s admission as a member of the EU.

This is the same Turkey whose army is the second largest in NATO. How can NATO sit comfortably with a fellow NATO member’s being one of the major ‘interested parties’ that have laid hold of Syria, and actively contributed to the horror and hopelessness engulfing it and its citizens?

This is the same Turkey whose president Recep Erdogan, and prime minister Davutoglu, have been complicit in the bloody chaos that has led to the refugee crisis now facing many European countries, especially Germany.

Angela Merkel’s offer referred to above, is in return for Turkey’s agreeing to police its borders with EU countries more effectively, improving conditions for Syrian refugees on their own soil, and imposing restrictions on some nationals entering Turkey so freely.

If Turkey were well-disposed towards Europe, wouldn’t she have taken these neighbourly steps voluntarily, without needing to be bribed by a humiliated German Chancellor coming cap in hand asking for favours?

Turkey has an estimated population of seventy-five million, with an unemployment rate of more than ten per cent.

If Turkey were to be admitted as a member of the EU, Europe’s population would grow instantly by seventy-five million, ninety-eight percent of whom would be Muslim: forty-five million Sunni, twenty-five million Alevi – a Sufi-like sect of the Shi’a – and three million Shi’a. If Turkey were to be admitted as a member of the EU, ‘Europe’ would have a common border with Georgia and Armenia which may well benefit all concerned; but is Europe prepared to have a common border with Iraq, Iran and Syria?

The tainted fruit of Political Correctness

The EU, like the West in general, would need to be better prepared than it is, if it is to protect itself from the inevitable and profound social, economic, political and cultural changes that usually follow mass migrations of people.

George Weigel depicts the dilemma facing the EU thus:

‘What is happening when an entire continent, healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before, fails to create the human future in the most elemental sense—by creating future generations? There are obvious sociological and economic factors affecting Europe’s demographic decline; might there be spiritual factors at play, too? Could Europe’s disinclination to create the future have something to do with an apostasy toward the past – toward the spiritual roots of European civilization? And could that apostasy eventually threaten Europe’s commitments to human rights, to equality before the law, to tolerance and civility among peoples of diverse convictions? Is it possible to sustain public commitments to those public goods on purely utilitarian grounds because civility and tolerance ‘work better’? How can we speak of and defend, ‘universal human rights’ in a cultural climate in which the very idea of ‘truth’ is under sustained assault?’[16]

Yes – and how well prepared are host countries that don’t insist that new arrivals master the language of their new homeland, and accept the democratic nature of their new country and its institutions; when refugees or migrants are free to choose not to integrate into the new society, and to set up their own ghetto-like communities within the host country?

How well prepared is the EU when politicians, police and media of host countries are frightened and bullied, and unsure of their own identity or core culture? How well prepared are the host countries when what they principally have in common with new arrivals on their shores is digital technology – electronic gadgets, computers and computerised information systems, mobile phones and … weapons skills?

When this stage is reached, the need for being better-prepared becomes more acute. If one goes back into the past about 450 years – a familiar picture emerges. The ambassador of the Habsburg king Ferdinand I – future Holy Roman Emperor – to the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul, was Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. Writing to a fellow diplomat, Busbecq says that the only thing saving Europe from conquest by the Ottomans was the threat to the Ottomans from Persia:

‘On [the Turkish] side,’ the ambassador wrote in his report, ‘are the resources of a mighty empire, strength unimpaired, habituation to victory, endurance of toil, unity, discipline, frugality, and watchfulness. On our side is public poverty, private luxury, impaired strength, broken spirit, lack of endurance and training; the soldiers are insubordinate, the officers avaricious; there is contempt for discipline; licence, recklessness, drunkenness, and debauchery are rife; and worst of all, the enemy is accustomed to victory, and we to defeat. Can we doubt what the result will be? Persia alone interposes in our favour … but Persia is only delaying our fate; it cannot save us.’[17]

As it happened, Europe’s political future proved to be less grim than Busbecq predicted. His fears, however, were not unfounded, and Europe’s Catholic and genuinely humanistic roots have been seriously eroded as the reformation, enlightenment and successive revolutions ran their course.

Power and booty, rather than converting Christians or Jews to Islam, was the Ottoman motivation. And the Ottomans – provided the Christians, Jews and other minorities kept a low profile and paid their taxes promptly – would undoubtedly have employed their much feared Janissaries to defend the dhimmis – the ‘tolerated’ peoples – from the violence of the mob, in their planned European provinces, just as they did in the Ottoman Empire itself.[18]

Listing some of the Fruits of PC

In a book published in 2006, former President of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera – an atheist – brought the focus 450 years into the present. He described the fibre of the West as permeated ‘by a mixture of timidity, prudence, convenience, reluctance and fear.’

He went on to deplore in the West what he called ‘the form of self-censorship and self-repression that goes by the name of political correctness.’ Political correctness, Pera explained, ‘is the newspeak that the West uses nowadays to imply, allude to, or insinuate – rather than to affirm or maintain.’

The world is filled with concern, but also with hypocrisy on the part of people who see no evil and speak no evil to avoid becoming involved; who see no evil and speak no evil to avoid appearing rude; who proclaim half-truths and imply the rest, to avoid assuming responsibility. These are the paralysing consequences of political correctness.

‘Whenever a culture lacks or flatly rejects our institutions we are not allowed to say that our own culture is better or simply preferable. The only thing that politeness allows us to say is that cultures and civilizations are different.’[19]

In a later book, published in 2011, Pera comments: ‘The main flaw of liberalism today is that it has retreated into a solely political and procedural dimension and has forgotten that it is also a tradition with a rich, specific ethical content rooted in European and American history — a history of which Christianity is an essential part. Modernity has resisted and waged war against the Church, while feeding abundantly on its Christian heritage. Its very exaltation of the individual pays secular homage to the Christian message that man was created by God in order to discover the truth about himself and the world.’[20]

Jeopardising One’s Birthright

Nature, we are told by the Greek philosopher Parmenides [born c.515 Bc], or by Aristotle [384-322 BC], depending on which authority you accept, abhors a vacuum.

Our Lord told the apostles a parable that reinforces this adage. St Luke records the story in his Gospel. A man had been possessed by an evil spirit. After the evil spirit was driven out it wandered around looking for somewhere to make its home. If the man from whom the spirit had been driven had not, in the meantime, embraced the Good, the True and the Beautiful, then the evil spirit would assuredly retum – this time with seven other spirits worse than itself – and possess that man. His last state would be worse than his first.[21]

Who doesn’t know that creating a political vacuum invites more strongly motivated and less politically correct protagonists, to enter the fray? The rise of an Islamic State under Muhammad from AD 622 onwards was only possible because the Byzantine and Persian empires exhausted themselves fighting each other for almost 100 years. They proved to be no match for what a modern Iranian commentator on the period describes as ‘quite small forces of ill-armed and untrained Arabs.’[22]

The political vacuum was begging to be filled. While the U.S. and the West have ostensibly been trying to export democracy to the Middle East, they have, in the process, in Winston Churchill’s words, squandered vast military resources, ‘and poured armies and treasure into thankless deserts.’[23]

The consequences of their ill-thought-out schemes have provided the world’s democracies with their greatest challenge so far: how to preserve their own democratic societies – ostensibly ‘free’ but riddled with relativism and political correctness – while welcoming the Tsunami of desperate human beings genuinely seeking to make a new home in the EU and elsewhere in the West.

These have been driven from their homelands by bloody civil wars and foreign invasions whose perpetrators managed to convince the gullible West that Islamist terror was a ‘reaction’ to despotism and injustice, and part of an Arab Spring, when it was much more: an ‘act of aggression’ inspired by Qur’anic verses, and well organized by a Fifth Column of Islamist extremists This should not pose an insuperable problem for a Christian and democratic West that is willing and prepared to welcome genuine refugees, and is also prepared to defend its Faith and democratic values.[24]

[1] Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, 2003.

[2] ‘Relativism, Christianity and the West,’ Without Roots by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Basic Books, New York, 2006, p.44. Mutatis mutandis, I have made my own the words of Marcello Pera.

[3] Truth ami Tolerance., Ignatius Press. San Francisco, 2004, Preface.

[4] Without roots, ed.cit. p,45.

[5] After World War II the U.S. recognized West Germany after four years, and restored diplomatic relations after ten years, in 1955. Diplomatic relations were restored with Tokyo after seven years, in 1952.

[6] ‘Kerry reassures Gulf allies in talks on Iran, Syria.’ by EHse Labott, CNN, January 23, 2016.

[7] Iran was supposed to be behind the majority Shia uprising in 2011 in Bahrain. An independent body set up by the king found this could not be unsubstantiated. See below, footnote . Iran has never hidden its support for the Shia in Syria. A pity the Christian West didn’t feel the same way about Christian minorities.

[8] The Telegraph, London. Jan 14, 2015.

[9] Kerry reassures Gulf allies in talks on Iran, Syria,’ by Elise Labott, CNN, January 23, 2016.

[10] Kingmakers. Karl E. Meyer & Shareen Blair Brysac, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 2008, p.227.

[11] ibid.

[12] ‘How Hezbollah Defeated Israel,’ Alistair Crooke, Mark Perry, Asia Times, October 12, 2006. ‘Israel lost the war in the first three days,’ one US military expert said.

[13] ‘Condy in Diplomatic Disneyland,’ Tony Katon, TIME, July 26. 2006.

[14] ‘The future of Arab Spring: reality and ambition,’ Dr Mohammad Salim al-Rawashdeh and Dr Hani Abdulkareem Akho Rshaidah, Global Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, July-August 2014, p.136.

[15]  http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middleeast/2016/01/24/Kerr>-reassures-Saudi-.\rabia-of-solidrelationship-.html

[16] George Weigel, ‘Foreword’ to Without Roots, The West. Relativism, Christianity, Islam, by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Basic Books, New York, 20O6, p.ix.

[17] The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople 1554-1562, translated from the Latin by Edward Seymour Forster Oxford, 1927, p. 112,

[18] C. T. Forster and F. H. B. Daniel, eds., The Life and Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, vol. I (London: Kegan Paul. 1881), passim but see pp. 86-88, 153-155, 219-222, 287-290, 293.

[19] Without Roots, The West, Relativism. Christianity, Islam, Basic Books, New York, 2007, pp.4, 5.

[20] Why we should call ourselves Christians – the Religious roots of Free Societies, Preface by Pope Benedict XVI, Encounter Books, 2011.

[21] St Luke, xi, 24-26.

[22] ‘Ali Dashti, Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, Mazda Publishers, California, 1994, p.207.

[23] 23. Christopher Catherwood, Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modem Iraq, Carrol & Graf, New York, 2004, p.87.

[24] See Marcello Pera, Without Roofs, p.42.

This the 9th in a series about Islam published by:

Annals Australasia
PO Box 13
Kensington NSW 2033
Editor: Paul Collins MSC PhD – editorannals@gmail.com

Already posted:

Islam I – Christians in pre-Islamic Arabia: Islam-I

Islam II – Setting the stage for Muhammad and Islam: Islam-II

Islam III -Islam, the sword or the tax: Islam-III

Islam IV – Political Islam: The beginnings: Understand Islam IV

Islam V – The Apostasy Wars: Understand Islam V

Islam VI – Islam, Conquest and Expansion: Understand Islam VI

Islam VII – Filling in the Background:Understand Islam VII

Islam VIII – Islam and the West: Understanding Islam VIII