Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The lever and the foundations

The National Review Online describes Islam's public enemy Number 1: a Coptic priest called Zakaria Botros.

Along with fellow missionaries — mostly Muslim converts — he appears frequently on the Arabic channel al-Hayat ... Botros is an unusual figure onscreen: robed, with a huge cross around his neck, he sits with both the Koran and the Bible in easy reach. Egypt’s Copts — members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East — have in many respects come to personify the demeaning Islamic institution of “dhimmitude” (which demands submissiveness from non-Muslims, in accordance with Koran 9:29). But the fiery Botros does not submit, and minces no words. ... The result? Mass conversions to Christianity — if clandestine ones.

Even if one were not a Christian, it's interesting to ask how one Coptic priest operating on a shoestring wage such successful information warfare? To save money Botros uses the "new media": satellite TV and the Internet. Secondly, he communicaes in Arabic. Thirdly, Botros tackles Islam on its own ground. He is intimately familiar with the Koran and phrases the issues in ways that are not only linguistically familiar to Middle Easterners but in accordance with their categories of thought. According to Raymond Ibrahim at NRO:

Botros’s motive is not to incite the West against Islam, promote “Israeli interests,” or “demonize” Muslims, but to draw Muslims away from the dead legalism of sharia to the spirituality of Christianity. Many Western critics fail to appreciate that, to disempower radical Islam, something theocentric and spiritually satisfying — not secularism, democracy, capitalism, materialism, feminism, etc. — must be offered in its place. The truths of one religion can only be challenged and supplanted by the truths of another. And so Father Zakaria Botros has been fighting fire with fire.

Raymond Ibrahim's summary omits one key factor in Botros' success. It is factor hardest for the West to reproduce. Western intellectuals can also use the "new media";  learn to speak in Arabic; even learn Koranic theology. They potentially have everything but the one thing that Botros spontaneously possesses in spades. Faith.

Botros believes he has found the true religion and is eager to tell Muslims about it. Thus he offers them not only a critique of the absurdities of Islam but an invitation to embrace an alternative. He tells them not only what to turn away from but what to turn to. It is this last obstacle which the modern intellectual stumbles over. The modern intellectual can say nothing about what a man should fight or die for. Two generations ago, even non-religious people in the West still had a country, culture or tribe they could feel loyal too. Albert Camus could declare quite seriously that "the French language is my homeland". Although he loved disembodied ideas they never lifted him above loyalty. Explaining why he opposed terrorism Camus said, "I must also denounce a terrorism which is exercised blindly, in the streets of Algiers for example, and which one day could strike my mother or my family. I believe in justice, but I shall defend my mother before justice."

Today it is quite conceivable for someone who declares his affection for the English language in America to be accused of "hate speech"; and for a man who compares his grandmother to a ranting demogogue to be likened to Abrham Lincoln.  In malls all over the Western world the boomer generation gets teary-eyed over the appeal to believe in nothing.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

And while those sentiments are all very well they prevent Western intellectuals from taking the last step which Zakarai Botros is capable of. Challenging Islam's roots requires the challenger to have an irrational loyalty to roots of his own. Faith is a special kind of information that arises from providing answers to questions that are undecidable within our formal logical system; that lie beneath the foundations of our civilization rather than in a development of its precepts. It lies within our choice of axioms rather than the theorems that arise from them. And because axioms cannot be proved, "our way of life" will always rest on prejudice -- or if you will -- faith. Like Camus, we can never rise completely above all our attachments and still retain our capacity to act.




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26 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

We have someone in the West who follows some of the method of Zakaria Botros, who generally tends to stick with the Islamic scriptures (Qur'an and the authoritative ahadith Bukhari and Muslim): Robert Spencer. Yes, over at JihadWatch.org he does do a bit of satirical editorializing sometimes, but when he is arguing with a Muslim or non-Muslim apologizer for Islam he sticks with the Islamic sources.

Spencer has to deal with an element that Botros does not have to deal with: the NON-MUSLIM APOLOGIST FOR ISLAM. This is a creature that mainly inhabits the West. If these odd creatures had to live in Islamic societies as dhimmis I doubt most of them would be so enthusiastic to defend Islam and resort to their stupid tu quoque arguments involving Christianity and Judaism as equivalent with Islam in violence and oppression.

It is encouraging that there are people in Islamic lands who are quietly and secretly converting to Christianity. It would be most helpful if more people in the non-Muslim world would stop apologizing for Islam and stand up for their precious religious traditions, however imperfect they are they are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the sulphuric vapors of Allah.

3/26/2008 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

He tells them not only what to turn away from but what to turn to. It is this last obstacle which the modern intellectual stumbles over. The modern intellectual can say nothing about what a man should fight or die for. Two generations ago, even non-religious people in the West still had a country, culture or tribe they could feel loyal too.

For many modern intellectuals, the loyalty is still there. Unfortunately, it is hidden. There are three reasons for this. First is the pervasive power of anti-nationalism and political correctness. Secondly, the label of disloyalty is used so promiscuously by power yet narrow interests that it undermines any willingness of intellectuals to challenge their power. Most importantly, the very polarization between the academic left and its mirror image among the jingoists demoralizes our intellectual class. In our present polarized environment, honesty is punished and hatred is rewarded. It is hard to support any institution when false accusations of treason or disloyalty flow against any deviance.

Zakaria Botros has the advantage of knowing there is no other Christian priest or monk in his vicinity who will constantly second-guess his Coptic identity. He is not bathed in an intellectual environment that tells him that religious differences do not matter. He does not sacrifice truth on the altar of tolerance. And most fundamentally, he does not base the legitimacy of his truth upon prosperity. When one bases one’s entire identity upon prosperity, or even worse, the myth of becoming more prosperous than one’s ancestors, there is nothing left once the riches are gone.

Al-Qaeda claims our civilization is brittle, dedicated to prosperity above all else and lacking in any sense of who we are. Let’s show how wrong they are.

3/26/2008 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

I'm guessing that the conversion numbers are a little optimistic but have no doubt that conversions are occurring. On an ancillary matter, the reported number of Muslims around the world is grossly inflated in that everybody indiginous to a Muslim country is automatically counted as a Muslim. Combine that with the statutory death sentence for publicly saying you are not a Muslim and you end up with inflated numbers.

Africa presents the oppportunity to kill two birds with one stone - so to speak. If the West made a genuine effort to assist Christian African tribes and countries with health, education and economic issues these populations would grow and grow stronger. In the long run African Christendom could push Islam, and Arab culture if necessary, out of Africa. We are not going to eradicate Islam but fencing it into the Arabian peninsula is not a bad outcome.

3/26/2008 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

I've had some exposure to Coptic Egyptians. My best friend from graduate school is an American immigrant with Coptic Egyptian parents (he was born in Khartoum, Sudan). Years ago, I did a solo tour of Egypt and had many conversations with Coptic Egyptians (stayed at a hotel in Luxor that was owned by Copts).

Most people do not realize that the Copts are the original Egyptians (the Arabs invaded Egypt in 639 AD). The Copts ancestors built the pyramids, the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the great temples in Upper Egypt. The Coptic language is a modern version of the ancient Eyptian language (Hamo-Semitic). Egypt under the Copts was a Christian nation. Coptic Orthodox Christianity is among the oldest branches of Christianity (arguably the oldest).

Egypt under the Copts was a great nation. Unfortunately, Egypt's fortunes have declined as the Copts lost influence. For centuries, Egypt has been under the boot of successive conquerors, e.g. Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, etc. The Copts have weathered them all and retained their cultural identity. Unfortunately Islam has been very hard on the Copts due to forced conversion (mainly of women) and dhimmitude. Observing the tribulations of the Copts is like seeing a magnificent eagle being slowing devoured by parasites.

3/26/2008 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger murray said...

Spengler's latest is a must read vis a vis this thread:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JC26Aa01.html

Lord Acton

3/26/2008 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

The money quote from the Spengler article.

...as Magdi Allam tells us, the matter on the agenda is not to persuade Muslims to act like liberal Westerners, but instead to convince them to cease to be Muslims.


Who knows what could happen is Western politicos publicly and persistently demanded that all 57 members of the Islamic Council allow real freedom of religion in their countries? Of course, it will not happen and should not be expected. That does prevent the private voices of public intellectuals and Western media from making these demands, however. But then again, Islam would not be so bold about rearing its ugly head if it did not find many more friends than enemies in both those categories.

3/26/2008 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Most importantly, the very polarization between the academic left and its mirror image among the jingoists demoralizes our intellectual class.

How can you ignore the sensible middle ground between those positions? And just who the hell are those 'jingoists' so glibly referred to - are they inventions?

There's a fine healthy cohort of folks with heads on their shoulders who aren't demoralized at all by this cartoon portrait of a polarization. Many of them are found on blogs, rather than in MSM or learned journals.

Oh, you're talking about an 'intellectual class', I forgot that all members of such a thing are exempted from common sense. So, let that class revel in all the demoralization it can summon up, while the rest of us continue to work for solutions that avoid as much bloodshed as possible while refusing to surrender to dhimmitude on someone else's request.

3/26/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Barnabus said...

Therefore, we really are on a modern Crusade? I don't completely disagree with the sentiments expressed in your post but we need to think carefully before going down this road.

3/26/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I don't completely disagree with the sentiments expressed in your post but we need to think carefully before going down this road.

Why? How much more proof do you demand before admitting that Islam is an abomination and needs to be eradicated? Along with those who refuse to give up its commandments.

3/26/2008 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Insufficiently Sensitive said...

And exactly what's wrong with a Crusade?

The first one only tried to recover its own sacred relics from a certain group that had, by murder and conquest, brutally imposed a new religion on one which had existed in Jerusalem for about 600 years.

I'll grant you that by the Fourth Crusade things had gotten perverted to the point that some Christian opportunists looted their fellow Christians at Constantinople instead of attempting to recover Jerusalem.

But then, you'll have to grant that in 1926 some Muslim opportunists powered by Wahabism used brute force to conquer Mecca and Medina to wrongfully emplace the Saud dynasty where others had ruled for centuries before them.

And people are upset about Crusades? Why, exactly?

3/26/2008 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I don't think there's going to be a Crusade, either physical or intellectual, unless it was directed inwards at the West itself. The most effective thing the West can do is rediscover the best values within itself. It is the hollow heart; the rot produced by a century of nihilism, which is its greatest strategic liability.

That inner rot provokes Islam through its sheer perversity. It exudes weakness and the odor of evil. Much of the work in winning the world conflict consists of reflection and self-reform.

3/26/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

It exudes weakness and the odor of evil.

Seems to me that could be flipped to say exudes flexibility and striving to achive and the odor of joie de vivre. It's been my observation that Muslims are much more deranged by our sense of fun and achievement, than by any active evil. And I'm concerned if you agree with jihadists on what constitutes "evil".

3/26/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

And people are upset about Crusades? Why, exactly?

We lost them all, when we found that faith was insufficient to sustain our commitment. Europes real interests lay in commercial and military opportunities of a more prosaic nature. Let's not make the same mistake again.

The modern intellectual can say nothing about what a man should fight or [kill]* for.

For money. Faith will work in some cases, but a roof over your head and food on the table are more universal.

*Like Patton said.

3/26/2008 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

W,

It's not nihilism. It's greed and cowardice. The show of nihilism is just an overcoat to hide the lack of testicles.

3/26/2008 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Seems to me that could be flipped to say exudes flexibility and striving to achive and the odor of joie de vivre.

My experience has been that most the joy comes from ordinary life. The West ultimately about the celebration of ordinary life; and for some that included the role of the numinous in ordinary life.

The common characteristic of radical Islam and the big "ism's" of the 20th century is their despicion of ordinary things. The apple in your child's lunchbox. Laughter at a joke. The simple satisfaction of eating a piece of bread. None of that was enough for the Terrible Kings and Caliphs of West and East. They wanted the End of History. The Worker's Pardise. The Global Ummah. Same idea, different name.

In each case the goal was to be accomplished by a rejection of the normal world. Sensation was a goal in itself. Greater highs; more exotic titillation. And what greater stimulus that the ecstasy of suicide with 72 virgins lying just past the wall of death?

Our world become's poorer when there is no room for a child's toy. That's the world of Islam and the world of sexualized political correctness.

3/26/2008 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

"And people are upset about Crusades? Why, exactly?" We lost them all.

Spain was lost outright to the Muslims (and the Philippines too on the other side of the world). But the losses did not stop there. Technology in the form of the sailing ship, resulted in large parts of Latin America and Asia being exposed to Chrstianity. Without Third World Christianity Islam would probably be the dominant religion on earth today.

3/26/2008 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Manny C said...

Wretchard

Awesome post. It sort of continues from your "China stops Airline Terror Attack" post. You said:
Faith is a special kind of information that arises from providing answers to questions that are undecidable within our formal logical system; that lie beneath the foundations of our civilization rather than in a development of its precepts

This argument was precisely made by a secular writer in the Sunday Telegraph (I cannot find the article, but heard it read) in an Easter article entitled "Who cares if Christ is risen?". I have transcribed part of it here:
Religion has an extraordinary and unique capacity to keep sublime concepts of beauty and truth and the principles of conduct that derive from them in the minds of ordinary people. Our moral beliefs will decay if they are cut off from their source, just as a stream will become a stagnant pool if it is no longer fed by its spring. This is what is happening in the West today.

I am so glad that you made the point. I have been arguing the same point over the last two or three years. Nature abhors a vacuum. Secularism cannot fill the void it wrought by its rejection of the pursuit of metaphysics.

Muggeridge foretold the lamentable posture of the West decades ago. Even the Godfather of Nihilism, Nietzsche, understood the logical consequences of nihilistic philosophy. See The Madman.

3/26/2008 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

My experience has been that most the joy comes from ordinary life.

I'm just wondering what sort of joy you see coming from the Middle East that makes their lives minimally live-able, let alone able to cope with the West's chocolate Easter bunnies, green Irish beer and rivers, and 4th of July fireworks.

They've got a surfeit of spinsters -- women who refuse to get married because who wants to voluntarily enslave themselves. They've got enough birth defects to have to build special hospitals just for those problems. Their divorce rates are soaring above the 50% rate of the West.

They're smoking obese underachievers. Both child and domestic abuse are routine and just beginning to be addressed so that has *got* to contribute to individual dysfunctionality.

God only knows what their AIDS rates are because it's a secret and sometimes AIDS patients are refused treatment especially if they're not native-born. They can't even immigrate any more because no one in the world will let them in, no matter how much filthy oil money they have.

And they must know that if we just quit shipping them air conditioners the whole region would be dead within a month.

So what on earth must their suicide rates be?

Next to this plethora of social diseases I wish you'd be a little bit more specific about the rotten evil core you discern in the West, and why it's so much worse here than there.

3/26/2008 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

1) Like it or not, the war we're involved in is a religious war.
2) In a religious war, it is not enough to win "hearts and minds". We must also win souls. Not necessarily win them to our religious viewpoint, but rather win them away from the enemy's. Put another way, we need Muslims to have faith that they can stand up against religious terror and tyranny without fear that they will end up going to hell for doing so.

Clearly, Mr. Botros understands this well. That our political culture has trouble doing so isn't just the fault of the Left. Having a tin ear for religious and spiritual matters is an inherent weakness of any secular state. This usually isn't a big problem... except during a religious war such as this one, in which case it cripples a robust war effort.

3/26/2008 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Will48 said...

we can believe too, precisely in those kind of set of axioms on which to build our own system of Moral Values which are otherwise "undecidable" (as an act of Will to Choose Good over Evil) - Freedom of the Thought as the highest value of all. Do No Harm unless to those who intend to do harm to you or others. No Coercion, No Imposition. Responsibility of Free Choice.

Here I think we can find some of those values reflected in the following few poetic lines (I hope they can serve as basis for a Hymn for the coming war against the Islamicist Totalitarianism Beast if it's not at all worthless):

Free Thinkers of the World, Unite!
Against the bloody Muslim Night
Free Will and Candor will Prevail
Against the bloody Muslim Hell

We Choose the Freedom of the Thought
To Muslim Hell we bow Not
Each individual is precious
Responsible he's and courageous

Let the Thousand Flowers blossom
Fear Not the vile Colossus
We will smash it into dust
Overcome the Lies we must

Against the Muslim genocide
We choose our Might and we are Right
We're Free as long we Do No Harm
We care and tend for our young

We stand Opposed to the Oppression
To weak and gentle our Protection
The wicked Lies reject we must
In Simple Truth we put our Trust.

3/26/2008 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Muslims are much more deranged by our sense of fun and achievement, than by any active evil.

Well spoken Nahncee.

NPR was interviewing young Iranians who want to have fun. They want to go skiing with their free hair streaming behind them. They want to hold hands. They want to listen to music and dance together. They have come to despise the religious police, and they recognize that the religious crackdowns are designed to distract from more serious issues like political freedom and failing economics.

I've always thought that Iran would benefit more from an epidemic of streakers than by any armed revolution. The problem IMO is not specifically Islam. You have to do something about the fanatics, but, for the sake of the rest of us, it's more important to make them laugh than it is to convert them.

3/26/2008 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

I would like to thank Wretchard and others on this weblog for getting me acquainted with "Spengler" over at the Asia Times. I was home at work today, and not in the office, with some spare time on my hands and started reading a number of his columns dealing with religion and culture. Just some amazing stuff. A couple of years ago someone on another weblog got me acquainted with Lee Harris - mind you, I don't agree with EVERYTHING he writes - and simply blessed my good fortune of finding him.

I wish there was some way to knock some sanity into the craniums of Western journalists, professors, intellectuals, and politicians who keep apologizing for and running interference for the Islamic enemy. I would point them right at their bookshelves, or libraries, or... those articles by Spengler and Harris... at the writings of Aquinas, von Balthasar, Gilson, and de Lubac, and put the question to them, "Do you really think if this enemy prevails against the West you would see the arts and sciences flourish like this, what you have benefited from?"

3/26/2008 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

JJ Mollo, power grows from the barrel of a gun. While it would be nice if Mr. Botros or college kids in Iran could change things, ultimately they cannot.

Much of the West is ... Lazy. Lazy and hoping that somehow, people will just Stop becoming suicide bombers, or polygamists, or things of that nature. It's just not going to happen because power ultimately flows from violence and the ability to use it.

This is something Westerners do not understand. What Mr. Botros is trying to do is a long term project. The work of centuries. I wish him the best. In the meantime I shall look to the United States Military and the biggest application of force upon our nation's enemies to see the West through.

Islam is not Marcos. Or Pinochet. Tyrants unsteady in their grasp, with other military forces wanting them gone for their own particular reasons. It is a religion. A people. A culture. A way of life.

3/26/2008 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

It's a little known fact that the Coptics and not the Romans invented the arch.

I'm sure everyone's heard of the Keystone Copts.

3/27/2008 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Barnabus said...

I agree with Wretchard's 2:07 comment above. However, if one really thinks that you are going to convert a significant proportion of Muslims to Christianity you are living in a dream world. Further, if you make it even an informal policy that such a goal is what we are aiming at then the resistance to the current effort at democratization will be orders of magnitude greater than it is now.

3/27/2008 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Wretchard says: "Much of the work in winning the world conflict consists of reflection and self-reform."

The reality of it, as Orthodox Christians see it, is that the whole of victory in the world conflict is nothing other than this.

I think an apostle said, "If we [each] judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment."

The Copts are not far from us Orthodox, and lately I think there has been a movement towards recommuning. This man is doing what many Orthodox have now started to do, especially new converts: Simply say what is said. Christ is the Truth, the Life, the Way. His boldness is proper because he rides the fine line between seeking his death and avoiding it. This courage is what is necessary to be an apostle.

If he is killed - which is pretty much certain - it will create a wave of new conversions and evangelists. Islam is actually the weak horse here, because it is no longer new and not in any way supreme, being threatened by the awesome might of the West. They nearly wiped out Orthodoxy in the East through attrition and war.

As for mass conversions, it is unknown but far from impossible.

3/27/2008 10:31:00 AM  

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