Global Resilience Solutions > Category:Islam

No Good Options: Why the West is Stuck on the Middle East

The biggest immediate result of the tragic events in Paris on 13 November has been the re-examination of the refugee crisis in light of the problem of Islamism. Unfortunately, this debate has been anything but balanced, with some so steadfast in toeing the politically correct line that they will not even honestly discuss the impact of this huge migration on Western society, and others so simplistic in their rejection of Muslim immigrants of any stripe that they can’t have a cogent conversation on the topic. Hate crimes have been committed against Muslims which only reinforce the absolutism of alienation which jihadis espouse. None of this helps us.

Here, for better or worse, is my take.

Islam in the West

Two things are missing from the debate. The first is a frank appraisal of the overall impact of Islam on Western society, or rather the reasons for its frequent refusal to play by the rules of Western society. Second, there is the tendency to oversimplify a very complicated social and cultural reality.

Consider the following. How many Muslim immigrants, families and communities in the West do you think espouse the view that husbands have a right to beat their wives? How many agree that a woman who has sex other than within marriage has dishonoured her family and should be severely punished or even killed? How many agree that apostasy should be punished by death?

Before you answer, consider that each of these points is undeniably enshrined in Islamic religious law and supported by the Qur’an and the Hadiths:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.” (Abu Dawud 2142)

Two people guilty of “illegal” intercourse are brought to Muhammad, who orders them both stoned to death. Apparently their act was out of love, since the verse records the man as trying to shield the woman from the stones. (Bukhari 6:60:79)

“…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ “ (Bukhari 52:260)

“And when you meet those who misbelieve, non-Muslims, while fighting in Jihad, cut off their heads until you have massacred them.” (Qur’an 47:4)
This is not to say that all Muslims think this way- many educated Muslims are just as unlikely to hold these beliefs as you or I. The point, however, is that a surprising number actually do – the statistics on Muslim views in these reports are typical.

How many Muslim immigrants believe that Sharia law should be instituted in Western countries, either to govern Islamic citizens, or, as a very vocal movement in the UK demands, universally? Again, bear in mind that this position is explicitly supported as a fundamental goal of Islam in the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Quran 9:29)

This way of thinking is fundamentally at odds with Western values of life, liberty, freedom of speech and conscience, free will and equality, the ground rules on which pluralism is founded. Within the enclave existence of so many Muslim immigrant communities, given their economic conditions and the relative isolation of their more vulnerable members, nothing has happened to achieve a fundamental shift from the values that enable beatings, honour killings and murder of apostates to continue in their home countries and toward new values of coexistence and equality. No one is teaching them this new way of thinking, and nothing in the process of gaining citizenship presents a clear and binding choice between these two worldviews.

Here is what Maryam Namazie, a former Muslim and well-known expert on Islamic issues, has to say about some of the issues facing Western societies during a talk at the London School of Economics:

The Complex Reality of the Middle East

To understand the complexity of this problem, we have only to look honestly at the situation in the Muslim world. Take the Egyptian Revolution. Educated students and urban residents, steeped in global culture and democratic values, achieved the end of a dictatorship. In the elections that followed, it was not their values that triumphed. It was the values of the uneducated rural majority, who were not only indoctrinated by the radical Muslim Brotherhood, but often depended on the Brotherhood for their material survival. The result- a radical government, under which no minority was safe.
This is not an isolated example: Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia- wherever the majority rules, minorities and women are not safe and radicalism spreads.

The bitter truth is that secular tyrants backed by a minority have been far more effective at providing basic safety for vulnerable groups than democracy has in the Middle East. Material problems- poverty, warlord rule, displacement- are a significant factor in this dynamic. But the mentality that enables it is alive and well in the population, and is carried by them to the Western world.

The Humanitarian Dilemma and the Impossible Task of Sorting

Because the West is divided between liberals who refuse to approach these issues with intellectual honesty for fear of being thought intolerant, and radical conservatives who easily justify the labels with which the media brands them, it has no means of processing this reality. The hard truth is that there is no way any country can effectively determine who among its immigrants will continue to hold values at odds with the founding ideas of their host society, and who has come to participate fully in that society. How do you separate the people who come to Canada to be Canadians from those who come to promote Islamic law in Canada or who will enable those who do? The one thing a democracy cannot and should not tolerate is the promotion of an ideology that stands against equality and free speech. In our great conversation, we can tolerate many things, but not the suppression of free participation.

So what about the enormous humanitarian problem we face? No one has the resources even to effectively weed out radicals from among refugees, or refugees from economic migrants (a murky distinction to begin with, since war has a tendency to destroy economies). Do we accept everyone, with all the huge expense, social consequences and risks involved? Do we reject everyone and condemn innocent people to death or a miserable life? Where and how would we even begin to draw the lines?

The Intervention Trap

Do we intervene to stop the conflict that is causing the misery? Given our dismal record, how can we be sure that that intervention won’t cause more problems? Do we stay out of the Middle East entirely? There are no good options, no firm middle ground, and many ways we could make things worse.

If this can be said about the refugee problem in a vacuum, the same goes doubly for our reaction to incidents like the Paris attacks. After 9/11, the United States launched two poorly-targeted wars that ended up costing the country far more in lives, prestige and money than any terrorist group could possibly have managed on its own. The net result of that failed policy is ISIS. Granted, a lot of that can be blamed on specific policy failures such as the de-Ba’athification process that left so many trained people ripe for radicalisation and recruitment. But is any response to the present situation likely to do better?

Training local troops is clearly not enough. Air strikes are next to useless against a group like ISIS (notwithstanding the incident where a jihadi took and posted a selfie in front of a headquarters building which was soon reduced to rubble). The West is unwilling to support Assad, who, though a monster, could at least keep Islamism in check. The formation of a strong Kurdish state could be a significant stabilising factor- the Kurds are distinctly non-radical, proven to be able to form stable governments and militarily effective. Again, for political reasons, the West is unlikely to go this route. The remaining mass of ineffective governments and contending militias are utterly useless and intractable. Putting “boots on the ground” without a viable plan for short-term stabilisation and long-term governance, peace-building and reconstruction would be a catastrophic mistake.

Unproductive Cycles

As far as terrorism goes, we risk becoming locked in a cycle of provocation and rash overreaction. Where refugees are concerned, there is another cycle of successive Middle Eastern crises leading to refugee crises leading to insoluble dilemmas. The two related problems are tremendously frustrating, but decisions, for better or worse, do need to be made.

Only an Honest Approach Can Help Us Now

Even if there are no good decisions available, we owe it to ourselves to begin by bringing a frank examination of these complex problems into public discourse. And this begins by doing the one thing Western society seems the least willing to do – to ask the hard questions about this seemingly intractable religious ideology called Islam.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Shall We Dispense with the Bullshit? Welcome to the TRUTH about the Crusades…

Given that hardly a week goes by when some commentator, either Muslim or sympathetic to Islam, doesn’t use the Crusades as a shorthand for Western imperialism and encroachment on the Arab world, it’s high time for a reality check. What were the Crusades, what was their historical context, and should they really be such a byword?

We don’t often do posts like this one. However, a key element of human resilience is distinguishing truth from fiction and knowing when you’re being manipulated. Granted, not always an easy task in the modern world, but this is one subject on which we can definitely set the record straight…

The Big Picture

Let’s have a look at that phrase, “the Arab world.” For more than half of the first millennium A.D., there was no such thing. Until Islam comes on the scene in the seventh century, Arabs lived in Arabia. Egyptians, Syrians, Berbers, Assyrians and various other ethnic groups inhabited what we now think of as the “Arab world”. None of these nations were genetically Arab nor did they speak Arabic.

The inhabitants of Egypt and Syria, for example, were by this time largely Orthodox Christian (a mix of Chalcedonians and Monophysites) and spoke Coptic and Syriac respectively, with Greek as a second language – the “lingua franca” of the time.

This is illustrated below – a map of the Mediterranean world as it was in 600 A.D. The vast majority of the Mediterranean coast was, as it had been for centuries, part of the Romano-Hellenistic world.

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Less than a century and a half later, the Islamic caliphate had conquered the ancient Syrian, Egyptian, Persian and Berber cultures, getting as far as Spain and Constantinople. For the remainder of the first millennium, the East Roman Empire fought doggedly with the Islamic invaders, temporarily retaking Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine before a series of invasions by the Turks, an Islamised people native to the Asian steppe, made the continued defence of those provinces impossible.

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Meanwhile in the West, the Islamic Moors established a caliphate in Spain and invaded the Frankish Empire as far as Tours in northern France before being driven back, but this was not an end to Moorish and Arab attempts to conquer European lands. In the tenth century, immediately prior to the Crusades, much of Italy and southern France was under Muslim occupation or attack. From the early ninth to the late eleventh centuries, the history of Italy was dominated by the problem of Islamic invaders. In Spain, the struggle lasted until 1492.

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In fact, the fundamental problem with many modern attempts to interpret the Crusades is the arbitrary start date of 1095, as though suddenly and for no apparent reason other than religious fanaticism, Christians simply decided to invade a peaceful Middle East.

In fact, Jerusalem had been captured by the Muslims only twenty-five years before, and Antioch, the great metropolis of Syria, in 1084. When the Eastern Emperor, seeing Muslim armies advancing into Asia Minor across from his capital, made his appeal to the Pope for military aid, it was out of desperation. The way that Rome, itself recently on the front lines, reacted was to treat this military request as a rallying cry for the liberation of the heartland of ancient Christianity and of the Christians living under the Muslim yoke. A Europe tired of being constantly on the defensive for nearly four centuries was ready to start taking land back from the invaders.

As you may have noticed from the third map, the tenth century was not a good time for Europe. What we mistakenly call the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome were a time of comparative continuity of Roman law and institutions in many places. After the Muslim attacks on Southern Europe and the Viking attacks in the north, this changed, and the feudal order as we remember it took shape out of the ashes. The Normans, descendants of the Vikings and just as ruthless despite their ostensible conversion, took the opportunity to seize a leading role in Western Christendom, not only conquering England, but leading both the reconquest of Italy and many elements of the Crusades.

In this new and more vicious atmosphere, the Crusaders did commit numerous atrocities, including the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the brutal Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during which they murdered much of the city’s population and destroyed much of its cultural heritage. You’ll notice many of the Crusaders’ atrocities were inflicted on other Christians, however.

And atrocities were certainly something they had in common with their enemy. During the initial wave of Islamic conquest, the populations of Fayum, Tripoli, Cyprus and many other places were massacred. In Spain, Muslim policy in the tenth century was to execute all adult males of any city that resisted and to sell the remaining population into slavery. The Muslim reconquest of Antioch saw the murder of 16,000 Christians and the enslavement of over 100,000. As late as the nineteenth century, many large-scale massacres of already-subjugated Christians are recorded, from the extermination of the population of the island of Chios to blood-baths in Lebanon and Bulgaria.

Nor was the Islamic taste for violence limited to Europe or the Middle East – it has been estimated that Islamic conquests butchered some eight million people in the Indian Subcontinent alone.

Over the next few centuries, the tide of the struggle would wax and wane repeatedly, but eventually enthusiasm for the cause waned, and the Christian Crusader states fell.

The Islamic Jihad, however, was by no means done. By 1453, the East Roman Empire was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks after a long and bloody struggle. History remembers the Sultan’s act of obeisance before Agia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and tends to forget about the long massacre that was going on at the same time. Ottoman expansion on the European continent continued until 1683, when the Ottoman army was defeated at Vienna.

Re-evaluating the Crusades

To say that Muslims when they conquered in the name of their Prophet were simply men of their time and Crusaders the villains of history doesn’t hold up under the larger picture: Islam from its very inception was a force that conquered territory from others and converted their populations by force or by loss of civil rights and heavy taxation.

Christianity, on the other hand, “conquered” the Roman Empire by persuasion, example and appeal to noble and higher principles of love and compassion. Yet Christianity itself was nearly wiped out: Europe itself was subjected to a continuous, relentless whirlwind of inconceivable violent assault by Islam… for over one thousand years.

Part of the Muslim anti-crusader narrative has been that the ignorant bloodthirsty Western knights came in and destroyed the high culture of the Islamic world, rich in art and science. Of course, the high culture to which they are referring was appropriated from the conquered and forcibly converted nations who had created it in the first place. The culture of the Persian, Roman and Hellenistic worlds, not to mention the ancient cultures of Egypt and Syria, fell into Muslim hands through conquest. In short, the argument that Islam represented a more elevated civilisation than that of Western Europe is entirely misleading.

Their anti-crusader rant allows the Muslims to play the victim, a tactic that usually succeeds in garnering the sympathies of the gullible. Historically, though, the Crusades were a few comparatively small blips in a millennium-long campaign of relentless Islamic violence directed against Europe.

So if anyone ever tries to tell you we should be more “sensitive” to Muslim “concerns” because of the terrible things “we” did to them in the Crusades, you’ll now be able to set the record straight.

You’ll notice that many of the facts we’ve exposed you to here, including what’s on the maps, are not things you heard much about in school: Spain was once ruled by Muslims? Vast tracts of present day France and Italy were once under their control? They fought their way to very gates of Vienna? Yes, all true. And the European civilisation that gave birth to so much of what we hold dear survived by the skin of its teeth.

Sad to say, but the bulk of our population is ignorant of history. Because of that, they’re actually taken aback by the demonic cruelty and hate exhibited by today’s Islamic jihadists. If they knew history better, though, they wouldn’t be even mildly surprised.

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


“Spirituality? No, we don’t do that here.”- When Religious Institutions Go Wrong

In the spirit of our membership site’s upcoming unit on spirituality, we thought it was time for a little perspective on all the ingenious ways we humans find to avoid that very subject.  Religious institutions, or at least large parts of them, tend to become masters of the art of avoiding spirituality! 

The reason is simple- like many human institutions, religions often start with a powerful sense of purpose, but over time, people with vested interests make the institution less about that purpose than about them.  At that point, anything that might lead the membership to think that the institution is about more than the rules laid down by those in power becomes a liability. And spiritual life is the ultimate liability- after all, what person in power wants pesky little enlightened people popping up here, there and everywhere, upsetting the applecart and undermining their authority with inconveniences like truth, love and integrity?

That being the case, we thought we’d give you a short tour of some of the clever devices which religious institutions have come up with to avoid such a disastrous state of affairs.  As the saying goes, it is better to laugh than to cry, although we have to admit that sometimes it’s hard to know if these things are the product of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in all of his diabolical sincerity.

 

Anyone who lives in North America has experienced moveable-letter church signs, from the pointed…

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to the cringe-worthy…

 

 

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to the laugh-out-loud hilarious.

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We will be using these signs, along with a goodly selection of cartoons, to signpost our tour through the mind of corrupt religious institutions, and by extension, corrupt institutions everywhere.

 

The real danger to any corrupt institution is from within.  As the word ‘corrupt’ implies, the people occupying positions of authority are neither toeing the straight and narrow themselves nor are they particularly interested in finding out whether any of their peers are.  What they are all deeply interested in is making sure that no one else ever looks too closely, or if they do that they don’t find anything, or if they find something that they’re discredited, or if they’re not discredited that at least they can’t do anything about it.  To quote a much-loved British sitcom, “When you set the cat among the pigeons, you let the dog out of the bag.  If you spill the beans, you open a whole can of worms!”  In short, a sticky situation. 

 

If something bad has happened once, it’s probably happened more than once, and if it’s happened more than once, there may be something wrong with the system, and if there’s something wrong with the system, the whole house of cards could collapse.  That’s why certain other corrupt systems (the USSR) made it quite clear from the start that it was alright to criticize, but never to generalize.  It’s never the fault of the system.  That kept a lid on pesky critical thinking for a few decades, but since religious institutions don’t always have gulags and firing squads to make sure the people are minding their manners, other, rather more painful processes for burying cans of worms have been found- specifically, denial.

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The first thing degenerate institutions do to help them in the cause of denial is to deprive their people of a central set of principles by which to evaluate the central principles and mission of the institution.  In a religious context, this means leaving people without the tools to evaluate the contents of their religious traditions.  That way, traditions go from ‘golden thread of wisdom reaching down to us from the ages’ to ‘anything that one of us thought or wrote in the past, no matter how moronic or trivial,’ until you get

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Some have gone so far as to declare war on reason altogether.  Of course, reasoned faith is quite possible- but letting your people expose their faith to reason might turn up all sorts of nasty little inconsistencies and moral problems with the gospel-according-to-you, and is therefore to be avoided at all costs.

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Cognitive dissonance is unavoidable in these situations where one has to declare war on morality, sense common or otherwise, and critical thought of any kind. Even so, religious institutions have realized that this is hardly a showstopper.  After all, the key to the propaganda machines of all totalitarian regimes has been not to persuade people, but simply to say something so often that it is accepted as true no matter how laughable it is, because no one dares to speak against what everyone else accepts as obvious truth- in short, new-think.

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Division is a favorite tactic of institutions throughout the ages.  In the 19th Century, nascent European nation-states started wars because they believed that it was the best way to cement national identity.  The surest way to demarcate “us” is by identifying all the evil “them”s.

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Playing the victim is a derivative of this tactic of division, except that rather than attacking the enemy you’ve identified directly, you can talk about how much he’s oppressing you.  The advantage here is that you can treat any attempt on his part to express an opinion different from your own as further oppression.  If you’re particularly talented, you can get so much credit for being that victim that the more violent and unreasonable your reactions, the more everyone will bend over backwards to placate you.

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One of the surest signs of a religious milieu gone bad is that it will attempt to dictate the politics of its members.

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Closely connected with trying to dictate the politics of their members, corrupt institutions will often seek to colonize territory- that is, to make themselves as exclusive as possible in a given area and turf out all other influences and ways of thinking,

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which is why after just a small taste of government by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the world population distribution of Coptic Christians now looks like this:

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Fear is the ubiquitous weapon of all institutions-gone-wrong, but where bosses and bankers can only threaten your money, religious institutions have a somewhat broader repertoire.  Hellfire and brimstone is the old favorite…

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because it seems people are easily intimidated and will do anything to spend eternity with someone when they hear he’s thinking about spit-roasting them.

 

Another tactic is the attempt on the part of a religious institution to divorce its clergy, and even its membership at large, from genuine understanding and contact with the society around them.

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When all else fails, when you have nothing else going for you, when the cognitive dissonance between your agenda and any sort of objective reason and morality is enough to make even Andrew Jackson baulk, dispense with the implied intimidation and just threaten to kill them.

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Of course, there are certain strategies which almost guarantee that your institution won’t survive.  It’s alright to predict the end of days, for example, but if you give an exact date, well, you’ve just put an expiry date on your viability.  Of course, originators of doomsday cults aren’t in it for the long haul- they just figure that people are less likely to guard their wallets while they’re waiting for the rapture.

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All joking aside, the point is not to vilify faith or the faithful (although many atheists make a self-serving and one-sided argument in that direction) but rather to bring home the point that religion tends to include two of humanity’s most dangerous weapons- institutions and ideas.  It’s important to test both when you’re looking for a spiritual home.  The blessing is that even in the most decrepit institution, there are small, unnoticed islands of sanity and grace.

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~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 




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