Our Ominous World

Two weeks after I was in the Napa Valley, an earthquake struck the wine country town of Napa. I do not believe there was a direct connection.

Then, more unsettlingly, I read Cardinal Wuerl’s “Why a Silence?” given at Catholic University’s Mass of the Holy Spirit about persecution in the Mid-East:

I’m sharing these remarks with you because I do not want to have on my conscience that I was complicitous in something as horrendous simply by being quiet. And I ask myself where are these voices (that claim solidarity with the suffering)? Where are the voices of parliaments? Where are the voices of congressional leaders? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of talk-show hosts and radio programs?
Yes, not merely where are they, but why the silence?

When Cardinal Ferdinando Filoni returned as the pope’s special envoy to Iraq, he brought these words from the Christian people there: “Do it soon and don’t leave us alone.” These are the same people who were given, in 2014, the traditional Muslim choice of conversion, mandatory taxation, or death. But we are anxious to have war “never again.” Let the Arabs fight it out among themselves.

These instances were followed by the British Prime Minister’s astonishment that some five hundred English Muslims have gone to fight for the Islamic State. The TV voice on the tape of James Foley’s execution had a British accent. On his return flight from Korea, the Holy Father finally recalled that aggression must be “stopped.” Just how and by whom and against whom, he did not specify. He is not an Urban II about to call for a crusade. Then there was an account of the number of nuns raped and attacked in several militant Muslin lands. President Obama next told us that he has no plan for dealing with current Mideast turmoil. The mind reels.

In a perceptive essay in Stratfor (August 27), “Terrorism as Theater,” Robert D. Kaplan documented the careful, professional way the execution of James Foley was presented for television viewers in the West. The essential message to the viewer contained these points:

1) “We do not play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.”
2) We are paying back Guantanamo by our own means “as you can see on the video.”
3) We can use sophisticated means to put our message across.
4) “We of the Islamic State are delivering a global mega-message. . . .We will destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and anyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.”
5) “We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.”
The medium is the message, as a famous Canadian once put it.

On another TV interview I saw a man tell us that the next attacks on Europe and America should not have to be as dramatic as the World Trade Center to be as effective. Already in place are enough people who can blow up bridges, buildings, or other symbolic places to cause civil chaos. Any action or series of actions claimed by the Islamic State would be known throughout the world as a demonstration of its growing power to reach any target, anywhere.

Though some have argued to the contrary, none of this really has much to do with poverty or economic growth in Islamic nations. As China has shown, there is no reason today why an absolute state cannot prosper. Writers are now reconsidering the nation state. Perhaps things like the European Union were not such a good idea after all. Mass immigration only results in undermining the settled states. Then there is the drug trade treated as if it had no relation to the demand that causes it. The world has plenty of undeveloped energy, which we do not develop for dubious ecological reasons.

We cannot forget the life issues, the massive numbers of abortions, the undermining of real marriage, in which children are brought up by their own fathers and mothers. Others think of bypassing parenthood to produce all children scientifically under state care. Sex can finally be left to its unproductive passingness. No un-engineered life will be allowed to exist.

 And I have listed all these ominous things without even mentioning Israel, global warming, the pope’s references to the Devil, the conversion of Russia or, as one view of Putin would have it, the West’s conversion to Orthodoxy.

Looking over these ominous things, we do not know whether to laugh or cry, probably some of both. Is it good to know that the Islamic State is serious about its ends and the means, any means, it will take to achieve it? About some things it is sinful to be silent. Other people cry: “Do not leave us alone.”

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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