March 23, 2009

What A Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom, for me and you.
And I think to myself... what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white.
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

The Louis Armstrong classic “What A Wonderful World” was the song with which Eva Cassidy closed the set in her final public performance, on September 17, 1996, in front of an audience of friends, fans and family. Eleven years later that unforgettable performance was spliced together with new vocals by Katie Melua and released as a single, which debuted at #1 on the UK Singles chart on December 16, 2007. All profits from the single went to the British Red Cross.

A wonderful tribute to both Eva Cassidy and Louis Armstrong, and a magnificent paean to life, love and joy … (thanks: Vanja)

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.