First published in 1989.
In addressing the cultural schism between the western and eastern halves of European, Christian civilization, marked principally by their respective religious traditions, Roman Catholic/Protestant in the West and Orthodox in the East, one issue stands above all others in determining whether that millennium-old division shall eventually prove fatal: the Islamic resurgence that has rapidly come to mark the post-Cold War era. For the East, which borders on the Muslim world, the problem continues to be, as it has been since Islam first appeared in the 7th century, primarily one of direct, violent confrontation, which today stretches from the Balkans to the Caucasus and through Central Asia. For the West, on the other hand, the problem today is primarily internal, both in terms of ideological confusion (which in many instances leads to active collaboration), coupled with demographic infiltration.
The latter factor, largely a consequence of the West's policy of more-or-less open immigration, is typified in the following example. A few months ago, the county board of Loudoun County, Virginia, just a few miles down the road from the federal capital, granted a zoning variance to facilitate construction of a new Islamic academy over vigorous local opposition. The institution, one of a number being constructed nationwide, will cover some 100 acres, will include elementary, middle, and high schools, will feature an 800-bed dormitory, and will grace the rolling hills of the Virginia horse country with a 65-foot mosque dome and an 85-foot minaret.
County residents opposed the academy on a variety of grounds, notably the loss of tax revenue on land that was otherwise zoned for business uses and the security threat posed by the school, either from Muslims that would be attracted to the county or from the possibility that anti-Saudi Islamic groups might see the academy as a tempting target. But the critics' central issue and the one that highlights western incomprehension of the phenomenon in question was the character of the Saudi regime which, according to the school's bylaws (specifying even that the Saudi ambassador is ex officio chairman), exercises total control, to the extent that it is part of the structure of the Saudi Ministry of Education: an establishment of a foreign sovereign on American soil.
Predictably, as soon as Saudi Arabia and Islam became the issues, the only response from progressive opinion had to be that rejection of the school would be intolerance of "diversity." Characteristic of this viewpoint is one county resident who symbolically displayed a crescent and star in the window of her home to show that "Islam is welcome here." The ever-vigilant Washington Post weighed in with an editorial blasting opposition to the school as "religious intolerance" and "the worst kind of bigotry" on the part of retrograde denizens of the Old Dominion. "Ugly statements that have been made in public meetings on the issue have run the range of mean-spiritedness," sniffed the Post , "with some residents asserting that the school should be rejected because 'the Saudis execute their own people who convert from Islam.'"
In point of correction to the Post's sarcastic quotation marks, the 1997 U.S. Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices states the following about Saudi Arabia: "Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion and all [Saudi] citizens must be Muslims. Conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy. Public apostasy is considered a crime under Shari'a law and punishable by death." So which is more "ugly" and "mean-spirited"--the fact that the Saudis do indeed behead those who abandon Islam or that Loudoun citizens had been so tactless to take note of that fact? One witness before the county board testified to the fact that her daughters, who are U.S. citizens, have been kept from leaving Saudi Arabia for over thirteen years because, as women, they may not travel, even though the elder one is now an adult, without their Saudi father's permission. The girls have been forcibly converted to Islam and can only look forward to their eventual marriage, for which their consent is at best a formality.
Fawning by county authorities extended even to a blatant disregard of the county's own laws. A Loudoun ordinance defines a private institution as one that is neither funded nor controlled by any government, on both of which counts the Loudoun Islamic academy fails. Yet the county board even rejected testimony to that effect by a former board member, who himself was the author of the relevant ordinance, that the academy was not a private institution. No matter. Today, neither Loudoun County, nor the Commonwealth of Virginia, nor the United States would be able to create and run an educational institution based on any religious doctrine. But a foreign government, a government that is every bit as bigoted, intolerant, and ugly as the Post wrongly tagged the school's critics not only may do so but is seen as having a positive right to do so.
Especially illuminating in the Loudoun controversy was the position of local Christian social conservatives, who stayed neutral or even supported the academy. In the dimmer recesses of the American Christian mind, the only circuits activated were those questioning what precedent denying the variance might set for private Christian schools, the availability of public voucher funds, and so forth. The importation of Shari'a into a once-Christian commonwealth seemingly registered not at all in evangelical minds blissfully unaware of Islamic aims:
"The Islamist movement makes no secret of its intentions to convert the West. Its propaganda, published in booklets sold in all European Islamic centers for the last thirty years, sets out its aim and the methods to achieve them. They include proselytism, conversion, marriage with local women, and, above all, immigration. Remembering that Muslims always began as a minority in the conquered countries ('liberated,' in Islamic terminology) before becoming a majority, the ideologists of this movement regard Islamic settlement in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere as a chance for Islam." [ Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam, p. 217, emphasis added]
The element of willful blindness in western perspectives on Islam cannot be overestimated. So deeply imbedded is the notion that all religions are in their fundamentals the same, evidence to the contrary is simply wished out of existence. When the Ayatollah Khomeini states that -
"...Muslims have no alternative...to armed holy war against profane governments,...the conquest of all non-Muslim territories...It will be the duty of every able-bodied adult male to volunteer for this war of conquest, the final aim of which is to put Koranic law in power from one end of the earth to the other..."
...and so on in the same vein, such utterances are as little heeded as were similar statements by Lenin during the Cold War. After all, Khomeini is a known "fundamentalist." Surely, his statements can't be held against the moderates, the "mainstream," who represent " real Islam," whose beliefs and values are not so different from ours, right? The contention that Khomeini and his ilk are in fact Islam's historical "mainstream" not only is dismissed but is itself considered evidence of a dangerous "Christian fundamentalism," which is every bit as bad as the Muslim variety, probably worse. Together with the growing number of Muslims in America (who, according to some claims, already have overtaken Judaism as the nation's largest non-Christian religion), the irrebuttable presumption of Muslim peaceableness has set the stage for Islam to become both a social and political force. Particularly under the Clinton Administration, Islam has made major strides to join denatured, humanized Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism in their semi-established status as kindred denominations of a single American civic creed, symbolized by Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent sponsorship of the Eid al-Fitr end-of-Ramadan celebration at the White House.
Likewise, the idea that Islam shares with Christianity and Judaism an Abrahamic pedigree, that we are all, in the Islamic phrase, "peoples of the book," is now almost universally accepted. To see how flimsy this idea is, suppose that during the early Christian era a pagan philosopher from Athens had claimed to have received a vision from a divine messenger ( angelos ) to the effect that Zeus/Jupiter ( diu pater), the Greco-Roman "father god," was the one and only God and in fact was the same God the Father preached by the Christians; that the Christians had corrupted their own Scriptures to hide the fact that Jupiter had been worshiped by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, while only the self-proclaimed prophet's recitation of his own vision was authoritative; that the rites and sacred places of the Olympian gods (the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Delphic Oracle) had always pertained to Jupiter alone and indeed had been established by earlier Abrahamic prophets; and that those who had surrendered their will to Jupiter were commanded to wage holy war under his thunderbolt symbol on "infidels" who resisted the divine will. Is there any doubt that Christians then would have rejected the supposed kinship of the new teaching to their own faith as unanimously as today's Christians rush to accommodate Islam?
There is little doubt that Islam's "God" is none other than the former chief deity of the polytheistic Arab pantheon - a variation on the moon god common throughout the ancient Middle East, among the Babylonians known as Sin (the Sinai peninsula is probably named after him) and among the Sumerians as Nanna - stripped of his consorts and offspring. Among the pagan Arabs he was usually called simply "the god," al-ilah: Allah. The moon god Allah, whose crescent symbol today caps mosques the world over, headed a pantheon of over 300 lesser divinities, including three daughters called Lat, Uzza, and Manat; in fact, the controversy over The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie centers upon an embarrassing (and historically documented) episode during Muhammad's evolving "revelation" (after his death collected as his Qur'an, "recitation") in which he admitted the possibility of retaining under his new dispensation the three daughter-goddesses but later rescinded it as having been of false, "satanic," inspiration. Muhammad (the son of Abdallah, "slave of Allah," a further attestation of the god's pre-Islamic origin) was of the Quraysh tribe, the custodians of the Meccan shrine to the pantheon known as the Ka'bah ("cube"), which then as now houses a black stone, probably a meteorite, which Muslim pilgrims today continue to venerate, along with performance of other pre-Islamic pagan rites such as stoning the devil at Wadi Mina and partaking of the waters of the Zamzam well.
In short, Islam is a self-evident outgrowth not of the Old and New Covenants but of the darkness of heathen Araby. Beside ludicrous historical suggestions to the contrary (such as the idea that the Ka'bah was built by Abraham, which would have been big news to him), Muslim apologists have strained to find in the Bible evidence that a new prophet would arise after Jesus, seeing Muhammad in obvious prophecies of the Holy Spirit (that were fulfilled on Pentecost) or of the Second Coming of Christ. One could find no better refutation of Islam's efforts to appropriate Christian Scriptures (here, Matthew 24:27) than that of the 14th-century Byzantine saint, Gregory Palamas, to his Turkish captors:
"It is true that Muhammad started from the east and came to the west, as the sun travels from east to west. Nevertheless he came with war, knives, pillaging, forced enslavement, murders, and acts that are not from the good God but instigated by the chief manslayer, the devil."
St. Gregory's answer is no less devastating to Islam's fraudulent self-depiction as a pacific creed. Islam was born in violence, from Muhammad's sanction of raids of pillage and plunder (starting with attacks against his own Quraysh tribe, which initially rejected his revelation) to his savage execution of hundreds of men of the Qurayzah clan (which professed Judaism) and the enslavement and forced concubinage of their women and children. (Muhammad himself took as his unwilling consort the Jewish 17-year-old Safiya on the very day of the murder of her menfolk.) From its inception, first within Arabia and then against all unbelievers, Islam has been unthinkable without its mandate for violence, war, terror - in a word, jihad - itself codified in Muhammad's Qur'an (notably Sura 9:29). Today, Islamic apologists in America have been quick to latch onto the vocabulary of grievance, denouncing as "stereotyping," "bigotry," and "ignorance" association of Islam with its violent past and present. Even American elementary school texts have been rewritten to suggest that once-Christian Egypt, Syria, and Palestine became Muslim because their conquerors were "invited" in; Muslims are quick to remind Christians of the Crusaders' later "aggression," but they don't consider as aggression their own unprovoked seizure of the Christian Middle East.
In the application of jihad, as documented by Bat Ye'or and others, Islam understands the world in terms of two domains, or "houses": the House of Islam ( Dar al-Islam ), where Islam rules and Shari'a , the law of Allah, has been realized; and the House of War (Dar al-Harb), where the rebellious unbelievers persist in their (or rather, our) lawlessness. (The parallels are unavoidable to the similarly Manichaean communist concepts of the "socialist camp" as the zone of peace and the "capitalist camp" as the zone of war. I will leave it to the specialists to calculate which - Islam or communism - can claim the greater achievement as gigantic Christian-killing machines.) In Islamic terms, we unsubdued Christians are harbi , and as such we have no legitimate right to our lands, our property, or even our lives, which by right belong not to us but to the Muslims; that which we now have we enjoy only as long as Islam has not (yet) become strong enough to impose Shari'a . As the highly respected and influential 14th century authority Ibn Taymiyya explained:
"These possessions [i.e., the things taken away from the non-Muslims upon their conquest] received the name of fay [war booty] since Allah had taken them away from the infidels in order to restore (afa'a, radda) them to the Muslims. In principle, Allah has created the things of this world only in order that they may contribute to serving Him, since He created man only in order to be ministered to. Consequently, the infidels forfeit their persons and their belongings which they do not use in Allah's service to the faithful believers who serve Allah and unto whom Allah restitutes what is theirs; thus is restored to a man the inheritance of which he was deprived, even if he had never before gained possession."
It is worthy of note that this Ibn Taymiyya is particularly revered by the Wahabi sect, which is the ruling doctrine of Saudi Arabia; students at the Saudi-controlled Loudoun Islamic Academy will no doubt receive benefit of such wisdom. But it should not be thought that Ibn Taymiyya's sentiments are unique to him. On the contrary, Bat Ye'or multiplies comparable passages from Islamic sages of many times and locales, from the time of Muhammad to the present day.
In the sweep of the long history of the Islamic assault on the Christian world, it is sobering to consider how close the latter has come to annihilation on more than one occasion. In the initial offensive during the first decade after Muhammad's demise, Christendom lost its birthplace in the Levant, with the front of the East Roman Empire only being stabilized at the approaches to Asia Minor. Meanwhile, the Arab armies swept west from conquered Egypt, subduing the whole north coast of Africa and crossing into Visigothic Spain in 711. They were finally stopped by the Franks under Karl the Hammer at Poitiers in 732, the centenary of the pseudo-Prophet's death. The conversion of the Turkish tribes to Islam in the 9th century lent jihad renewed impetus; the erosion and final collapse of East Roman power opened the eastern door to Europe in the 14th century, and the Ottomans were turned back only at the gates of Vienna in 1683. The site of the first high water mark at Poitiers and the later one at Vienna are only some 700 miles apart - so narrow has been Christendom's brush with extinction!
The Turkish defeat at Vienna marked the beginning of two centuries of remission during which European technology, particularly military technology, seemed to have resolved the contest between the Cross and Crescent decisively in favor of the former. During the 19th century, the Christian nations of the Balkans - the only conquered Christian lands since the Spanish reconquista in which the Muslims had not yet reduced the indigenous population to a minority, as they had in Egypt and Syria, or eliminated them utterly, as in the Maghreb - cast off their Muslim masters, and by the end of the First World War, most of the Muslim world (with the exceptions of the Arabian heartland itself and of a truncated Turkey which had assumed the guise of the modernizing, secular ideology of Kemalism) was subject to European rule. But at the same time as Europe achieved its military and geopolitical advantage, the moral and religious decline that culminated in the autogenocides of 1914 and 1939 had become evident. Having found in their grasp places their Crusader predecessors had only dreamed of reclaiming - Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople - effete and demoralized European governments made no effort to reChristianize them and within a few decades meekly abandoned them.
The moral disarmament of contemporary post-Christian Europe in its relations with Islam that began in the late 19th century has now become near-universal. If in the more remote past Bourbon France had made common cause with the Sublime Porte (the scandalous "union of the Lily and the Crescent") against Habsburg Austria, the arrangement at least had the virtue of cynical self-interest: Catholic France was hardly expected to praise the sultan's benevolence as part of the bargain. But by the 1870s, Disraeli's obsession with thwarting Russian ambitions in the Balkans prompted the Tories' unprecedented depiction of Turkey as tolerant and humane even in the face of the Bulgarian atrocities; even so, Britain's Christian conscience, prodded by Gladstone's passionate words, was still sufficient to bring down Lord Beaconsfield's government in 1880.
After World War I, with the installation of nominally "pro-Western" governments in many Muslim countries fashioned from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, the West seems to have definitively convinced itself of the existence of benign Islam. Indeed, the promotion of "moderate" Muslim regimes, especially those willing to make peace with Israel, and, even better, those that have a lot of petroleum, has become a linchpin of U.S. global policy. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, the Gulf States, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, Indonesia and a few others have become the darlings of U.S. policy, valued as supposed bulwarks against "fundamentalism" of the Iranian variety (Iran itself having lately been a member of the favored assembly).
Operationally, this means not only overlooking the radical activities of the supposedly "moderate" Muslim states, for example, Saudi Arabia's and Pakistan's support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (whom even the Iranians denounce as dangerous fanatics), and assistance by virtually the entire club to the thinly-disguised radical regime in Sarajevo, but a consistent American bias in favor of the Muslim party in virtually every conflict with a Christian nation. The most prominent exception to date has been a pro-Armenian tilt in the Nagorno-Karabakh question, a function of Armenian-Americans' early cultivation of Congress, but it can be expected that this anomaly will soon shift to Azerbaijan's favor under the combined pressure of the Turkey/Israel lobby, of residual Cold War antipathy for Russia (seen as Armenia's main protector), and of American oil companies fixated on an energy El Dorado in the Caspian Basin.
It is hardly a surprise that business executives who would sell their grandmothers to Abdul Abulbul Amir for oil drilling rights would see the world as a reflection of their balance sheets. Neither is the parallel inclination of secular, socially progressive opinion, which is viscerally anti-Christian. What is not so expected is that so many western Christians, Americans in particular, are willing to believe the worst about their eastern Christian cousins, who, only lately freed from Islamic (and later, in most cases, communist) servitude, are desperately attempting to avoid a repeat of the experience. Today, when all of the Russian North Caucasus is subject to plunder and hostage-taking razzias staged from Shari'a-ruled Chechnya, when not just Nagorno-Karabakh but Armenia proper is in danger of a repeat of 1915, when Cyprus and Greece receive unvarnished threats to their territorial integrity on a weekly basis for the offense of purchasing defensive weapons, and when the borders of Serbia are rapidly approaching those of the pashaluk of Belgrade to suit America's new-found friends in Bosnia and Kosovo, organized Roman Catholic and Protestant sentiment in America overwhelmingly sides with non- and anti-Christian elite opinion in its pro-Muslim, anti-Orthodox tendency.
For example, in 1993 statements were issued by a number of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican spokesmen in the United States urging military intervention on behalf of the Islamic regime in Sarajevo. "We are convinced that there is just cause to use force to defend largely helpless people in Bosnia against aggression and barbarism that are destroying the very foundations of society and threaten large numbers of people," wrote the chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference, at a time when the Muslim beneficiaries of the called-for intervention were not only roasting alive Serb POWs impaled on spits but were slaughtering Roman Catholic Croats by the hundreds in an offensive in central Bosnia. "What is going on in Bosnia is genocide by any other name," observed a prominent Baptist spokesman: "The ghosts of Auschwitz and Dachau have come back to haunt us. If we do nothing we are morally culpable." "Those of us who opposed the Gulf War believed that war was not the answer," opined the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, "but today we find ourselves confronted with an evil war, the sure elimination of which may be possible only by means of armed intervention." Thus did high-minded guardians of the West's Christian integrity give their blessing for NATO to assist the resumption of jihad in Europe. Granted, they were themselves to some extent victims of the melodramatic media coverage that has characterized the Balkan war, but that's not much of an excuse. Who told them to believe everything dished up by CNN?
On a previous occasion, I have noted that western anti-Orthodox bias, which I have dubbed Pravoslavophobia, rarely means antipathy for Orthodoxy as such. Most serious Protestants and Roman Catholic often have a fairly positive attitude toward Orthodox Christianity as a morally conservative and, especially, liturgically traditional bulwark within the spectrum of Christian opinion. (In fact, one leading Roman Catholic moral conservative who has called for Christianity to unite with not only Judaism but Islam in an "ecumenical jihad" against secularism, a common front in "spiritual warfare," is explicit in his favorable attitude toward Orthodoxy. But it is beyond me what spiritual values any Christian has in common with someone whose idea of beatific bliss is boinking an endless parade of the well-rounded houris said to inhabit the Muslim paradise.) Perhaps it has been so long since western Christians have had to physically defend themselves as Christians (as opposed to Americans, Englishmen, Germans, etc.) that they just don't understand those for whom it is a current concern.
On the other hand, there are Westerners for whom antipathy is based precisely on the traditional Orthodox character of the front-line states bordering on Islam. Indeed, from this viewpoint, the desire of these countries to not only avoid Islamization but Westernization as well is a major count against them. For example, one columnist, who has made something of a specialty of painting the Orthodox as the villains in the conflicts with Islam (and who has even made the bizarre accusation that poor, helpless Islamic Turkey is threatened in Cyprus by the "burgeoning expansion" of an "Orthodox Axis"!), has cast it as follows:
"The purposes of the Orthodox Church in Russia today reflect most of its history. It wants to keep total power and exclude from its midst any other belief systems or reflections of conscience that might in any way threaten it. 'Through the Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church came to terms with the modern world,' the Denver-born Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, mused with me. 'We finally came to a willingness to test the waters of the Enlightenment culture against the ancient traditions of faith. The pope today is preoccupied with the relationship between freedom and truth, which is one of the primary issues raised by the Enlightenment.' That noble preoccupation unfortunately has not yet traveled eastward and, indeed, there are no indicators that it will do so. Meanwhile, it would be good for other Westerners who still dream of rapid change in Russia to study the Catholic-Orthodox case. It might instill in their hope a touch of reality and also remind them that the historical Russian propensity to protect power by remaining isolated and to keep out all those 'foreigners' is hardly a thing of the past."
I defer to others as to what extent today's Roman Catholic Church, as well as modern Protestantism, has indeed made its peace with the Enlightenment's standard of what constitutes "freedom," which has largely translated into freedom from Christianity altogether. (Indeed, the fruits of that kind of freedom will be evident when the muezzin's call to prayer is heard five times a day across Loudoun County.) But what is amazing about this passage is that it is evidently "remaining isolated" that constitutes the offense: Russia (and the same could be said for Greece, Serbia, etc.) is wrong not because she wants to force her faith on the West but because she does not want to adopt the West's "enlightened" version of Christianity.
Though differing in the specifics, the overall attitude displayed here is strongly reminiscent of that of the West toward the East during the last great Islamic offensive in Europe as the dying Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Serbian states faced Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. The West then was explicit: we will help you only if you renounce Orthodoxy in favor of Roman Catholicism. In today's geopolitical context, when western churchmen join in calls for military action by western governments against Orthodox countries to help Muslims, Pope John Paul's calls for ecumenical dialogue and eventual reunion of East and West, the topic of his encyclicals Ut Unam Sint and Slavorum Apostoli , look suspiciously familiar to eastern eyes. While this perception is somewhat simplistic if only because the West today is no longer the Roman Catholic monolith it once was, the larger question should not be so easily dismissed: the Orthodox East is being told today that unless they unquestioningly submit to the West's tutelage in political, social, moral, and economic matters - the collective "religion" of the Enlightenment heritage - they again will be thrown to the wolves. In fact, the West will even help the wolves to devour them.
The immorality, not to mention the stupidity, of this should be obvious. Maybe Christians will never come to agreement on doctrinal matters, maybe the East will insist on retaining its distinctive religious and cultural heritage. But even if, broadly speaking, East and West are never able to share a common Eucharistic chalice, does that mean they must be enemies? Some seem to suggest: yes. Instead, I submit that the survival of Christian Orthodox civilization in the East should be hardly less important to the West than to the Orthodox themselves, and indeed over the long term the West's own fate may depend on it. The fact that the West cannot recognize this reality is part of the same inability to recognize its own internal vulnerability, with the forest of minarets going up mainly in Western Europe but also now in North America.
Some Christians see the Muslim influx primarily as an opportunity for evangelization, and indeed we should never neglect to share the Gospel, the only real liberation, with Muslims, who should not, as individuals, be held responsible for the violent system into which they were born and of which they are perhaps more than anyone else victims. At the same time, in light of the growing volume of Muslim immigration, western Christians will soon find out - maybe sooner than they think, given western birthrates - that confronting the Islamic advance has become, as it has always been for eastern Christians, a simple matter of physical survival. But by that time it may be too late for the West as well.
A version of this article first appeared in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. It is adapted from a May 1998 speech at "Overcoming the Schism: European Divisions and U.S. Policy," a conference sponsored by the Rockford Institute and The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies. Reprinted with permission of the author.