Friday, November 27, 2015

Three stories; three questions

After reading a lot of scholarly reactions to the November 13, 2015 jihad attacks in Paris, one man's remarks struck me.

Daniel Pipes thinks that only casualties in the hundreds of thousands, or more, will ever prompt Western elites in government, in bureaucracies, in media, in universities, to acknowledge that jihad is Islam, and then to address that. It would cost them their modern, educated souls to climb down from 21st century multicultural understanding to a medieval sort of will-to-live, freely. Until then, he thinks, leadership moves leftward after every attack, mouthing gentle things about extremists perverting the religion of peace, so as not to upset the "secular order" which they control. They stay cool and objective, they interview CAIR and maybe Pamela Geller, they administer airport security screening/theater, and so on. The public move rightward, common-sensically accepting that the Koran's sura 9:5 "kill them wherever you find them" means kill them wherever you find them. "Three million would surely" bring the two sides back together, he thinks. Only then might elites agree to change the secular order -- such that objectivity goes by the board and American grandmothers might no longer be told to remove their shoes before getting on a plane, for example, while dark swarthy men pass by with a nod. 

Apart from marveling at future generations' perhaps looking back and noting that circumstances prompted an intelligent man to think this, I wonder: If Pipes is right, what else might change? What would our civilizational response look like if our masters really did join us belatedly in the anonymous muck of our value judgments about sura 9:5? What if they and we all said, This ends. Now, -- ?

(Or would our lords and masters have been swept away, unchanging, like any ancien regime, first? I worry about them sometimes. I fear they don't know the Princesse de Lamballe, say, or Marie Antoinette, and ought to.)

I can foresee empty mosques being dynamited. Where they are permitted to stand, I can foresee prayers being supervised by soldiers in fatigues, who allow worship but not sermons, and who escort the faithful out in half an hour regardless of whether they think they've prayed enough. I can imagine male-female segregation being forbidden even inside. "Western women are free," the soldiers say, in French or Swedish or English, motioning people in one by one after frisking them. "Sit anywhere. Take off your veils so we can see who you are." I can foresee the muezzin's call to prayer being forbidden in Western lands, because the five-times-a-day ritual blared out on loudspeakers is not just the vocal equivalent of churchbells, but is an aggressive and calculated imposition of faith practice on all within earshot and, as such, constitutes, at least in the United States, exactly the establishment of a religion that our poor old Constitution forbids. I can imagine Western nations' armies summarily discharging Muslim soldiers, on the simple grounds that they can't be trusted.  I can imagine supermarket managers not giving a damn whether or not they offer "halal" meat .... 

On the other hand, even after elite catching up, and trembling agreement that this ends now, I can also foresee things going quite badly for a time. I can imagine troops -- again -- crouched in the rubble and the flickering flame-light of burning museums, shouting "Move! Move!" while their fellows throw hastily wrapped Leonardo panels and things into waiting helicopters pocked with holes. "Islam forbids art" is one of those wild, laughable generalizations which nevertheless may as well be true; while there seems to have been plenty of rule-bending among Muslims when it comes to making art, the rule exists. Considering the future in which this story takes place -- considering the past and present -- I can imagine jihadis happily carrying war backwards into the Renaissance and everywhere else. Why not? In Syria they carried it backward into ancient Palmyra. In Afghanistan they carried it backward to the Buddhism of circa 500 A.D. (For them the pertinent word is jahiliyyaignorance, meaning [the worthlessness of] all human activity before or outside Islam.) All of this means I can foresee, anyone can, Western troops on similar search-and-rescue duty outside concert halls or conservatories. Islam forbids music too, except for the lone male voice, chanting something pertaining to Islam. And don't forget the books. Even so sympathetic a historian as Bernard Lewis wrote about jahiliyya. "You don't study [the infidel's] meaningless history or read his absurd literature," he explained of the attitude which has resulted in almost no translations from Western languages into Arabic, Turkish, or Persian for a thousand years. The libraries may need soldiers, too. Not to mention the cathedrals. 

And suppose some elites don't join us? Islam must be very attractive to pal along with or even to convert to, especially for men, and for privileged men who can see which way the tide seems to be turning above all. Let's imagine a novel in which, say, the prime minister of the UK converts amid the burning museums, because what the hell. Power is good, he was never "Christian," he's now fully above any "law," and he can stay on at Chequers with more women. Islam's utter, righteous supremacy and the license it gives brutal types (women included) to deal death anywhere by Allah's revelation must create, for those types, a joyously godlike life. I was going to say "inner life" but it's not inner. You can act on it. Destruction is so much easier, less plodding, than creation. Add introductory posturings about desert simplicity, poverty, obedience, etc., etc., and you only ensparkle the cosmic glee.

There are my stories. Now the questions. You can't make value judgments without them. 

Regarding sura 9:5, would a good God command perpetual murder, giving to one group of human beings the power of life and death over all others for all time? Of course not. But why do Muslims not ask this question? One very prominent one did, recently. The president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in January 2015 around the time of the Paris Charlie Hebdo attacks, actually used the word "revolution" about Islam. He seems to have been largely ignored, at least in the cool and educated West. 

Another question. If the Arabic war cry "Allahu Akbar" literally means "our God is greater," doesn't that grammar imply two gods at least, and make Muslims polytheists? Isn't that a problem for them? (Note the suffix -u also means "our" in Hebrew, as in Aveinu malkeinu, "our Father, our King." With the difference that the Aveinu malkeinu prayer does not go on to compare gods, but rather to plead, "be gracious and answer us ...." ) 

And what is prophecy, after all? Among other things the Biblical prophets, at God's command, acted out weird shows in public, building dung fuel fires, breaking jars, lying so many days on the left side of the body and so many days on the right, to correspond to the number of years that the nations of Israel and Judah would live in exile for their sins. No kidding, read Ezekiel 4:4-6. The prophets gave themselves up to a seemingly bewildered obedience to actions meant to arouse curiosity in, to warn -- to enlighten, comfort, save -- other people. Heeding God made them oddly helpless. They didn't, as far as I know, reveal enthusiastic heavenly legislations on rape. Or if they did, they have been questioned and ignored on that subject by now, by the faithful using reason. Also God's gift.   

Meanwhile we wait. Daniel Pipes' outside estimate was three million. We wait for our elites to catch up to us, perhaps imagining stories and asking questions of their own. Barring some sort of reform or revolution of our own, there seems nothing to do but wait. The number again was three million. 

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris; 13th century. Image from Un jour de plus a Paris 

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