March 23, 2009

Islam and the West: lines of demarcation

Some twenty days ago, in a post about the Crusades, I recalled the black legend according to which the Crusades were “Holy Wars” (and as such, by consequence, the antecedents of every religious and ideological wars), and the Crusaders themselves were ruthless, blood-thirsty fanatics. I also observed how today, in the Western countries, that black legend, imbued with a collective sense of guilt, is being continued in the spirit of political correctness, while in the Muslim world it is being continued by Islamists to breed greater resentment and desire for revenge in the Islamic world against the West, painted as evil, while Islam is “obviously” painted as a victim of Christian aggression. Which of course, according to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and supporters, “justifies” Islamic terrorism as a “response” and a means of defense.

In the above mentioned post I argued that this is simply historically false. Now I have the opportunity to resume the thread of the discourse, thanks to this essay, focused on what it is about our civilization that causes such resentment (in the Islamic world), and, above all, why we must defend it (our civilization), by the English conservative writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, who is currently a professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia. This essay—first published in the Winter 2008-09 issue of Azure—is a revised version of a lecture given as part of the Program to Protect America’s Freedom at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Here is how Scruton concludes his essay (but a thorough reading of the entire piece is highly recommended):

[H]ow should we defend the West from Islamist terrorism? I shall suggest a brief answer to that question. First, we should be clear about what it is that we are and are not defending. We are not defending, for example, our wealth or our territory; these things are not at stake. Rather, we are defending our political and cultural inheritance, embodied in the seven features which I have singled out here for attention. Second, we should be clear that you cannot overcome resentment by feeling guilty or by conceding fault. Weakness provokes, since it alerts your enemy to the possibility of destroying you. We should therefore be prepared to affirm what we have, and to express our determination to hold on to it. That said, we must recognize that it is not envy but resentment that animates the terrorist. Envy is the desire to possess what the other has; resentment is the desire to destroy it. How do you deal with resentment? This is the great question that so few leaders of mankind have been able to answer. Christians, however, are fortunate in being heirs to the one great attempt to answer it, which was that of Jesus, who drew on a longstanding Jewish tradition that goes back to the Tora, and which was expressed in similar terms by his contemporary R. Hillel. You overcome resentment, Jesus told us, by forgiving it. To reach out in a spirit of forgiveness is not to accuse yourself; it is to make a gift to the other. And it is here, it seems to me, that we have taken a wrong turn in recent decades. The illusion that we are to blame, that we must confess our faults and join our cause to that of our enemies, only exposes us to a more determined hatred. The truth is that we are not to blame; that our enemies’ hatred of us is entirely unjustified; and that their implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating.

There is a drawback to realizing this truth, however. It makes it seem as though we are powerless. But we are not powerless. There are two resources on which we can call in our defense, one public, and the other private. In the public sphere, we can resolve to protect the good things that we have inherited. That means making no concessions to those who wish us to exchange citizenship for subjection, nationality for religious conformity, secular law for shari’ah, the Judeo-Christian inheritance for Islam, irony for solemnity, self-criticism for dogmatism, representation for submission, and cheerful drinking for censorious abstinence. We should treat with scorn all those who demand these changes and invite them to live where their preferred form of political order is already installed. And we must respond to their violence with whatever force is required to contain it.

In the private sphere, however, Christians should follow the path laid down for them by Jesus: namely, looking soberly and in a spirit of forgiveness on the hurts that we receive, and showing, by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them. This is the hard part of the task—hard to perform, hard to endorse, and hard to recommend to others. Nonetheless, it is the task at hand, and in a battle the stakes of which are so high, it is a task that we cannot fail to undertake.


  1. The spirit of forgiveness according to the teachings of Jesus, hardly seems compatible with Islamic extremism. Ahmad Massoud, himself a Muslim, could get nowhere interrogating his taliban prisoners (of all nationalities) because, as he remarked himself, they were all virtually brainwashed. Programation doesn't respond to reason or sentiment. It's a machine with a set objective.

    Had there been no schism of the monotheist religions also brought about by Mohammed, perhaps there would have been less reason for the eternal claims to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the interminable confrontation that this has caused throughout history.

    The danger of extremism, is also in believing that extremists are capable of reasoning as we do, and of responding to whatever concessions we are willing to make. It's always worth a try, such as Obama's recent gesture towards the Iranian government, but it might be naive to presume it going to be effective. It seems more likely to be interpreted as another Muslim 'victory' , an opportunity, and an extra gift of time.

  2. Great post, Rob. Scruton makes excellent points, even for those whose beliefs aren't based on religion. In particular, wiser words were never spoken:

    The truth is that we are not to blame; that our enemies’ hatred of us is entirely unjustified; and that their implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating.

  3. Thank you Rob for drawing my attention to this excellent essay.
    Scruton is always a treasure house of wisdom, and I had missed this one, and I've linked to it in my weekly favourite posts.

    Mirino, you state:"It's always worth a try, such as Obama's recent gesture towards the Iranian government, but it might be naive to presume it going to be effective."

    I think that President Obama's gesture is worse than naive - it is destructive in that it shows that a superpower is willing to make friends with an avowedly genocidal anti-Semitic Islamist state.
    I don't think Obama is naive at all: I think he's a cultural Marxist who does not love America as it is presently constituted, and is busily subverting it and sacrificing its national security (and Europe's) exactly as his predecessors did.

    Lenin campaigned for 'peace' in order to overcome his domestic Russian rivals, not matter how much territory this seceded to the Central Powers, with all the suffering of the people of the occupied lands, and Mao Tse Tung, the world's biggest single murderer, spent much of the Second World War subverting and fighting against the nationalist KMT rather than alleviating the Chinese peoples' suffering by fighting at full strength against the foul Japanese imperialists.

    National security is nothing if you don't care about the nation.

    Tom Carter; yes, it's a joy to see the complex truth boiled down into simple and permanent truths that we can quote and go on quoting to those who would surrender us to the Islamists.