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April 01st 2015 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch

Modern Jeremiahs & That Other Prophet

Long ago, before 9/11, the Lindt siege, the rise of ISIS and so many other outrages against civilisation,  G.K. Chesterton, Conan Doyle and Albert Camus warned not only of Islam's predatory ambitions, but the complicity of the West's eager fools and main-chancers

sharia zoneIn 1910, with Prussian militarism apparently the greatest looming threat to the British Empire and Western civilization, G. K. Chesterton published a novel, The Flying Inn, in which he argued the longest-lasting threat was Islam, and its attractiveness to a certain type of liberal mind. In the story, the jaded British upper-class and smart set are captivated by a fashionable, nuanced variety of Islam, headed by the urbane, silver-tongued Nietzschean nihilist Lord Ivywood (“I see the breaking of barriers; beyond that I see nothing”) and a strange little Turk, Misyra Ammon.

The cross is replaced by trend-crazed clergymen on the spires of the great cathedrals with a multi-cultural, politically correct symbol combining cross and crescent, and alcohol is forbidden for working people (though the smart set can still obtain it for themselves). Furtive preparations are made to introduce polygamy and harems, though there are limits to the imagination of the greatest writers and prophets: even Chesterton could not, or would not, have foreseen Dr Germaine Greer defending female circumcision as an authentic cultural artefact.

The real-world idiocies of political correctness and multiculturalism are predicted with frightening accuracy: the children’s game of noughts and crosses is replaced by noughts and crescents. This Islamification of England is led by an alliance of the fanatical and the corrupt.

Resistance is led by a rambunctious Irishman, Captain Dalroy, and an English inn-keeper, Humphrey Pump. These, and a poet they convert to their cause, drive around England with an inn-sign and a cask of rum, giving out drinks as they go, and recruiting followers.

At the climax it is revealed there was nothing nuanced or ecumenical about the Islamification of England at all: Lord Ivywood has been secretly bringing in a Turkish army, which is almost ready to strike:

“There, encamped in English meadows, with a hawthorn-tree in front of them and three beeches behind, was something that has never been in camp nearer than some leagues south of Paris, since that Carolus called The Hammer broke it backward at Tours.

“There flew the green standard of that great faith and strong civilization which has so often almost entered the great cities of the West; which long encircled Vienna, which was barely barred from Paris; but which had never before been seen in arms on the soil of England.”

The betrayed and infuriated English people revolt, and in a decisive battle the Turks are overthrown. Lord Ivywood, like Nietzsche, goes mad, and Dalroy gets the girl.

Chesterton was original not only in seeing a then apparently down-and-out Islam was still a threat to Europe, but also in seeing that the Islamic conquest would not be possible without a preceding culture war to destroy the social agents of resistance, that Islam had a certain seductiveness for a type of jaded Western mind, and that the betrayers would not be the lower classes but the wealthy elite.

A few years before this (thanks to Mark Steyn and his America Alone for the heads-up), in 1897, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, after visiting Egypt published The Tragedy of the Korosko, the story of a party of European tourists in Egypt kidnapped by the followers of the Mahdi, the al Qaeda or ISIS of the day. As Steyn says: “What’s striking is how familiar it all is. The sudden intrusion of unbending savagery upon modern man.”

Some of the Mahdists are acquainted with Western learning and science, but have no interest in it (except, presumably, for weapons). Doyle grasped the gulf between Islam and the scientific and technological West. One Mahdist who has been to university says:

“But the learning of the faithful is not as the learning of the unbeliever, and it is not fitting that we pry too deeply into the ways of Allah. Some stars have tails, oh my sweet lamb, and some have not, but what does it profit us to know which are which? For God made them all, and they are very safe in his hands.… Understand that there is only one wisdom, which comes from Allah…”

Here Doyle saw more deeply even than Rudyard Kipling, who knew a good deal about Eastern religions and thought-patterns, but who in his 1898 poem Kitchener’s School suggested that the Mahdists would be grateful for Western education and celebrated the British general’s policy of sending them an army of school-teachers to instruct them in Western science and technology as well as cricket (“an army to make you wise,” as he had one grateful but fictional Muslim put it).

In Doyle’s story some of the Europeans take refuge in conspiracy theories, believing tales of Muslim murder and atrocities have been cooked up by the British government to provide a pretext for intervention. Some of the Europeans emphasize to their Muslim kidnappers how much they understand their point of view. Doyle predicted the “Stockholm syndrome” of the victim coming to identify with the terrorist cause.

“The Frenchman waved his unwounded hand as he walked. ‘Vive la Khalifa! Vive le Mahdi! He shouted until a blow from behind with the butt end of a Remington beat him into silence.”

Steyn comments: “For, as did the kidnappers of those Iraqi ‘peacemakers,’ the Dervishes see a supportive infidel as only an infidel.

The hundreds of prisoners of ISIS stripped to their underwear and drove into the desert to be machine-gunned (hoping perhaps that the machine-gun, somewhat capricious and inexact in its aim, would hit them somewhere that killed them quickly, or the Jordanian pilot burnt alive in a cage), were more than “supportive infidels” — they were fellow-Muslims.

Albert Camus’s 1957 short story “The Renegade”, in his collection Exile and The Kingdom,  takes the Stockholm Syndrome of Doyle’s Frenchman to an extreme. It is also an exploration of the attractiveness of evil which may be relevant to the spectacle of young men educated in Western liberal democracies joining ISIS.

It is an interior monologue of a French priest – a weak, stupid man – who goes to North Africa (somewhere near, and resembling, Timbuktu) as a self-appointed missionary, is captured and has his tongue cut out by the cruel local tribesmen. He is converted to the worship of cruelty and evil. He shoots, wounds, and then beats to death the priest sent to replace him. He hopes to start a war that will give his captors a chance to conquer and spread throughout Europe, and comments on how good it feels to strike the face of goodness with his rifle butt (the tribesmen are not said to be Muslims, but they could not be anything else).

His captors, far from being grateful, or perhaps just to shut him up, mete out a punishment which even after what has gone before is a shock. The interior monologue ceases abruptly and “A fistful of salt stops the mouth of the babbling slave.”