In The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (New York: Basic Books, c. 2005), George Weigel (the noted biographer of John Paul II and Benedict XVI) ponders the plight of a Europe losing the religious faith that birthed it. He compares “the cube”–La Grande Arche de la Defense, the massive (40 story), modernist glass cube built in Paris by the late socialist French president, Francois Mitterand–with the nearby cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris, one of the grandest monuments of the Middle Ages. The two structures symbolize the worldviews contending for the heart of the continent–a struggle that is “fundamentally a problem of cultural and civilizational morale” (p. 6).
Certain trends in post-WWII Europe deeply distress Weigel: a failure to condemn either communism or Islamofascism; a spineless pacifism vis a vis terrorists and criminals; a mindless support for international organizations, such as the EU and UN; an irrationality evident in the high percentage of French and Germans who think the U.S. actually orchestrated the 9/11 attacks; a marked economic decline; a startling demographic devolution–the dramatic evidence of a people without concern for future generations; a growing contempt for the elderly and deceased; an unwillingness to face the bankruptcy of social welfare and pension systems; and a militantly anti-Christian agenda embraced and imposed by Europe’s elite.
All of these problems, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted in his 1983 Templeton Prize Lecture, began at the dawn of the 20th century with World War I and Europe’s subsequent “lost awareness of a Supreme Power” and “rage of self-mutilation” that explain why it stood by and allowed “the protracted agony of Russia as she was being torn apart by a band of cannibals. . . . The West did not perceive that this was in fact the beginning of a lengthy process that spells disaster for the whole world” (pp. 33-34). Similarly, said Henri de Lubac (in his magisterial The Drama of Atheist Humanism), the 20th century’s great disasters stemmed from “an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. . . . Forgetfulness of God [has] led to the abandonment of man” (p. 119).
Europe’s loss of faith stands exposed in the proposed constitution for a new Europe that was recently rejected (for economic self-interest, not religious concern) by the people of France and Holland. This “constitution” had a lengthy historical section that said nothing about the role of Christianity in the making of Europe! To Weigel, this “self-inflicted amnesia” provides “a key to the ‘Europe problem’ and its American parallels” (p. 55). What’s largely forgotten is the freedom for excellence embedded in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and evident in Western Christian Culture. “Freedom is the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit–or, to use an old-fashioned term, as a matter of virtue. Freedom, on this understanding, is the means by which we act, through our intelligence and our will, on the natural longing for truth, goodness, and happiness that is built into us as human beings” (pp. 79-80). To be fully human is to be truly free. A concert organist freely plays Bach’s music after mastering highly technical disciplines through practice. One is, likewise, a free person by virtue of mastering the cardinal virtues. A free society is sustained by similar disciplines and is “characterized by tolerance, civility, and respect for others, societies in which the rights of all are protected by both law and the moral commitments of ‘we the people’ who make the law” (pp. 81-82).
Rejecting and rivaling the realism of Thomas Aquinas was the voluntaristic nominalism of William of Ockham, which has “had a great influence on Christian moral theology” (p. 83). There is no question that the slow and steady growth of nominalism, during the past 500 years, has weakened the foundations of the West. In Ockham’s nominalism there are no universals, no absolutes apart from the arbitrary edicts of God–which may or may not be sustained tomorrow. In modern nominalism, the only edicts are our own–or those manufactured by elites such as the United States Supreme Court. To Servais Pinckaers (a Belgian Dominican who crafted the phrase “freedom for excellence” regarding Aquinas), “Ockham’s work was ‘the first atomic explosion of the modern era,'” and it brought into being “a new, atomized vision of the human person and ultimately of society. In Ockham we meet what Pinckaers calls the freedom of indifference” (p. 83). Freedom is doing whatever one wants to do and “has nothing to do with goodness, happiness, or truth” (p. 85). Nietzsche’s will-to-power is the modern manifestation of Medieval nominalism, and his pernicious nihilism is everywhere evident in everything from Nazism to the “postmodernism” of Derrida and Foucault, from Supreme Court decisions such as Lawrence v. Texas to the terrorism of Islamofascists blowing up themselves and their innocent victims in London subways or Amman hotels.
Europe–and America–Weigel insists, must choose either the freedom of excellence or the freedom of indifference, the cathedral or the cube. This short book is more of a journalistic sketch than an in-depth study, but Weigel’s concerns are both prescient and compelling.
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Whereas Weigel is a serious scholar who writes for a popular audience, Tony Blankley is a journalist who’s written a thoughtful treatise entitled The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2005). Like Weigel he thinks Europe is at risk and Americans should be concerned. “The threat of the radical Islamists taking over Europe is every bit as great to the United States as was the threat of the Nazis taking over Europe in the 1940s. We cannot afford to lose Europe” (p. 21). Both America and Europe have the resources needed to resist this, but the question we now face is whether they have the will to do so.
The Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s were a small, militant group determined to take control of both Germany and Europe. “They particularly targeted German youth” (p. 47). The same may be said of Islamofascists today. Large numbers of Muslims are angry at their plight in the world, humiliated by their economic and military weakness vis a vis Israel and the West, and willing to heed the radical voices calling for jihad and terror. In response, Europe’s leaders (following the pacifist path of those Oxford University students who declared, in the ’30s, they “would not fight for King or country”), engage in denial and accommodation and appeasement. Like Stanley Baldwin 70 years ago, they court popularity by funding public housing rather arms and actions, talking about peace and security rather than conflict and struggle.
This was clear to George Orwell in 1940, when he wrote: “‘I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period–twenty years, perhaps–during which he did not notice.’ In Orwell’s view, Western man has lost his soul in the aftermath of World War I” (p. 133).
But Baldwin and the Oxford students were refuted by events in 1939, when men of sterner stuff (namely Winston Churchill) were needed. Perhaps in WWII the Allies recovered some of the West’s legacy and breathed life back into their culture. But it was, Blankley thinks, ephemeral. And whether or not the soul Orwell declared dying is forever dead only time will tell. But “Europe’s future is in danger because Europe has forgotten its past. In the Middle Ages, Europeans held a healthy respect, even fear and awe, of the power and vigor of Islamic culture” (p. 96). Not so today! Muslim immigrants have flooded Europe but, unlike other ethnic groups, have refused to assimilate in host countries. They seek domination, not integration! Yet Europeans fail to identify and fight them as mortal foes and Islamist jihadists if unopposed will triumph.
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Roger Scrutin, a fine English philosopher, focuses his finely honed analytic mind on The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, c. 2002). He especially stresses the critical philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity. The very word, Islam, denotes submission, surrender, whereas the Christendom celebrates the personal dignity and freedom that results from a careful separation of church and state. “The Muslim faith, like the Christian, is defined through a prayer. But this prayer takes the form of a declaration: There is one God, and Muhammad is his Prophet. To which might be added: and you had better believe it. The Christian prayer is also a declaration of faith; but it includes the crucial words: ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us'” (p. 36). The two faiths are, quite simply, radically different, and this has led to different “social contracts.”
The West has also been shaped by the Enlightenment, with its commitment to reason and the civic virtues of “law-abidingness, sacrifice in war, and public spirit in peacetime” (p. 55). To the extent irrationalism, lawlessness, pacifism, and the demise of patriotism pervade the West, they subvert the civilization that has sustained them. Contempt for objective truth, championed by Nietzsche and his postmodern epigones, easily leads to the disdain for any form of authority so evident on many university campuses. Nietzschean skepticism inculcates moral relativism, and fewer and fewer Europeans seem willing to risk anything, much their lives, for anything or anyone. They’re increasingly disinterested in even marrying and rearing children, much less fighting for what’s right. “Religious societies generate families automatically as the by-product of faith” (p. 69). Secular societies, however, have little concern for anything sacred such as the family, repudiating it as “patriarchal” and oppressive.
Weakened by the loss of religious faith and Enlightenment values, the West now faces the onslaught of a revived worldwide Islam, committed to the “holy law” of Mohammed. Scrutin guides the reader in a careful survey of Islamic history and thought, emphasizing that: “Conquest, victory, and triumph over enemies are a continual refrain of the Koran, offered as proof that God is on the side of the believers” (p. 120). Still more: “For the first time in centuries Islam appears, both in the eyes of its followers and in the eyes of the infidel, to be a single religious movement united around a single goal” (p. 123). And wherever they have come to power, we have witnessed “murder and persecution on a scale matched in our time only by the Nazis and the Communists. The Islamist, like the Russian nihilist, is an exile in this world; and when he succeeds in obtaining power over his fellow human beings, it is in order to punish them for being human” (p. 127).
Nothing but a revival of a commitment to the West and its virtues can withstand the Muslim onslaught that is now taking place around the world. To understand why this is necessary, Scrutin proves enlightening. How to do it, however, is less clear!
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For 25 years Bat Ye’or (an Egyptian scholar living in Switzerland writing under a pseudonym to help shelter her from the violence automatically addressed toward scholars who dare criticize Islam) has explored the somber reality of dhimmitude–the status of non-Muslims in Islamic societies. Her scholarly works include: The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (1985), The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), which I reviewed in my “Reedings” #131, and Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2002). These are historical works, but her latest treatise, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, c. 2005) describes what’s taking place right now, particularly among the bureaucratic elites who increasingly control the continent. Above all, she challenges readers to look clearly at the documents, many included as appendices to the text, that challenge the stories told by the largely pro-Islamic culture czars (the journalists and professors and politicians) in both Europe and America. She’s clearly partisan in her presentation, finding little of value in Islam. But she’s an enormously well-informed partisan, and her facts and perspective simply cannot be ignored by anyone seriously concerned with world affairs.
“This book,” she says, delineating her thesis, “describes Europe’s evolution from a Judeo-Christian civilization, with important post-Enlightenment secular elements, into a post-Judeo-Christian civilization that is subservient to the ideology of jihad and the Islamic powers that propagate it. The new European civilization in the making can be called a ‘civilization of dhimmitude.’ The term dhimmitude comes from the Arabic word ‘dhimmi.’ It refers to subjugated, non-Muslim individuals or people that accept the restrictive and humiliating subordination to an ascendant Islamic power to avoid enslavement or death. The entire Muslim world as we know it today is a product of this 1,3000 year-old jihad dynamic, whereby once thriving non-Muslim majority civilizations have been reduced to a state of dysfunctional dhimmitude. Many have been completely Islamized and have disappeared. Others remain as fossilized relics of the past, unable to evolve” (p. 9).
“For well over a millennium,” Bat Ye’or continues, “following the seventh-century Muslim military offensives against Byzantium, European powers instinctively resisted jihad–militarily when necessary–to protect their independence. The response of the post-Judeo-Christian Europe of the late twentieth century has been radically different. Europe, as reflected by the institutions of the EU, has abandoned resistance for dhimmitude, and independence for integration with the Islamic world of North Africa and the Middle East. The three most apparent symptoms of this fundamental change in European policy are officially sponsored anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism and ‘Palestinianism'” (p. 10). The targets may change, but Muslim objectives and strategies remain constant: “Hostage taking, ritual throat slitting, the killing of infidels and Muslim apostates are lawful, carefully described, and highly praised jihad tactics recorded, over the centuries, in countless legal treatises on jihad” (p. 159).
The French have pioneered the current process of accommodation. Charles de Gaulle, whose pride was injured by his exclusion from the Yalta Conference as WWII ended, and who witnessed the demise of France’s colonial empire, determined to create a French-led alliance of Mediterranean states that would effectively counteract the growth of American power. His successors hoped France would become the “protector of Islam and Palestinians against America and Israel. They hoped that a pro-French Islam would facilitate the quiet control of former colonies within the French orbit and spread French culture,” ultimately establishing “an enormous market” that would restore France’s former glory (p. 148). The unsuccessful Egyptian-Syrian assault on Israel and the Arab oil embargo in 1973 accelerated such developments. Europeans abruptly began discussing and defending the “Palestinian people,” a new name for Arabs living in the disputed region between Israel and Jordan. The nation of Israel, which had enjoyed Europe’s support for 25 years, suddenly became the bete noir of the Middle East. Hungry for oil, Europe began to support the Muslim dictators who supplied it. Needing workers during that era of economic expansion, immigrants from North Africa and Turkey were encouraged to relocate.
In the midst of all this, innumerable conferences were held and papers published as part of the EAD (“Europe-Arab Dialogue”) regarding the new coalition. Bat Ye’or seems to have read every report of every such conference, and she takes seriously their wording, for they seem to have slowly shaped EU policies. At such gatherings, attended by Arab and European elites, impressive words were uttered regarding human rights, religious rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, etc. And the Muslim workers flooding Europe have enjoyed such “rights.” Still more: they have secured special privileges and protections under the auspices of the increasingly powerful European Union. This was, of course, a one-way process. Arabs, for instance, demand absolute respect for Islam in European lands but continue to persecute Jews and Christians wherever Islam (with its Shari’a) reigns.
Muslims even insist that Islam rather than Christianity be recognized as the primary “civilization”–indeed “the spiritual and scientific fountainhead of Europe” (p. 98). Robin Cook, the British Foreign Secretary, actually said that “Islamic art, science and philosophy,” along with Greek and Roman culture, had helped shape England (p. 172)! A fantasyland of Muslim rule in Medieval Spain–”the Andalusian utopia”–is routinely cited as evidence of past Islamic tolerance and educational sophistication. And, as the recent draft of a EU constitution indicates, Muslim influence grows. Arab delegates to various EAD sessions ever demand that Europe’s schools and textbooks favorably portray Muslims and Islamic history, whereas Jews and Christians are routinely demonized by Muslim educators. “Through the ‘Diaglogue,” Bat Ye’or insists, “Arab League politicians and economists have gained a firm ascendancy over Europe’s policy and economy” (p. 123).
Multiplied billions of dollars have been extorted from Europe, sent as “aid” and “development funds” to Muslim countries–the dar al-islam world ruled by Shari’a. “The huge sums that the EU pays to Arab Mediterranean countries and the Palestinians amount to another tribute exacted for its security within the dar al-sulh [i.e. the subservient state of dhimmitude]. Europe thereby put off the threat of a jihad aimed at the dar al-harb [the world Muslims are obligated to attack and control] by opting for appeasement and collusion with international terrorism–while blaming the increased world tensions on Israel and America so as to preserve its dar al-sulh position of subordinate collaboration, if not surrender, to the Islamists” (p. 77). By supporting the economic and cultural policies Arabs demand, Europeans have, Bat Ye’or thinks, surrendered their lands and traditions. By surrendering, they have become dhimmis, for “dhimmis do not fight. Dhimmitude is based on peaceful surrender, subjection, tribute, and praise” (p. 204).
When President Bush fought back, following the 9/11 attacks, subduing the Taliban in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, “the Anti-Americanism that had been simmering for years among European Arobophiles, neo-Nazis, Communists, and leftists in general” (p. 227) boiled over. In a profound sense, Bat Ye’or says, such Anti-Americanism thrives in “cowardly or impotent societies, which have chosen surrender through fear of conflict” (p. 242). It’s the resentment of the weak regarding the strong, “an intellectual totalitarianism disguised as a virtue for states which have entrusted their security to those who threaten them” (p. 242).
Still more: “By implicitly enlisting in the Arab-Islamic jihad against Israel–under labels such as ‘peace and justice for Palestinians’–Europe has effectively jettisoned its values and undermined the roots of its own civilization. It even struck a blow against worldwide Christianity, abandoning the Christians in Lebanon to massacres by Palestinians (1975-83), those of Sudan to jihad and slavery, and the Christians of the Islamic world to the persecutions mandated by the dhimma system” (p. 115). Despite this, however, “the EU is implicitly abetting a worldwide subversion of Western values and freedoms, while attempting to protect itself from Islamic terrorism by denying that it even exists, or blaming it on scapegoats” (p. 227).
In short: with precious oil and prolific immigrants the Muslims have moved to impose a state of dhimmitude upon Europe. Jihad is succeeding as Islam extends its sway–though oil has replaced the sword as the weapon of choice and immigrants rather than warriors serve of agents of occupation! There’s a war going on in Europe, and Europeans have closed their eyes to preserve an “illusion of peace” (p. 252), much as they did while National Socialism and Communism devoured the continent in the 20th century.
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