Many people have been emailing me John Derbyshire’s latest piece, “Islamophobophobia,” in which I figure prominently. Yes, of course I will answer, and of course my answer will be entitled “Islamophobophobophobia,” but today I am unfortunately quite busy with other matters.
I also have a “You talkin’ to me?” email in to Jonah Goldberg, asking if he means me in this Corner piece, when he says, “For some on the Right the mantra is ‘Islam is the problem.’ They will not stomach D’Souza’s fine distinctions between good Muslims and bad ones….We aren’t near the point where a respectable conservative says ‘the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,’ but one can smell the whiff of sulfur bubbling to the top of certain swamps.” I get the impression that Goldberg has imbibed of D’Souza’s relentless and uncorrected mischaracterizations of my positions, in which he persisted even after I corrected him repeatedly, but I am confident that all this will be sorted out in the near future.
[UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg writes: “Naw, I certainly didn’t have you in mind when I wrote that. Seriously. I have interactions, professional and from general readers, where people call me dhimmi simply because I don’t ‘hate’ islam enough for their tastes or show sufficient zeal. You weren’t part of all that.” Thanks, Jonah.]
So if you’ll permit me the self-indulgence of announcing that I am going to write a piece before I actually write it, allow me also to explain that I’m only doing so to set up this reply to Derbyshire by my good friend Jeff, who sent this to Derbyshire and has kindly allowed me to post it here also, and in many ways it surpasses anything I will eventually be able to write on these issues.
A fascinating piece, but let me play Devil’s advocate a bit. I think what I’m up against in a way is the positive version of your mild anti-Catholicism, and any riposte to your essay will fare about as well as an attempt to make you a fellow traveller of Pope Benedict!
Greco-Roman civilization and Christian civilization were open-ended and forward looking. Chinese civilization and Hindu civilization were more static but not closed to influence from outside, so that they could incorporate the forward looking elements of Western civilization with relative ease.
Islamic civilization is a “whole system,” as a Muslim friend told me recently. It tends toward totalitarianism, and toward constant renewals and self-purifications that push Western-type influences out. It’s much more like (but not completely like) communism. When communism learns to incorporate economic dynamism and individual rights, it ceases to function.
Perhaps part of the reaction of Islam today is not just religious pride in the ordinary sense of the word. Rather, it is a last-gasp defense of people with a religion that cannot adapt to the influence of free-market democratic secularism, and so feel the lime between the bricks dissolving.
One can be sympathetic with that to a large extent. But I think your mental image of non-intellectual Christians doesn’t quite fit the bill. You’re thinking of cultural Catholic and Anglicans and Orthodox, whose religion is more or less inherited.
Perhaps you’d do better to think of evangelical Christianity in the US. There is a constant tendency among evangelicals to “get religion,” though not all of them do. When they do, there are certain text-based core ideas that they will return to again and again.
And when Muslims “get religion,” those text-based elements will also come to the fore. Since Islam is fundamentally ABOUT social organization and law rather than inner spirituality (ask them! they will tell you so themselves!), those totalitarian, aggressive impulses and ideas will naturally appear.
And Muslims are wonderful at tiring out their competitors and conquerors. The Mongols and everyone else eventually decides that the easiest thing is just to become Muslims…then there won’t be such a fuss all the time.
The trouble is that then this systematic element of social dessication is there at the heart of what we are. Is it only Christians that have an interest in seeing that we don’t gradually Islamize to appease these irritable folks in our midst? Can one be a non-Christian and still see that the Greco-Roman and Christian elements at the root of our civilization are not random and incidental, but rather constitutive? Or does one have to be a “booster” to think so?