Top Vatican historian speaks the saving truth about Islam

In the midst of my criticisms yesterday of Pope Benedict, I said that I admired and liked him. That may have sounded like hypocritical cover, but I meant it. And here’s a reason why. Even as the pope was issuing what I described as liberal boilerplate about the Muslim riots in France, his own Vatican was showing a true and realistic and therefore confrontational attitude toward Islam, something that would have been inconceivable under the ecumenism-soaked pontificate of his predecessor. At a meeting held this month at the Pontifical Lateran University on “Christianity and Islam, Yesterday and Today,” monsignor Walter Brandmüller, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, delivered a speech on “Christianity and Islam in History.” Unlike the Bernard Lewises and the Daniel Pipeses and the Francis Fukuyamas and the Olivier Roys and the entire respectable intellectual establishment of the secular West, Brandmüller focused, not on some secondary social problem afflicting Islam, such as “poor development” or “discrimination” or “cultural dislocation,” that supposedly makes Muslims today troublesome (as though they hadn’t been troublesome for the last 1,400 years), but on the character of Islam itself, as a religious/military/political movement seeking power over the world. If our so-called leaders and intellectual lights understood the simple, true points made in the below excerpts from the speech, the current nonsense about “moderate Islam” versus “radical Islam”—nonsense that leads us to try to “engage” with Muslims and “democratize” Muslims and “assimilate” Muslims and “integrate” Muslims instead of defending ourselves from Muslims—would vanish in the wind.

I thank Paul Cella for bringing this important and very encouraging speech to our attention. Here are excerpts:

But on the part of the Muslims, from the earliest times, even while Mohammed was still alive, conversion was imposed through the use of force. The expansion and extension of Islam’s sphere of influence came through war with the tribes that did not accept conversion peacefully, and this went hand in hand with submission to Islamic political authority. Islamism, unlike Christianity, expressed a comprehensive religious, cultural, social, and political strategy. While Christianity spread during its first three centuries in spite of persecution and martyrdom, and in many ways in opposition to Roman domination, introducing a clear separation between the spiritual and political spheres, Islam was imposed through the power of political domination.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the use of force occupies a central place in Islamic tradition, as witnessed by the frequent use of the word “jihad” in many texts. Although some scholars, especially Western ones, maintain that jihad does not necessarily mean war, but instead a spiritual struggle and interior effort, Samir Khalil Samir again clarifies that the use of this term in Islamic tradition—including its usage today—is essentially uniform, indicating warfare in the name of God to defend Islam, which is an obligation for all adult Muslim males. Those who maintain that understanding jihad as a holy war constitutes a sort of deviation from the true Islamic tradition are therefore not telling the truth, and history sadly demonstrates that violence has characterized Islam since its origin, and that Mohammed himself systematically organized and led the raids against the tribes that did not want to convert and accept his dominion, thus subjecting the Arab tribes one by one. Naturally, it must also be said that at the time of Mohammed warfare was part of the Bedouin culture, and no one saw anything objectionable about it. […]

If this characterization of Islam is destined to remain unchanged in the future, as it has been until now, the only possible outcome is a difficult coexistence [yes, co-existence, which we maintained for 40 years with the USSR while containing it, not being friends with it] with those who do not belong to the Muslim community: in an Islamic country, in fact, the non-Muslim must submit to the Islamic system, if he does not wish to live in a situation of substantial intolerance.

Likewise, on account of this all-embracing conception of religion and political authority, the Muslim will have great difficulty in adapting to the civil laws in non-Islamic countries, seeing them as something foreign to his upbringing and to the dictates of his religion. Perhaps one should ask oneself if the well-attested difficulties persons coming from the Islamic world have with integrating into the social and cultural life of the West are not explained in part by this problematic situation.

We must also recognize the natural right of every society to defend its own cultural, religious, and political identity. It seems to me that this is precisely what Pius V did.

Pius V was the pope under whom the forces of Christendom won the great naval battle of Lepanto against the Ottomans in 1571. Brandmüller, bless him, is saying that Europe must defend itself from Islam—culturally, politically, and even through the use of military force.

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A reader writes:

You note in your post on the Brandmüller talk:

If our so-called leaders and intellectual lights understood the simple, true points made in the below excerpts from the speech, the current nonsense about “moderate Islam” versus “radical Islam”—nonsense that leads us to try to “engage” with Muslims and “democratize” Muslims and “assimilate” Muslims and “integrate” Muslims instead of defending ourselves from Muslims—would vanish in the wind.

As you know (you taught it to me), liberals cannot understand this; otherwise, they wouldn’t be liberals.

Liberals cannot conceive of a world outside liberalism that cannot be absorbed by and into liberalism. Therefore liberals perceive no need to defend ourselves against anything (except perhaps our failure to extend the benefits of liberalism to the “disadvantaged,” who in reciprocal gratitude will then welcome liberalism with open arms).

The reader is right. But the larger point I’m stressing, the hopeful point, is that the West, if it is to survive, must cease being liberal, and can cease being liberal. As long as the liberal West is what it is, we are doomed. But the unprecedented nature and scale of the current threat from Islam may, bit by bit, bring the West to a new understanding. This Vatican speech is an important instance of that.

It should also be remembered that when I say the West must cease being liberal, I do not mean liberal in all meanings of the word. I mean the core affirmations of the modern liberal faith: that society consists only of individuals and their desires and needs; that the main purpose and justification of society is to satisfy those desires and needs; that there are no spiritual or natural or civilizational distinctions that matter politically or should be allowed to matter politically; and that there must ultimately be no boundaries between our culture and others.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 23, 2005 10:13 AM | Send

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