As usual, Richard Fernandez gets to the heart of the matter with the least number of detours.
The important thing to remember about rebellions, even small ones, is that everyone who thinks they can control the forces unleashed — can’t. That goes for Obama and that goes for Trump. A friend who was a veteran of the Anbar Surge wrote that democracy was scary and to calm himself down he repeated to himself Winston Churchill’s soothing words: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
Yes, I think we are on the threshold of a revolution. Whether it is a Revolution, with a capital R, is yet to be seen.
Fernandez begins with the incident of Gessler’s Hat.
in 1307 Gessler raised a pole in the market square of Altdorf, placed his hat atop it, and ordered all the townsfolk to bow before it. Tell, whose marksmanship and pride were legendary, publicly refused. Gessler’s cruel wrath was tempered by his curiosity to test Tell’s skill, so he gave Tell the option of either being executed or shooting an apple off his son’s head in one try. Tell succeeded in splitting the apple with his arrow, saving his own life. When Gessler asked why he had readied two arrows, he lied and replied that it was out of habit. After being assured that he wouldn’t be killed, Tell finally admitted that the second was intended for the tyrant if his son was harmed.
Yes, it is best not to put all your cards on the table until they are needed.
Gessler, enraged, had Tell arrested and taken by boat across Lake Lucerne to Küssnacht to spend the life he had saved in a dungeon. A sudden fierce storm made the crew terrified, and since William Tell was a better sailor, they handed the wheel to him. But instead of heading towards the dungeon, he escaped to shore. There he ambushed and killed Gessler with an arrow, launching the young Confederacy’s rebellion against Austrian rule.
The result was freedom that still endures. What does this tell us ? Not much but Andrew McCarthy has some ideas.
Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses aside, he has a way of pushing us into important debates, particularly on immigration. He has done it again with his bracing proposal to force “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” I have no idea what Mr. Trump knows about either immigration law or Islam. But it should be obvious to any objective person that Muslim immigration to the West is a vexing challenge. Some Muslims come to the United States to practice their religion peacefully, and assimilate into the Western tradition of tolerance of other people’s liberties, including religious liberty — a tradition alien to the theocratic societies in which they grew up. Others come here to champion sharia, Islam’s authoritarian societal framework and legal code, resisting assimilation into our pluralistic society.
Now what ?
As understood by the mainstream of Muslim-majority countries that are the source of immigration to America and the West, Islam is a comprehensive ideological system that governs all human affairs, from political, economic, and military matters to interpersonal relations and even hygiene. It is beyond dispute that Islam has religious tenets — the oneness of Allah, the belief that Mohammed is the final prophet, the obligation of ritual prayer. Yet these make up only a fraction of what is overwhelmingly a political ideology. Our constitutional principle of religious liberty is derived from the Western concept that the spiritual realm should be separate from civic and political life. The concept flows from the New Testament injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Crucially, the interpretation of Islam that is mainstream in most Muslim-majority countries does not accept a division between mosque and state. In fact, to invoke “mosque” as the equivalent of “church” in referring to a division between spiritual and political life is itself a misleading projection of Western principles onto Islamic society. A mosque is not merely a house of worship. It does not separate politics from religion any more than Islam as a whole does.
McCarthy knows something about mosques as he prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombing conspirators.
he is most notable for leading the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. The defendants were convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks. He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He resigned from the Justice Department in 2003.
He has also written extensively about Islam.
In our non-Muslim country, there is no point in debating what the “true” Islam says or whether Muslims are at liberty to ignore or reform classical sharia. There may not be a true Islam. Even if there is one, what non-Muslims think or say about it is of little interest to Muslims. Our job, in any event, is to preserve the Constitution and protect our national security regardless of how Islam’s internal debates are ultimately resolved — if they ever are.
Fernandez thinks this is not enough.
We are probably not there yet, but a few more tight turns, a bit more G, a little more inattention from the incompetent pilot and we may be ready to depart. For the moment there’s still airflow, there is yet some lift from the wings. But we have been warned. We either make our choices in good time or find that we have none left.
This is a good time to think about just what Islam is. This City Journal discussion is a good start.
I have ordered a couple of Ibn Warraq’s books and plan to read them.
Understanding Islam is made all the more difficult because Islam does not distinguish between a ritual law in the Western sense, ethics, and good manners. I hope that we will distinguish a bit of that now. But, painting in broad strokes, it’s fair to say that tension between the Arab Islamic world and the liberal versions of modernity is one of the central issues, if not the central issue, of our era.
It’s not that the Middle East has been hostile to all versions of modernity; at different times, Fascism and Communism have taken hold among Arab and Islamic intellectuals and political leaders. In the case of Iran, it was Khomeinists and Communists who came together to overthrow the Shah in 1979.
That’s not an encouraging example of “modernity” in the Middle East. I studied Muslim history a bit when I wrote my history of medicine twelve years ago. There were some interesting developments in Islamic countries but not nearly as many as some writers allege. Science was quite limited and came to an early end after the Mongol invasion in 1255.
The Great Khan, Mongke, put his brother Hulagu Khan in charge of an army whose goals were to conquer Persia, Syria, and Egypt, as well as to destroy the Abbasid Caliphate. The campaign’s goal appears to be a complete destruction of Islam. Hulagu himself even had a very deep hatred for everything attached to Islam. Much of this came from his Buddhist and Christian advisors who influenced his policies.
The Muslim world at this time was in no position to resist the Mongol attacks. The Abbasid Caliphate was nothing but a shell of its former self, having no power outside of Baghdad. Most of Persia was disunited as the Khwarazmian Empire had mostly deteriorated by then. The Ayyubid state established by Salah al-Din was only in control of small parts of Iraq and Syria. In Egypt, a recent revolution had overthrown Salah al-Din’s descendants and brought to power the new Mamluk Sultanate. With his giant army of hundreds of thousands, Hulagu did not encounter much resistance.
Baghdad was destroyed and the Caliphate of the Abbasids came to an end. Osama bin Laden accused the US of being like the Mongols.
Ibn Warraq has strong opinions on Islam that I plan to explore by reading his books.
The other strand running through my book is Koranic principles. I thought that the Koran has not been subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the Bible has been subjected to since at least the seventeenth century with Spinoza. In subsequent books I wrote on the Koran—in The Quest for the Historical Muhammad and What the Koran Really Says. These are essentially anthologies of articles critical of various aspects, but on a more technical level, various aspects of the language of the Koran, the origins of Islam, the traditional story of the origins of the Koran, and so on. They were very critical, and I thought that it was time that we started applying the same sort of criticism of the Koran that had been applied to the Old and the New Testaments.
The West seems to be in a defensive crouch since 9/11 and this, it seems to me, invites more aggression by the Muslims who do not want to live by Western principles. Certainly, it should be made clear that Sharia Law has no place in a Western country. Britain seems to be losing that battle and we do not need to join them.