January 1, 2002

In the January Chronicles
Islam, the West and Faith

In the January issue of Chronicles, editor Tom Fleming, by way of introducing his own position on the war, takes me to task for mine, which he wrongly interprets as unequivocal opposition to the U.S. attack on Afghanistan. Not getting my position right may be an understandable mistake – the column I wrote about the Chronicles circle left my own views implicit.

But Fleming's other points are challenging and valuable and could well serve as a basis of discussion for conservatives who do not feel represented by the mindless calls for increased US bellicosity emanating from the neoconservative Republican establishment. Chronicles has not yet posted Fleming's piece online – but (perhaps after editing out the incorrect references to me) it should.

Fleming lists, in "ascending" order of importance the following recommendations for US policy:

A: Work toward a just settlement of the Middle East crisis, including a real Palestinian state with guaranteed defensible borders. He adds, "There's no doubt that the US government's one-sided policy in the region has contributed to the hatred toward America that has boiled up in the modern world."

B: End the US' drive for global hegemony – the muscle flexing which has led the United States to war against Iraq, Panama, and Yugoslavia. Such policies "make the world a more dangerous place for Americans." Instead pursue a foreign policy based on American interests.

C: "Wake up to the real threat of Islam," a religion "that has defined itself, since its inception, as the enemy of Christianity." Muslims do not believe this struggle is over. Resolution of the Palestinian question will not produce more than a détente – desirable in itself, but not an end to the struggle.

This is not a "crusade" because the elite classes of Europe and the West are "unfit to take up the Cross."

"If we are asked to take part in a campaign of cultural genocide waged by the post-Christian, post human anti-culture of the consumerist West against the traditional culture of Islam, we will adamantly refuse."

D: Work toward the re-creation of Christendom in North America and Europe.

My response – and I suspect that of many of this site's readers is: agreement with points A and B; a troubled and not entirely confident disagreement with point C, and regarding D, which may well be the crux of Fleming's argument, a "What exactly is he talking about?"

What Fleming is suggesting in C and D is that the post-Enlightenment world that saw the West advance materially and geographically, while God and Christianity gradually receded in the Western consciousness, is no more than snare and delusion. Instead, the basic civilizational divisions of mankind into how worship is organized are reasserting themselves, somehow must reassert themselves. Unlike Christians, Muslims have not deluded themselves into believing that the world based on faith is in any way subordinate to the world based on science and reason.

These are large propositions – they may lie at the heart of serious contemporary political inquiry, however one might try to answer them. (They are, for instance, the central preoccupation of Michel Houellebecq, the best-selling French writer who has been variously described as a racist, eugenicist, Stalinist, and anti-Muslim – and the most important Western novelist in a generation).

I don't think Fleming's view of the main trend-lines within Islam is correct. Iran is the most significant "believing" Muslim country. If America's conservative establishment doesn't blow it by unleashing an expanded American war in the Middle East, Iran will continue a momentous transformation from militant anti-Western fundamentalism to something much more benign, a process which occurred within a generation. But if the most successful scientifically and culturally advanced states in the Islamic world cast off the most obscurantist elements of their faith, that kind of Islam will prevail over Osama bin Laden and all the nuthouse mullahs raging about jihad.

The interesting thing about Fleming is that he does not desire this kind of victory. It is not reactionary enough. Facing a choice between the post-Christian West and believing, obscurantist Islamic jihadism, Fleming would rather not have to choose, or would at least say he wouldn't want to choose. He wouldn't want the secular West, this West, to win. For him, salvation for the West lies in the "recreation of Christendom."

But what can that mean? Does "Christendom" mean a religious revival of sorts, a rearrangement within the existing order – one that sees some rolling back of the culture of abortion, a greater focus on family life, the end to the suppression of Christmas, a cultural politics derived from a widely accepted understanding that the United States was a better country when it was more Christian than it is at present? That would be a possible option, and a far from disagreeable one.

Or does Christendom mean something much more radical? – the rejection of the Enlightenment, an attempted rollback of as many developments as possible which have taken place since the French Revolution, or since Galileo? Ought the people of the West become as subordinate towards their clergy as they were in the Middle Ages, or in the time of the Puritans?

Desirable or not (and for me it is not), nothing of the sort is going to happen barring perhaps a nuclear cataclysm that kills more than three quarters of the world's educated population. I think I can understand the longing for the Middle Ages, recognize that it is not unfamiliar ground for a certain kind of disaffected Western intellectual. But it's beyond the realm of the possible.

So if what I infer to be Tom Fleming's preferred option – a sort of Holy War between a re-Christianized West and militant fundamentalist Islam, with the West victorious – is not on the table, what are the actual choices?

They boil down to two. One is an eventual détente between a secularized West and an unevenly secularizing Islamic world. That means the West fights back against Osama bin Laden while actively seeking détente and noninterference with the rest of the Muslim world, while fundamentalist movements begin to burn themselves out. Fleming's points A and B, a Palestinian peace settlement and a less aggressive US foreign policy, are probably the necessary preconditions for this, the most favorable of possible outcomes.

In this scenario, the retreat from faith that transformed the West in the last 150 years transforms the Muslim world as well. There are several variations within this scenario – some far more attractive than others. But since this is the one that holds the greatest prospect for long lives for my children and (yet to be born) grandchildren, it is the best.

The other scenario is an escalating war between the secularized West and an Islam taken over by Islamic Jihadism, where aggressively anti-Western fundamentalists are able to form alliances with more scientifically advanced secular dictatorships (Iraq). The West would win, but the costs of such a war could be horrible – probably involving nuclear terrorism, use of nuclear weapons, man-made epidemics and the like.

We may be in for a wild ride – a friend who telephoned recently said that if India and Pakistan went to war, China "would have to" get involved – so the world may be facing a situation beyond the influence of any of us. But if the present crisis eases a bit, Fleming's piece – precisely because it takes faith as seriously as many of the West's most impassioned adversaries – is a fine place to initiate serious discussion.

Text-only printable version of this article

As a committed cold warrior during the 1980's, Scott McConnell wrote extensively for Commentary and other neoconservative publications. Throughout much of the 1990's he worked as a columnist, chief editorial writer, and finally editorial page editor at the New York Post. Most recently, he served as senior policy advisor to Pat Buchanan's 2000 campaign , and writes regularly for NY Press/Taki's Top Drawer.

Archived columns on Antiwar.com

In the January Chronicles

The Afghan Campaign – Is that All There is to Victory?

Questions About 'Phase II'

Genocidal Thought in the Land

George Will: Sneering at Powell, Flacking for Sharon

Season of the War Party

Among the Paleos

Muslim Hearts and Minds

The Strategic Withdrawal Option

An Open Letter to Arab Readers

The Push for A Wider War

The Bushes and the Palestinians: Act 2

The Struggle Over War Aims

Why They Hate Us

Why Many Arabs Hate America

War Fever

Right is Still Right

Poor England

A Real Plan for the Mideast


A Just Mideast Peace

We're Not Humble

Ugly Again

The Arab Vote

Pat Smears

An American Quebec

Authoritarian Liberalism on the March

The New Peaceniks

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