None of the words “Islam,” “Muslim,” or “Muhammed,” nor any of the variant spellings of the latter two, occur in the index to George H. Nash’s 1976 classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America. It is certainly possible that some of the conservative luminaries whose contributions Nash so meticulously describes had something to say about Islam in the occasional one or other of their innumerable essays (dismally few of which I have read), but plainly Islam was not, up to 1976, anywhere near the front of anyone’s mind in conservative intellectual circles.
The same was still true in 1986. By 1996, I think, there had been some modest awakening. Now, of course, we are all up to speed. Book-reading aside, the ordinary attentive reader of newspapers, magazines, and websites has taken in a million or so words on the topic of Islam this past few years. We all have our ideas now, though no doubt some are better-founded than others.
One of the more popular ideas, to judge from my own reader mail and email, is that Islam is an evil travesty of a religion, founded by a very depraved man, and propagated with intolerant cruelty.
Given the sheer number of Muslims in the world, and the quantity of land and resources they are sitting on, together with those facts about demography brought to our attention by Mark Steyn, this seems to me to be a counsel of great despair. Of the policies it appears to indicate, the mildest would be “separationism”: proscription of Islam in the United States, and exclusion — together, perhaps, with bribed emigration, or expulsion, or internment — of believers. Bearing in mind that our Muslim population includes a huge contingent of native-born African Americans, the prospects of implementing such a policy in our litigious, guilt-addled, PC-whipped, ACLU-patrolled, “diversity”-worshipping society seem to me to be infinitesimal. More despair.
One hears this nakedly Islamophobic line of argument in its strongest form from devout Christians and Jews. Those of us who cleave to none of the great Abrahamic faiths are bound to suspect merely competitive motives here: My Yahweh is better than your Yahweh! To be sure, there is a case against Muhammed and his teachings. Even the doggedly sympathetic Karen Armstrong, in her 1991 biography of the Prophet, admits that the massacre of the Qurayzah (a Jewish tribe who had helped Muhammed’s enemies in a crucial confrontation) is “a grim and horrible story.”
There are grim and horrible stories a-plenty in the Old Testament, though. As for the New: The Prince of Peace was not above calling His enemies “a brood of vipers,” and His gospel was not always propagated by gentle persuasion. (Nor — let us be inclusive — were the teachings of the Latter Day Saints, as the recent fuss over a movie about the Mountain Meadows massacre reminds us.) If the bloodthirsty historical and prophetic dramas of Exodus and Revelation can inform the faith of one’s Jewish and Christian friends, civilized and gentle people all, perhaps the more alarming passages of the Koran should not dominate our thinking about that other branch of the Abrahamic tree.
What do thoughtful people from inside the House of Islam have to say? Here I am on uncertain ground, since I find most of what they have to say unreadable. I can admire, but cannot emulate, Theodore Dalrymple’s resolution in reading one of Sayyid Qutb’s books. I didn’t even make it through the brief (18 pages) Qutb extract in Andrew Bostom’s compilation.
I did read Infidel, and found Ayaan Hirsi Ali quite simpatico. But:
Most Muslims never delve into theology, and we rarely read the Quran; we are taught it in Arabic, which most Muslims can’t speak.
Oh, so it’s all just cultural, then? Not exactly.
True Islam, as a rigid belief system and a moral framework, leads to cruelty.
Hmm. Sounds like the Islamophobes are right. But then:
We [Muslims] could hold our dogmas up to the light … infuse traditions that are rigid and inhumane with the values of progress and modernity.
So there is hope for reform after all? Depends:
For me to think this way … I had to make the leap to thinking that the Quran was relative … just another book.
What, then, is left of the transcendent faith? “Islam” may not appear in George Nash’s index, but “Relativism” gets four page references, every one of them to a Father of Conservatism railing against this intellectual vice: G.K. Chalmers, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, P.J. Stanlis.
Well, the fierce mullahs of Iran and the stern dogmatists of Wahhabism may not be your cup of tea, or mine, but relativists they ain’t. Do American conservatives, then, have any common ground with Muslims? Dinesh D’Souza thinks so. He has written a book, The Enemy at Home, arguing that the traditionalist strand of classical American conservatism, at least, might make common cause with sane Muslims in opposing the international Left’s campaign against family life, sexual restraint, and “homophobia.”
It’s an argument — though one that, to judge from the reviews and commentary, is finding few takers. But where does it leave the other strand in the great conservative fusion? One can quite see that Weaver, Viereck, or Kirk might give D’Souza a hearing, but what about Nock, Hayek, or Chodorov?
To judge from my mail, and the reception of D’Souza’s book, a hearing is the most that Islam can hope for among American conservatives of any kind. It may be, in fact — it may very well be, if, heaven forbid, there is another major attack on us — that Islamophobia will be the new uniting force of American conservatism.
Those fathers of American Conservatism were, after all, united by anti-Communism. Is Islam the new Communism? Do we need a new McCarran Act? A new Joe McCarthy? George Nash:
The American people, Buckley and Bozell argued, had carefully examined and “emphatically rejected” the claims of Communism. Now, embroiled in a world-wide war against Communism, they were moving — deliberately, properly, and by means of McCarthyism — to penalize and curtail an unassimilable philosophy and “those in our land who help the enemy.”
I read, and read, and set my books down at last with more questions than answers. Is Islam actually “unassimilable”? Supposing that — as seems probable — most of “those in our land who help the enemy” are easily distinguishable by color or name. Is there any prospect at all of our discarding decades of propaganda, thoroughly internalized now by two full generations of Americans, against “prejudice,” “discrimination.” “profiling,” and the rest of multiculturalism’s deadly sins?
And then the most disturbing question of all, the question one of my friends raises at about this point in our conversations: Do the American people still live here?