One would need to be the infamous Blind Freddy not to recognise that the West is on a hiding to nothing as it struggles to contend with its Islamic imbroglio. There are many reasons for this but I suggest the most dangerous are found in the many common and comforting consensuses that have arisen over the Religion of Peace, as some would have it. These are no more than convenient delusions.
Perhaps the most dangerous consensus is the misconception that Islamic State (ISIS), the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist variants are the problem to be addressed and that, with sufficient firepower, the obvious manifestations of these elements can be contained or eliminated. In fact these groups are simply elements of a much larger issue: the re-emergence of a militant and resurgent Islam.
History shows that the drive for a worldwide Islamic caliphate is as old as the Qur’an itself, and in the 1,400 years since the Muslims’ sacred text appeared, the religion’s fortunes in achieving that goal have waxed and waned. Today we see a revitalization of this dream, but this time there are significant, profound differences. First, younger Islamic leaders are practicing Islam as explicitly prescribed in the Qur’an, and it is important to note that a high proportion of Muslims in Western nations are under 25 years of age. Second, over the past century Islam has moved from being Middle Eastern-centric, with but a meager demographic representation in traditional secular democracies, to having sizeable Muslim populations in those countries. Third, events in the Middle East, together with Islamist-sanctioned terrorist events across the globe, have given encouragement to those who share the hope of a worldwide caliphate. Fourth, modern technology and better management among Islamic leaders is being used to orchestrate a more coherent Islamic narrative, one that is backed by contemporary firepower.
Simply put, the obvious threats on which the West is focused, whilst their containment or defeat may play a role, are not the main game. Moreover, the focus on these distractions is playing into the hands of resurgent Islam as the West wastes money, resources and time pursuing chimeras.
The second consensus is that Muslims are being radicalized because they are disillusioned, uneducated or marginalized. These characteristics may play a part in some cases but the more likely explanation is that those being radicalised are being convinced by their handlers to follow the dictates of the Qur’an in the hope of the rewards promised. The Qur’an’s coercive management style incentivises believers to undertake “good deeds”, such as praying, alms-giving and the like. The literalist interpretation, as favoured and advocated by radical elements and preachers, sees this admonition extended to include donning the veil, leading protests against perceived grievances and imagined slights. It is a small step to the point where quite horrific “good deeds” are perpetrated in the name of Islam — going off to fight with ISIS, for example, or preaching that it is the religious duty of others to do so.
The third misconception is the hope that those who have been radicalised can be de-radicalised, with much money spent on programs pitched as achieving this goal. In an excellent Quadrant Online article last year, the University of New South Wales’ Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology, demonstrated persuasively that deradicalisation is a pipedream. Kessler’s summation:
Restoring the militants to the mainstream seen as “good Islam” does not even start to confront or uproot the underlying attitudes that drive radical Islam, as those attitudes are themselves inherent and ingrained within the mainstream mindset and outlook and its basic assumptions.
And there’s the rub. It matters little if the Muslim mainstream goes along with the idea of de-radicalisation programs, calls for more action by government and, inevitably, requests more money: the precepts of the Qur’an ensure that, while individuals may be restored to the mainstream, the message itself remains an inherent element of holy scripture and is thus always available to be preached and attract fresh acolytes.
The fourth misconception is that there are moderate Muslims. But how do you distinguish them? Is it someone who follows the dictates of the Qur’an but skips over the nasty bits? Is it someone who is a Muslim in name only: a sort of atheistic Muslim? Is it someone who believes in the dictates of the Qur’an and a worldwide caliphate but is letting others do the hard yards? Whatever a moderate Muslim is or might be, the West’s banking that they represent the majority — a silent majority that, ideally, will reject and overthrow the religion’s evil manifestations. But what if this assumption is wrong? It is true that here are many forms of Islam — Sufi, Sunni, Salifist, Shia — to name but a few, and some seem friendlier than others. Nevertheless, however each has developed its own version of Islam, all Muslims read the same Qur’an and that has not changed in over 1,400 years. And there is the problem.
With the above in mind, another very popular misconception is that Islam should reform the Qur’an: a sort of Islamic reformation akin to the transformation Martin Luther and others wrought on Christianity. This idea has been floated by both Muslims and non-Muslims, notably President Sisi of Egypt and deposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Is the idea practical? As noted above, there are many manifestations of Islam and they lack a “centre” to weld these fractious and multitudinous forms together. Islam’s various forms continuously compete for both physical and theological dominance, as history graphically attests. The chances of getting any agreement across all forms is negligible to the point of the fanciful.
A second, more fraught issue is, once again, the Qur’an itself. Re-writing a text deemed by all factions to be the word of Allah, a perfect document, is another pipedream. Incidentally, the analogy to Christianity is something of a red herring, as the Christian reformation did not change any words in the Bible, it simply clarified erroneous interpretations of Biblical precepts. Had it done otherwise it would never have succeeded. One cannot imagine that the Prophet’s instruction to, say, “strike at the neck” of unbelievers could be made less bloodthirsty, regardless of the theological legerdemain brought to bear.
Perhaps the most dangerous misconception that has gained some traction is the notion that Islamic and Christian values, and by default secular democratic values, are similar.This was suggested recently by a professor of religious studies no less, and on the ABC’s Q&A program by a Muslim guest. The most astonishing aspect was not the theological invalidity of the statements, but that no member of the panel or of the audience sought to take issue with the assertion. That silence said a lot about Australia’s spiritual immaturity, as nothing could be further from the truth, as the precepts of Islam and Christianity are diametric opposites. Islam pits Muslims against non-Muslims; Christianity instructs followers to love their neighbors as themselves. Islam’s aim is the subjugation of all to the God of the Qur’an; Christianity asks people to consider the claims of the God of the Bible and make personal decisions. Islam offers salvation through the coercive performance of “good deeds”; Christianity’s salvation comes through faith in promises of the God of the Bible. Are these differences important? They should be for the West, whose secular democracy is founded on the precepts of the Bible. On this issue the West is myopic behind its rose-coloured glasses.
So, what can the West do? It must offer something to Muslims more attractive than Islam, something that draws Muslims to its core principles, something they will want to be part of. What’s that you say? Of course we can! We’ve got our wonderful secular democracy and all its modern diversions and indulgences. But is it so wonderful?
Scratch the surface, or just pay attention to the daily news, and what we observe is a society that is hedonistic and materialistic, awash with drugs, alcohol and sex and governed by political correctness. Over the past sixty years the acceptance of liberal ideologies has led to the situation where the Judeo-Christian ethos that framed the West’s secular democracy has been eroded to the point where, on the sober assessment of an Islamist outsider, our society is weak and flabby. Moreover, and of primary importance to Muslims, is the abandonment by the West of the God of the Bible, the author of that Judeo-Christian heritage. The West has lost its moral and spiritual capital and is becoming a danger to itself, irrespective of resurgent Islam. At the very least, if the West is not the agent of its own destruction it is certainly offering Islamists of all stripes a very convenient platform on which to pursue their objectives.
What can the West do? The answer is simple but requires courage, hard work, and some eating of humble pie. The West must accept that micro-managing threats and force of arms alone is not the real issue, as outlined at the start of this article. Political leaders, religious leaders, and community leaders all need to recognize there must also be a spiritual response – our secular democracy, with all its liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment, will never be able to articulate a narrative with man at its centre that is attractive to Muslims. As noted before, the West has become so satiated with its own enlightened righteousness that it does not recognise that all the benefits it enjoys come from the precepts of the God it has abandoned. The commentator Greg Sheridan has astutely noted when speaking of Iran:
No one in the West takes the idea of God seriously any more and cannot conceive of a government whose actual real behaviour is determined by theological goals.
Western leaders must understand these realities and encourage their nations to regain their moral and spiritual capital by recognizing and admitting our past mistakes and engaging or re-engaging with the God of the Bible. In doing so the West can regain its moral and spiritual capital and be in a better position to demonstrate the truth with love to Muslims and show by example that this renewed pattern of secular democracy can offer the certainty, confidence and freedom that all people long for. However difficult this road may be, unless the West takes this lead the outcome can only be calamity for all mankind.
UPDATE (and editor’s note): It is to be regretted that, at the time the original article appeared on Quadrant Online, a cyber snafu prevented the author responding to several of the reader comments below. Rather than retro-fit the response into the comments stream, where it might be overlooked, Mr Campbell’s thoughts are presented below.
First, thank you to all who have contributed and for the constructive nature of the discussion. And thanks to Ian who suggested that the author and Mark should not abandon our day jobs!
It is clear that the concept of encouraging the West to re-engage with the God of the Bible has some people running for cover. Unfortunately, they do so under a number of old clichés that should be put to bed: a bit like Mr Hitchens (sorry Rob Brighton). In summary: we don’t like the idea of repent and believe; there is the concern that the suggested approach will uproot liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment and send us back to the Middle Ages; the idea smacks of a reversion to a theocracy; and the old chestnut that the Reformation and the Enlightenment were the formative events that shaped Christianity to the point where it is today. Let’s start with the last point.
Today we look on the Reformation and the Enlightenment as the two fundamental events that straightened out Christianity and Christianity can now be considered as the child of the Reformation and the Enlightenment’s liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment. It’s true these two movements did rescue Christianity from going off the rails: the designs of men had high-jacked Christianity for their own benefit. Then, having considered Christianity ‘fixed’, we lost sight of understanding what the Bible was really saying to us. But, and it’s a big but, the Reformation and the Enlightenment did not change one word of the Bible and it is with the God of the Bible that I am suggesting the West must engage. I will now look at the other issues noted above not using fashionable theology but that of the Bible.
Several comments (wse999 and Ian MacDougall) suggest that I am proposing a form of theocracy, abandoning the concept of church and state: far from it. In the Bible Jesus made it quite clear that there is to be that separation when answering a question from the Jewish leaders. This directive is further emphasized in Peter’s first pastoral letter in which he instructs Christians to submit to every authority instituted by men. In a slightly tangential but relevant way Jesus instructed his followers to make disciples from all nations not to make all nations disciples. Christianity is big enough to look after itself: it does not need the State to do so as does Islam. And note, Christianity is an opt-in deal and my call to leaders, and that includes political, spiritual, and community leaders, is to encourage people to opt-in, not to ignore it as is presently happening or dragoon it.
Another expressed concern is that the approach could lead to the dumbing down of liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment (Ian MacDougall,) and a reversion to the Middle Ages. Again, far from it, but here I must admit to not being sufficiently precise and probably taking too much for granted.
You could hardly get a more liberal person than Jesus. Reading the Gospels we see him constantly upbraiding, and in dispute with, the Jewish authorities over their nitpicking laws, their hypocrisy and their political correctness. He constantly said he was the truth and the truth would liberate people – and he meant it! Again, Jesus’ life was a model of modernity demonstrated by his relationships with others, his compassion, his understanding, and his empathy. As regards women he was not just ahead of his time but set an example that our modernity would be battling to emulate today.
In regard to scientific enlightenment Jesus was more than impressive: amongst other example he walked on water, he created much out of little, he healed all manner of diseases and physical ailments, he raised people from death, on several occasions he used teleporting, and he cured mental illnesses. And, without being irreverent, my two favourites, he knew how to spot a school of fish and he could turn water into wine. Scientific enlightenment, eat you heart out: today we are just scratching the surface.
No, I am in no way suggesting the dumbing down or abandonment of, liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment. What I am suggesting is that by reengaging with the God of the Bible we can put in place a moral and spiritual floor under these three strands of secular democracy that will enable us to discern in them what is good and right and, in the long, run best for mankind. At the moment we are footloose and fancy free with no centre to give direction and guidance and our society is suffering for it. I’m sure readers can come up with a laundry list of examples but one of real concern to me is that our political leaders can’t even make a decision.
One G K Chesterton character made the remark, ‘the first effect of not believing in God is that you lose your common sense’. I agree it could be taken as a trite and cute remark but think about it. How often today do we hear the phrase, ‘What ever happened to common sense?’ Or, ‘it doesn’t pass the pub test’. May I suggest that the Chesterton remark could provide the answer?
Thank you to Mark Smith, Matt, and Bran Dee for your supportive comments. Bran Dee, as regards the Church you are correct. For this reason I have clearly identified church leaders as having a critical role in forcefully alerting society to its appalling state. As the article stated we are facing two threats, Islam on the one hand and the seeds we continue to sow for our own destruction. It is almost as if we are in the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah. If you want to bring in history then perhaps Islam is the West’s Babylon or Assyria! In either case church leaders have to step up to the plate and put aside interfaith dialogue and political correctness and start to preach ‘repent and believe!’ Ian, take note!
Bill Martin, thank you for your exhaustive list of Qur’anic imperatives. But Bill, as I have said, bombs and bullets may be part of the action but in the final issue if we cannot provide an environment where we can win people over with love then it’s not worth the candle.
Jim Campbell, an engineer and consultant, is the author of The Logic of the Qur’an