Responding to a prediction by the historian Paul Johnson that the Muslim world would soon “collapse” into secularism, Robert Spencer observed that “the Muslim world was much more secular 100 years ago and fifty years ago than it is now.”
Fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, the Muslim world was obviously weak, without resources, facing an obviously much more powerful and self-confident West. Those who recognized this and wished to do something about it were the ones who, like Kemal Ataturk, pushed “reform” in the sense of greater constraint on Islam and the granting of rights closer to what had been granted in the West to individuals. But the extent of that “reforming” impulse has often been exaggerated. Furthermore, it was often undertaken by those who wished not to jettison Islam, but to rescue it from what they took was certain decline and possibly fall in relation to that West.
The most important such reformer was Ataturk, who as a result of Turkey’s loss of the Ottoman Empire and obvious weakness, put in place a series of measures designed to constrain the political and social role of Islam in Turkey. But Ataturk could do this only because Turkey was toppling, and he, as a war hero and capable of great ruthlessness, could reasonably present himself as impelled — as he was — by nationalist fervor as well as by doubts about Islam. Kemalism essentially replaced the myths of Islam with a mythological cult of The Turk, who had supposedly always inhabited Anatolia and to whom the credit for everything, practically back to the Hittites, should be given.
And even before Ataturk’s death in 1938, the cult of Ataturk, which became much greater after that death, was an obvious substitute for the cult of Muhammad as The Perfect Man, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil. Primitive masses needed a replacement cult, and they were given it. Islam remained, always present, never quite yielding. And of course it has come back in Turkey with a vengeance, to the alarm of the West and of those genuine secularists in Turkey who did not realize that the only way to keep Islam down was, from time to time, to employ the methods that only the Turkish army could, and used to, employ. “Democracy” in Muslim Turkey will not do it.
Those like Abduh and Rida were not quite in the Ataturk mode, but rather something like those Communists who wanted not to replace Communism, but to permit it to avoid the rigidity, say, of Suslovian apparatchiki, in order not to jettison Communist rule but to preserve it.
But that spirit of mild reform was a result only of perceived Muslim weakness.
Three things have happened to change the perception by Muslims of their weakness. They have been dealt with at length here many times before, but perhaps they should again be briefly summarized.
Those three developments are:
1) The oil revenues, the only revenues that could possibly have come to the Muslim states in such amounts, for they required nothing of their beneficiaries, and were simply the result of an accident of geology. Since 1973, the Arab and other Muslim-dominated oil states have received ten trillion dollars. This is the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. The Muslims did nothing to deserve this, though many took the oil bonanza as a deliberate sign of Allah’s favor. With that money, however, they were saved from their natural poverty, the poverty that, with Infidel Jizyah removed, is the natural state of Muslim countries. They bought hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Western arms, and with those arms, a whole network of middlemen, bribes-givers and bribes-takers — Western hirelings not only in the arms industries, but also in the business of supplying other goods and services to the suddenly rich oil states. The money became the fabled “wealth” weapon of the Jihad, by which boycotts, and bribery, and the dangling of profitable contracts contributed to creating a vast and loyal constituency among some very influential and meretricious people in the capitals of the West.
2) Almost at the same time as the oil bonanza, the countries of Western Europe allowed millions of Muslim migrants to enter and settle — Pakistanis in England, Turks in Germany, Algerians in France, Moroccans in Spain, Indonesians in Holland, and then assorted mix-‘n-match Muslims from all of these places and others. They were allowed to bring their wives. Their children, of course, were taken care of by the free medical care of the Infidel nations, and the free schooling, and the subsidized or free housing, and the attempts, ever greater, ever more frantic, to somehow “integrate” a population that is almost entirely and incurably hostile. It is hostile because its belief-system, that suffuses the societies and minds of Muslims wherever they are, had taught them to be hostile to the Infidels. This remained true no matter what those Infidels may have provided them, no matter how desperate to win their loyalty those Infidel nation-states may have been. Those Infidels were unaware that Muslim loyalty, according to the tenets, attitudes, atmospherics of Islam, must be given only to fellow Believers, fellow members of the umma al-islamiyya.
This was simply not understood. As the older generation of Western scholars of Islam died or retired, new people replaced them. These people were very often Muslims themselves, but even where not Muslim, they were by their mental formation inclined to favor Islam and the Arabs, not least because of a diseased sympathy for all those who might be seen as members of the Third World. One might have thought this would be a difficult trick for plutocrats in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Libya, and so on to pull off, but pull it off they did. And those millions, now tens of millions, of Muslims in the West have made that West fearful. They have inhibited the freedom of its governments not only in domestic but in foreign policy — as one can see from the recent behavior of the French in being so fearful of committing a few thousand troops to Lebanon, where they might be forced to behave in ways that would antagonize the ever-ready-to-riot Muslims within France.
3) Technological advances in the Western world have made it much easier to disseminate the Call to Islam to Infidels, and the full message of Islam to Believers worldwide, and furthermore, to offer propaganda — often of a kind that Infidels find appalling but that apparently work on Believers. Who would have thought that decapitation videos would be eagerly exploited as recruitment tools for those seeking others willing to actively participate in violent Jihad?
Without audiocassettes, without his taped sermons urging violence, Khomeini might never have been able to win, from Neauphle-le-Chateau in France, so many hundreds of thousands of fanatical followers in Iran. Without videocassettes, and then the Internet, and then the satellite television channels, Arab and Islamic propaganda of the kind seen on Al-Jazeera and Al-Manar would not have been so powerful. No longer can simple pious Muslims live in villages, completely unaware of their duties save for the five canonical daily prayers. Now the whole of Islam is far more readily available to them, with consequences both for Muslims and for the Infidels that are as yet unappreciated.
Those who argue that the existence of such new technology also makes it possible to influence Muslim minds so that some will have their faith weakened have not been able to show how any Western government has dared to broadcast the kind of information that would be necessary to do this — information about the connection between the political, economic, social, and intellectual failures of Muslim societies and Islam itself. Indeed, one discovers that deep behind enemy lines, Muslims are watching not the regular Western channels, but are insisting on getting their news — in Dearborn as in the East End of London, as in the banlieues of Paris and Lyon and Marseille, from Al-Jazeera: willingly, Arab Muslims limit themselves to Arab Muslim propaganda, for only that is “telling the truth.”
These three developments make it impossible for the Arabs and other Muslims to begin to make the connection of their own failures with Islam itself. Not a single Western government has pointed out — perhaps not a single Western government realizes — that the inshallah-fatalism with which Islam is instinct, explains the failure of these rich oil states after 33 years (and before that there was already enough wealth derived from oil for a generation to have idled through) to create anything like modern economies. Surely needs to be said both to Muslims and to Infidels who might be inclined to believe that they are somehow to be blamed for the poverty of some Muslim countries. (The usual inapposite invoking of “colonialism” and that “post-colonialism” that has no sell-by date, still can convince some.) And the continued payment of foreign aid by Infidels to every Muslim country or entity — Pakistan, Egypt, the “Palestinians” — is merely a disguised Jizyah. Of course should long ago have been abandoned, and the responsibility for helping fellow members of the umma have fallen to the fabulously rich Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other rich Arabs.
What can the Western world do? It cannot assume the kind of blithe optimism — that incautious and dangerous optimism of someone such as Paul Johnson. Although Johnson recognizes what Islam is all about, he is perhaps simply too tired to want to figure out how to deal with the problem. For that would require all kinds of mental effort. He prefers to think, with a wave of his hand, that somehow Muslims — despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite the fantastic hold Islam has over so many people no matter what is done by Muslims, prompted by Islamic teachings — will “collapse into secularism.”
Johnson has no evidence for this. All he has is a hope. The kind of hope that used to be called, and should still be called, a forlorn hope.
Those who wish to survive as Infidels, and who wish that the most primitive adherents of primitive and fossilized belief-systems would not be permitted to overwhelm other, superior peoples and civilizations — those who think they have some kind of duty to preserve their own civilizational legacy, will not be comforted by Johnson’s attitude. Rather, given his reputation for political steadfastness and sense, they will feel a certain alarm. Et tu, Johnson? — or possibly something a little less banal.