The Self-Hating West
by Circle or Line
It is said that history is written by the winners. This of course is a retrospective analysis. But what on earth will they say of the West of today, which is writing the history of its own defeat in advance? Raymond Ibrahim:
Because it is now almost axiomatic for American school textbooks to whitewash all things Islamic (see here for example), it may be useful to examine one of those aspects that are regularly distorted: the Muslim conquests.
If I were to say the words “Muslim Conquests” to you, would that not trigger a horror comparable to the words “White Man’s Burden”? And yet:
Few events of history are so well documented and attested to as are these conquests, which commenced soon after the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad (632) and tapered off circa 750. Large swathes of the Old World—from the India in the east, to Spain in the west—were conquered and consolidated by the sword of Islam during this time.
By the standards of history, the reality of these conquests is unassailable, for history proper concerns itself with primary sources; and the Islamic conquests are thoroughly documented. More importantly, the overwhelming majority of primary source materials we rely on do not come from non-Muslims, who might be accused of bias. Rather, the foremost historians bequeathing to posterity thousands of pages of source materials documenting the Islamic conquests were not only Muslims themselves; they were—and still are—regarded by today’s Muslims as pious and trustworthy scholars (generically, the ulema).
Among the most authoritative books devoted to recounting the conquests are: Ibn Ishaq’s (d. 767) Sira (“Life of Muhammad”), the oldest biography of Muhammad; Waqidi’s (d. circa. 820) Maghazi (“Military Campaigns [of the Prophet]“); Baladhuri’s (d. 892) Futuh al-Buldan (“Conquests of the Nations”); and Tabari’s (d.923) multi-volume Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, (“History of Prophets and Kings”), which is 40 volumes in the English translation.
Taken together, these accounts (which are primarily based on older accounts—oral and written—tracing back to Muhammad and his successors) provide what was once, and in the Muslim world still is, a famous story: that Allah had perfected religion (Islam) for all humanity; that he commanded his final prophet (Muhammad) and community (Muslims) to spread Islam to the world; and that the latter was/is to accept it either willingly or unwillingly (jihad).
It should be noted that contemporary non-Muslim accounts further validate the facts of the conquests. The writings of the Christian bishop of Jerusalem Sophronius (d.638), for instance, or the chronicles of the Byzantine historian Theophanes (d.758), to name a couple, make clear that Muslims conquered much of what is today called the “Muslim world.”
According to the Muslim historical tradition, the majority of non-Muslim peoples of the Old World, not desiring to submit to Islam or its laws (Sharia), fought back, though most were eventually defeated and subsumed.
The first major conquest, renowned for its brutality, occurred in Arabia itself, immediately after Muhammad’s death in 632. Many tribes which had only nominally accepted Islam’s authority, upon Muhammad’s death, figured they could break away; however, Muhammad’s successor and first caliph, or successor, Abu Bakr, would have none of that, and proclaimed a jihad against these apostates, known in Arabic as the “Ridda Wars” (or Apostasy Wars). According to the aforementioned historians, tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword until their tribes re-submitted to Islam.
The Ridda Wars ended around 634. To keep the Arab Muslims from quarreling, the next caliph, Omar, launched the Muslim conquests: Syria was conquered around 636, Egypt 641, Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire, 650. By the early 8th century, all of north Africa and Spain to the west, and the lands of central Asia and India to the east, were also brought under Islamic suzerainty.
The colorful accounts contained in the Muslim tradition are typified by constant warfare, which normally goes as follows: Muslims go to a new region and offer the inhabitants three choices: 1) submit (i.e., convert) to Islam; 2) live as second-class citizens, or “dhimmis,” paying special taxes and accepting several social debilitations; 3) fight to the death.
Centuries later, and partially due to trade, Islam came to be accepted by a few periphery peoples, mostly polytheists and animists, who followed no major religion (e.g., in Indonesia, Somalia), and who currently form the outer fringes of the Islamic world.
Ironically, these exceptions are now portrayed as the rule in America’s classrooms, as many textbooks suggest or at least imply that most people who converted to Islam did so under no duress, but rather through peaceful contacts with merchants and traders; that they eagerly opted to convert to Islam for the religion’s intrinsic appeal, without noting the many debilitations conquered non-Muslims avoided—extra taxes, second-rate social status, enforced humiliation, etc.—by converting to Islam. In fact, in the first century, and due to these debilitations, many conquered peoples sought to convert to Islam only to be rebuffed by the caliphate, which preferred to keep them as subdued—and heavily taxed—subjects, not as Muslim equals.
Meanwhile, as U.S. textbooks equivocate about the Muslim conquests, in the schoolrooms of the Muslim world, the conquests are not only taught as a matter of course, but are glorified: their rapidity and decisiveness are regularly portrayed as evidence that Allah was in fact on the side of the Muslims (and will be again, so long as Muslims uphold their communal duty of waging jihad).
The dissimulation of how Islam was spread in the early centuries contained in Western textbook’s mirrors the way the word jihad, once inextricable to the conquests, has also been recast. Whereas the word jihad has throughout the centuries simply meant armed warfare on behalf of Islam, in recent years, American students have been taught the Sufi interpretation of jihad—Sufis make up perhaps one percent of the Islamic world and are often seen as heretics with aberrant interpretations—which portrays jihad as a “spiritual-struggle” against one’s vices.
Contrast this definition of jihad with that of an early edition of the venerable Encyclopaedia of Islam. Its opening sentence simply states, “The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general.… Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam.… Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated.” Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.
Likewise, the Islamic conquests narrated in the Muslim histories often mirror the doctrinal obligations laid out in Islam’s theological texts—the Koran and Hadith. Muslim historians often justify the actions of the early Islamic invaders by juxtaposing the jihad injunctions found in Islamic scriptures.
It should also be noted that, to Muslims, the Islamic conquests are seen as acts of altruism: they are referred to as futahat, which literally means “openings”—that is, the countries conquered were “opened” for the light of Islam to enter and guide its infidel inhabitants. Thus to Muslims, there is nothing to regret or apologize for concerning the conquests; they are seen as for the good of those who were conquered (i.e., the ancestors of today’s Muslims).
In closing, the fact of the Muslim conquests, by all standards of history, is indisputable. Accordingly, just as less than impressive aspects of Western and Christian history, such as the Inquisition or conquest of the Americas, are regularly taught in U.S. textbooks, so too should the Muslim conquests be taught, without apology or fear of being politically incorrect. This is especially so because it concerns history—which has a way of repeating itself when ignored, or worse, whitewashed.
To ignore history is unwise. If we ignore the realities of conquest we do injustice to history. But – injustice is also done by ignoring the realities of Islamic civilization at its best. David E. Smith:
[T]he world owes a great debt to Arab scholars for preserving and transmitting to posterity the classics of Greek mathematics … their work was chiefly that of transmission, although they developed considerable ingenuity in algebra and showed some genius in their work in trigonometry.
Even more importantly was the rediscovery of Aristotle, made possible via translations of his work from the Arabic.
But the issue of interest to me at the moment is not with the fact of the Muslim Conquests. Nor with the fact of our present tragic conflict with, as Huntington would say, the “bloody borders” of the fundamentalists. I am interested in what this typical omission in our education says about us. We are what we have chosen to ignore – I am interested in the West’s self-perception. And I wonder when, if ever, we will get over our colonialist hangover.
Now, this hangover obviously still directs our actions in the strategic arena. Rachel Campos-Duffy:
I was pretty peeved when I learned this week that the White House gave Gitmo detainees a $750,000 soccer field. How many poor communities right here in the US would have been far more deserving recipients of this taxpayer funded gift?
Now we learn that sensitivity experts in the White House ensured a more respectful handling of Osama bin Ladin’s remains than the Dover Air Force Base Mortuary may have given 9-11 victims. Government investigators are looking into the possibility that partial remains of 9-11 victims could have ended up in a landfill.
Behavior like this is not the result of some surface-level expediency. This is the result of something which affects us to the root. When it gets up and looks in the mirror in the morning, there is something in the very heart and soul of the West that is depressed. In the full clinical sense of the word. The soul of the West loathes itself. And it has done so since it realized that the Enlightenment dream of infinite progress had been shattered. James Kurth:
Half a century ago, Western civilization was a central idea, and ideal, in American political and intellectual discourse. American political leaders frequently said that the United States was the heir to Western civilization and that it had a duty to defend the West against its enemies, most obviously the communist bloc led by the Soviet Union (sometimes termed “the East”). American academic leaders regarded the Western tradition with respect, and courses on Western civilization were widely taught and often required in American universities. The 1950s were an era when the leading institutions of America (and with their support and guidance, the leading institutions of Europe as well) were confident and articulate in identifying with and promoting the Western tradition.
Today, Western civilization is almost never mentioned, much less promoted, in political and intellectual discourse, either in America or in Europe. When it is mentioned amongst Western elites, the traditions of the West are almost always an object of criticism or contempt. Instead, real discussion of Western civilization is usually undertaken by the political, intellectual, and religious leaders of non-Western societies – most obviously, Muslim societies. Indeed, the idea of the West seems to be most charged with vital energy in the excited mind of our civilization’s principle contemporary enemy, radical Islam. The most lively consciousness of the West actually seems to be found within the East. But within the West itself (i.e. the United States, Europe, and also Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) it sometimes seems that the Western civilization of fifty years ago has become a lost civilization today.
Kurth’s essay is worth reading in its entirety. One of the ideas he implies here is that the East has, as it were, written its own response to Edward Said, called “Occidentalism” – and that response has itself become standard “amongst Western elites”.
He also, like all conservatives, tends to pinpoint the West’s political fall from Eden to a specific temporal location. I think this is an error and that spiritual truths can better inform political ones. Summarizing Sri Aurobindo, Gagdad Bob states:
This cosmos is a four-banger. After the big bang, we get the equally big bangs of Life, Mind, and Spirit, although I’m sure the least of you kits realizes that what is chronologically later is ontologically earlier.
Life is ontologically anterior (but existentially posterior) to biology, just as consciousness is prior to matter.
Be that as it may, for those who are neither religiously or metaphysically inclined, there may be no alternative way to capture the idea of a “lost civilization today”. Kurth’s own preference in his essay is to analyze how the concepts of classical culture, Christianity and the Enlightenment changed in the 1960s. I personally think it makes more sense to locate the moment of decline here:
That the West is approached by modern conservatives with solicitude for its vulnerabilities is an artifact of the time of troubles that was the twentieth century. Earlier and particularly nineteenth-century presumptions about the West were nearly always whiggish celebrations of the historically “inevitable” progress of Western European civilization to its rightful place in the imperial sun: “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set, / God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet” was a British invocation, but it summed up a more general sense that the West was simply “the best”—and destined for indefinite global dominion. That confidence, however, was profoundly shaken by the civilizational self-immolation of the First World War. For many on the Left, the carnage of the Great War was evidence of the structural flaws of Western “bourgeois democracy,” requiring the remedy of revolution. For conservatives, however, the conflict powerfully tempered any disposition to celebrate our civilization’s achievements with a pronounced sense of challenge and threat.
In any case I harbor no doubt that the soul of the West hates itself. We are a “lost civilization today”. And this self-hatred remains the primary explanation of our foreign policy and its failures. Our war-fighting is merely one example of this. When a rational country fights a war, it goes to win – to utterly defeat its enemy. But today the West exists in the limbo between the debacle of Vietnam and its future role as mere World Cop for the UN.
In a depressed person, however, the extent of sickness is most clearly seen not in how they treat others but how they perceive themselves. Likewise the self-hatred of the West is shown by its own suicidal efforts to wipe itself out of existence without the aid of outside influence at all. Kurth:
Post-modern ideologues have engaged in a compulsive anti-Western project in both Europe and America. They have been joined by their post-colonial counterparts in the non-Western world. Together, they have formed a grand alliance against Western civilization, and they seek to obliterate it everywhere around the world, and especially within the West itself.
The principle enemy of Western civilization is within the West itself. The West’s great enemy today is the contemporary version of the Enlightenment, especially the French Enlightenment. Because of its universalist pretensions and illusions, its adherents have made the peoples of the West undiscriminating about other cultures and unconfident about their own. They have therefore made the West disoriented and vulnerable to assault from the East, and especially from Islam. This assault may come from sustained or catastrophic attacks by transnational networks of Islamic terrorists.
Or it may come from similar attacks by members of the large and alienated Muslim communities now residing within the West, especially in Europe. However, for Western civilization, Islam is merely a disease of the skin; the Enlightenment, has mutated into a disease of the heart.
This disease of the heart has ravaged us. It has left our culture as nothing more than a mosaic or a museum piece gathering dust. The post-modern “democratic” and “progressive” state is slowly completing its goal of drowning out the ancient voice of what Burke called the “moral imagination”. Even using such language seems quaint. This is no longer even surprising. Genevieve Kineke:
A recent court case concerning two Scottish midwives is chilling. Midwives have traditionally been laudable women who help others bring new life safely into the world. As far back as the Book of Exodus, their singular devotion to life was clear when they refused the order from the Egyptian Pharaoh demanding that they kill the male infants born to the Jewish women. When summoned to explain themselves, they concocted a clever story.
“Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them (Exodus 1:18-21).
Unfortunately, this reputation notwithstanding, most British midwives have long been diverted from the beauty of birth to the dirty work of aborting those babies who are unwanted. The government enlisted their services as a cost-saving device, since their training is less expensive than doctors, but it was also pragmatic, since British doctors are increasingly opting out of performing abortions. Since the 1967 Abortion Act included a conscience clause, doctors can request exemptions, and they have been doing so in “unprecedented numbers” according to a statement from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Thus, while early terminations take place in a hospital’s gynecology wing, the later procedures—usually due to suspected fetal disabilities—are performed on the delivery wing, and senior midwives were required to oversee the staff responsible for the abortions. Two asked for exemptions, due to their religious convictions and in light of the conscience clause. The court has just refused their request.
The ruling handed down at the end of February said that their objection is not covered by the conscience clause of the Abortion Act, allowing the judge in the case to exercise a tyranny that Pharaoh himself couldn’t manage. When even the fundamental issues of life and death are not covered by a conscience clause, a culture has pretty well lost its understanding of the human person.
The loss of the transcendent order is thus not only the loss of morality, but the loss of life, in its fullest sense. Life itself is given or taken away by Leviathan when pragmatic. Leviathan becomes utilitarian and realization of its final goal exists only in utopia, perpetually postponed. Russell Kirk:
With Irving Babbitt, we may call the mode of imagination represented by Rousseau “the idyllic imagination”—that is, the imagination which rejects old dogmas and old manners and rejoices in the notion of emancipation from duty and convention.
When that occurs, too often a third form of imagination obtains ascendancy. In his lectures entitled After Strange Gods (1934), T. S. Eliot touches upon the diabolic imagination: that kind of imagination which delights in the perverse and subhuman.
Thus the final end of all nihilism is the elimination of the human being from all moral systems. Why? Remi Brague:
For Aquinas, following in a certain sense Aristotle, natural law is the law that springs, not from nature in general, but from the nature of man in particular. This nature does not mean the raw or (allegedly) purely biological dimension of human beings. Rather, it is expressed by the classical definition: man is a rational animal. In this definition, what most defines man’s nature is not his animal side, which he shares with other living beings, but what Aquinas calls ratio, a word that had been chosen as the standard rendering of the Greek logos. Moreover, this “reason” is not merely an instrumental rationality that can calculate the best means for survival. Rather, it is a power that can choose as well the means for fostering the moral fullness or perfection of human nature.
In other words, against Hobbes, Aquinas believes that human nature has only been weakened, subject to an inclination to evil contrary to reason, which is called “concupiscence”. But for Leviathan, if a human being in his natural state is not a “rational” animal, then, with human reason out of the way, what more need is there for humans to make moral decisions? They become the domain of Leviathan.
And of course this nihilism is not merely some temporary passion. It has roots in dogmas that have been supported by its own holy books, academies, creeds and preachers. Witness “media bias”. Kirsten Powers:
[I]f Limbaugh’s actions demand a boycott—and they do—then what about the army of swine on the left?
During the 2008 election Ed Schultz said on his radio show that Sarah Palin set off a “bimbo alert.” He called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut.” (He later apologized.) He once even took to his blog to call yours truly a “bimbo” for the offense of quoting him accurately in a New York Post column.
Keith Olbermann has said that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp should have been aborted by her parents, apparently because he finds her having opinions offensive. He called Michelle Malkin a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick.” He found it newsworthy to discuss Carrie Prejean’s breasts on his MSNBC show. His solution for dealing with Hillary Clinton, who he thought should drop out of the presidential race, was to find “somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.” Olbermann now works for über-leftist and former Democratic vice president Al Gore at Current TV.
Left-wing darling Matt Taibbi wrote on his blog in 2009, “When I read [Malkin’s] stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of balls in her mouth.” In a Rolling Stone article about Secretary of State Clinton, he referred to her “flabby arms.” When feminist writer Erica Jong criticized him for it, he responded by referring to Jong as an “800-year old sex novelist.” (Jong is almost 70, which apparently makes her an irrelevant human being.) In Taibbi’s profile of Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann he labeled her “batshit crazy.” (Oh, those “crazy” women with their hormones and all.)
Chris Matthews’s sickening misogyny was made famous in 2008, when he obsessively tore down Hillary Clinton for standing between Barack Obama and the presidency, something that Matthews could not abide. Over the years he has referred to the former first lady, senator and presidential candidate and current secretary of state as a “she-devil,” “Nurse Ratched,” and “Madame Defarge.” Matthews has also called Clinton “witchy,” “anti-male,” and “uppity” and once claimed she won her Senate seat only because her “husband messed around.” He asked a guest if “being surrounded by women” makes “a case for commander in chief—or does it make a case against it?” At some point Matthews was shamed into sort of half apologizing to Clinton, but then just picked up again with his sexist ramblings.
Matthews has wondered aloud whether Sarah Palin is even “capable of thinking” and has called Bachmann a “balloon head” and said she was “lucky we still don’t have literacy tests out there.” Democratic strategist Jehmu Greene, who is the former president of the Women’s Media Center, told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in 2011 that Matthews “is a bully, and his favorite target is women.” So why does he still have a show? What if his favorite target was Jews? Or African-Americans?
But the grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher—who also happens to be a favorite of liberals—who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. Maher has called Palin a “dumb twat” and dropped the C-word in describing the former Alaska governor. He called Palin and Congresswoman Bachmann “boobs” and “two bimbos.” He said of the former vice-presidential candidate, “She is not a mean girl. She is a crazy girl with mean ideas.” He recently made a joke about Rick Santorum’s wife using a vibrator. Imagine now the same joke during the 2008 primary with Michelle Obama’s name in it, and tell me that he would still have a job. Maher said of a woman who was harassed while breast-feeding at an Applebee’s, “Don’t show me your tits!” as though a woman feeding her child is trying to flash Maher. (Here’s a way to solve his problem: don’t stare at a strangers’ breasts). Then, his coup de grâce: “And by the way, there is a place where breasts and food do go together. It’s called Hooters!”
Liberals—you know, the people who say they “fight for women”—comprise Maher’s audience, and a parade of high-profile liberals make up his guest list. Yet have any of them confronted him? Nope. That was left to Ann Coulter, who actually called Maher a misogynist to his face, an opportunity that feminist icon Gloria Steinem failed to take when she appeared on his show in 2011.
This is not to suggest that liberals—or feminists—never complain about misogyny. Many feminist blogs now document attacks on women on the left and the right, including Jezebel, Shakesville, and the Women’s Media Center (which was cofounded by Steinem). But when it comes to high-profile campaigns to hold these men accountable—such as that waged against Limbaugh—the real fury seems reserved only for conservatives, while the men on the left get a wink and a nod as long as they are carrying water for the liberal cause.
After all, if Limbaugh’s outburst is part of the “war on women,” then what is the routine misogyny of liberal media men?
We suffer constant setback. As an encouragement, I present a recent example of someone trying to bring an interviewer back to the real debate points (and this is a rare occasion of success in that regard):
And here is another little titbit, a counter-intel meme, or sign of contradiction of our own. But when everyone spends all day merely screaming slogans at each other, does anyone care?
Is it all too late? Have we crossed over into the event horizon? Kurth:
Within the West itself, who are the conscious defenders of Western civilization in all its authenticity and fullness, and not merely of its Enlightenment universalist heresy? Certainly not the liberals. Liberals in the intellectual sector (academia and the media) are largely multiculturalists and transnationalists; those in the business sector are largely globalists; and those in the political sector (most obviously in the Democratic Party in the United States) largely represent these post-Western intellectual and economic views. In any event, liberals have never liked tradition—and therefore the Western traditions—anyway. Indeed, they only accept their own tradition, that of the Enlightenment, if they reconceive it as being not a “tradition,” but rather “progress.”
One would, of course, expect conservatives to like and support tradition. But among purported conservatives today, it has become important to make a distinction between traditional conservatives and neoconservatives. From their origins (be it as followers of Leon Trotsky or of Leo Strauss), neo-conservatives have seen the Christian tradition as an alien, even a threatening, one. As for the classical tradition, their view of it has been formed by the decidedly untraditional interpretation of classical philosophy given by Strauss. The only Western tradition that the neoconservatives actually want to defend is the Enlightenment. They have wanted to defend it against attacks emanating from postmodernists, and in recent years, they have wanted to advance it in the rest of the world with the establishment of a kind of American empire. This latter is not a conservative project but a radical and revolutionary one. For the most part, it might be said that, with friends like the neoconservatives, Western civilization does not need enemies.
The true defenders of the Western traditions will be the traditional conservatives.
And for me, this traditional conservatism, or classical liberalism, can be found in most perfect expression in Edmund Burke, James Madison and Russell Kirk. This venerable tradition has struggled to flourish in between the indefensible extremes of neo-conservatism (that is, Trotskyism or Lenninism) and libertarianism.
[Traditional conservatives] are able to recognize that the central and crucial tradition of Western civilization is the Christian tradition. The Christian religion assumed to itself and developed the best elements of the classical tradition, while subordinating them to a higher Biblical truth. The Christian religion also gave rise to the best elements of the Enlightenment tradition, while also subordinating them to a higher Biblical truth. It is the Christian tradition, in other words, that kept the other Western traditions in balance.Perhaps in our time it is the calling of those few traditional conservatives found within the educated elite to reach out to the large numbers of Christians within the wider population, to help deepen their understanding of the major issues before us, and to give voice to their Christian — and Western — convictions and concerns.
The protagonists of the contemporary version of the Enlightenment may think that they will create a global and universal civilization, both abroad and at home, but the evidence is accumulating that they have instead opened the doors to the barbarians, both without (e.g., Islamic terrorists) and within (e.g., pagan disregard for the dignity of human life). The best defense against the new barbarians will be found in the Christian religion. With the Christian tradition, Western civilization became the most creative, indeed the highest, civilization in human history. Without the Christian tradition, Western civilization could come to nothing. With a revival of the Christian tradition, Western civilization will not only prevail over the new barbarians, but it will become more truly civilized than it is today.