You Can’t Fight Religion without Religion

What is to be done about the influx of Islam into the West – besides accepting carnage (most recently in Barcelona) as the “new normal”? Some prominent voices pin their hopes on “reform” of one stripe or another. For them, some aspects of Islam should be embraced with the proviso that certain others are to be excluded. Make it a matter of emphasis rather than a wholesale evaluation regarding the question of compatibility between Islam and the West.

I understand the appeal but am not alone in thinking that this is too rosy a view. And unrealistic. Reform doesn’t seem a high priority within the Muslim world, nor where Muslims have taken up residence en masse in the West. In the final analysis, to “reform” Islam on Western principles is to sound its death knell; if you take away the rice, try making a reformed risotto.

St. Paul knew that a professing Christian would be pitiable if the Resurrection had not actually happened. For Muslims, everything hinges on the belief that Mohammed is the ultimate model for human conduct. You can’t disentangle that from the outbursts of malevolence that conform to his example.

A more prudent approach, it seems, would be to heed the rule of numbers. Violence, agitation, and demands for sharia compliance are quite rare at first but steadily increase as the concentration of Muslims expands. Where enclaves are vanishingly scarce, so too are incidents; that’s why residents of Poland and Hungary can rest much easier than those of France, the U.K., and Sweden. This – astonishingly – seems lost on those who imagine the solution lies simply with heightened magnanimity, understood as boundless accommodation.

Once the scales tip too far, you wind up with fewer and much less pleasant options. Majorities disinclined to violence may well populate certain enclaves, but they function nonetheless as harbors for the jihadi armada. David Goldman argues that perhaps the only option when we’re facing ongoing bouts of terrorism is to intrude upon the enclaves as a whole. To make them fear Western authorities more than the fomenters of jihad.

This would involve measures that are unpalatable, even “repugnant” under ordinary conditions, but in the context of asymmetric warfare are hard to avoid. Without a stiff incentive, what Muslim would abandon the passivity – a survival mechanism – that supplies cover for the perpetuation of atrocities? Far better not to let things get to such a point.

Further lessons – including concrete measures – may be retrieved from the Cold War. A recent article has pointed to the utility of the Communist Control Act of 1954, which was passed to deal with infiltration by subversives; put Jihadists for Communists (and maintain the same constitutionality) and you’d be cooking with gas.

Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese, 1572 [Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice]

Naturally, the Left would bristle at the analogy, but they can’t even be stirred to call out Islam on what they seem to hold most dear: the “right to privacy.” The notion of respecting genuine – as opposed to faux, euphemistic – privacy does not exist in Islam because, as Ibn Warraq relates, the collective imperatives of Islam override it.

Still, tension remains between retaining our freedoms and countering those who would use our freedoms against us. Writing as the Cold War was just getting underway, the esteemed 20th-century philosopher of science Karl Popper warned (as Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out) that “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Reacting robustly – not tolerating the intolerant – may not be necessary when rational argument is possible, or when public opinion is united against oppression and intolerance. But some opponents disregard or forbid all rational argument, so “we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force.”

Think of the imam in Davis, California, who recently called for the “annihilation” of Jews – whom he maligned as “filth” – “down to the very last one.” Compare Popper’s contention that “we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” Permitting such open belligerence has not turned out so well in London. And it’s not a requirement of authentic freedom.

Defending intolerance, paradoxically, in the name of tolerance implies situating tolerance within a hierarchy of larger truths concerning the source of human dignity and inalienable rights – i.e., God. Here I think T.S. Eliot, with the Cold War in mind, ultimately comes closest to the heart of the matter with his observation that “you can never fight a religion except with a different religion.”

By all means, take the necessary precautions. Enact sensible measures. But this is the plane on which the battle is fought. Belief is the font from which political countermeasures spring. An Enlightenment or secularist understanding of “values” just isn’t up to the task.

In the midst of the struggle between the West and Communism, Eliot saw that conviction matters – decisively:

If we are incapable of a faith at least as strong as that which appears to animate the ruling class of Russia, if we are incapable of dying for a cause, then Western Europe and the Americans might as well be reorganized on the Moscow model at once.

Or on the Mecca model.

The problem, he says, is that “people do not seem very eager to act” on the unavoidable, highly consequential religious matters at hand.

To ask what should be done about Islam is ultimately to ask how we should also combat the indifference – and now open hostility – to Christianity in the West.

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.