Islam and the Vacuum
A Christian recently kidded a Jewish friend thus: Nobody would call Jews stupid. So why did the early Zionists, wanting to escape anti-Semitism, choose to build a Jewish state in, of all the places on earth, a region whose prevalent religion is profoundly hostile to Jews?
The Jew shrugged ruefully: Next stop, Mars.
I became disillusioned with the State of Israel a quarter of a century ago. Yet today I can only pity the Israelis as they face the wrath of a resurgent Muslim fanaticism.
Yes, the Israelis have committed their own sins and mistakes. Tact has never been their long suit. Like our own government, they have needlessly inflamed the Muslim world to the point of murderous fury.
Maybe their worst miscalculation has been to underestimate the depth of that hostility. Most Jews, in Israel as elsewhere, are essentially secularized Westerners who find it hard to believe that religion can be a decisive force in politics.
Religion has long since been tamed in the West, segregated from political affairs, especially international ones. In 1936, when the white men of Europe were preparing for another huge and fratricidal war, Islam was not a player. Europeans assumed that the Muslim countries were too backward ever to recover their former glory (though Hitler would later make alliances with some Muslims, finding their attitude toward the Jews to his liking).
But in that year, the reactionary Catholic Hilaire Belloc reminded his readers that only Islam had ever come near to destroying Christian civilization and that it had done so fairly recently (while the English were settling in America); and he warned that it might yet revive and renew its assault.
Belloc was ignored. But what sounded far-fetched in 1936 is now starting to sound prophetic. Belloc was strangely like another Catholic of our own day, whose dire predictions have repeatedly survived mockery and come to pass: Patrick Buchanan.
Belloc had a gift for seeing patterns in history that were invisible to complacent liberal opinion, which expected progress in the form of continued secularization. As science and reason advanced, religion would die out and peace would ensue.
It hasnt quite worked out that way. As Belloc observed, Islam still retains its fervor, tenacity, and resistance to conversion. Today we are shocked to find that young men born and raised in Western countries can become fanatical terrorists, willing to kill and die for Islam. The ancient desert faith erupts unnervingly in the heart of civilized London.
That faith began with an ignorant, semiliterate, but extremely eloquent Arab around the year 622. Mohammed claimed to follow in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity and to supersede both religions, but his attempts to convert Jews failed when Jews found his understanding of their religion risible. The same happened when he approached Christians. His initial friendliness to both faiths turned to bitter hostility.
Mohammeds conception of Allah was a severe one: an almighty and arbitrary deity (though compassionate and merciful), not a loving Father in Heaven. Mohammed rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, which he absurdly misapprehended, thinking Christians believed that the three Persons were God the Father, Jesus the Son, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Nobody knows where he got this idea, but he denied Jesus divinity while honoring him as a prophet. (Curiously, Mohammed accepted the Virgin Birth, and he both affirmed and denied the Resurrection.) Believers in the Trinity, he taught, will be damned.
It is often remarked that Mohammeds Allah is even more remote and forbidding than John Calvins God, more disposed to condemn than to forgive. Even without the doctrine of Original Sin, arbitrary punishment and predestination seem to be at the heart of Islam. The inscrutable will of the Almighty is not bound by any natural law intelligible to humans; if he commands murder, murder becomes a duty. Divine might is right. Allah is free even to contradict himself.
Fortunately for Islam, Mohammed was a better warrior and statesman than theologian, and in making converts he used the sword and tax incentives to supplement persuasion. In a few generations Islam had conquered not only the Middle East, but lands as remote as Spain.
Will it conquer again? It remains a fighting faith, demographically expansive, facing a depopulated religious vacuum in what used to be Christendom.
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