On the Subtle Virtue of Martyrdom
My attitude towards Islam is ambivalent. I recognize that through centuries of violence and aggression, the Muslim world in the name of Islam inflicted great injury upon the Christian world, in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, most recently in Kosovo. Never can we accept it as an accomplished fact that Constantinople’s mighty Hagia Sophia should exist today as a Turkish “museum” (and we pray the British someday receive an exacting reward for their part in that injustice). Muslim discrimination against Arab Christians in modern time, whether in Egypt, Lebanon, or other parts of the Muslim world, is a scandal.
Yet each individual is born and lives in a specific place and time, something which is beyond human control. Thus, we have no right to condemn another person born and raised, by chance, Muslim and who struggles to use positively his Islamic faith in one God. I am not inclined to publicly disparage the faith of Muslims or draw cartoons of them. If Christians and Muslims each worship one God, then they may be worshipping the same God (something not much discussed before the ecumenical effort of Pope John Paul II). In other words, despite some horrendous historical sins of Muslim individuals and societies against Christians, we have no right to hate another individual simply for his Islamic faith.
One thing to respect about Islam is its strong sense of tradition. The West cannot understand that, and it is absurd to assume, as Westerners often do, that the “progressive” Western way is by nature always superior and “happier.” If one could create an objective “index of happiness,” and then compare that index in the West and the Muslim world, we might all be surprised by the results. One of the Muslim world’s great grievances is the West’s assault on all types of tradition throughout the world.
The West, as a cultural entity, has lost its tradition, its continuity with the past, through its constant compulsion to break with the past. Either correctly or irrationally, I blame Britain for the general trend, for often through the centuries Britain has led the battle against tradition and faith (as well as providing the ideological underpinnings of American culture). I blame Britain for the great political blunders of recent history, whether in Ireland and the Celtic world, Palestine and the Middle East, Greece and the Balkans, China, India, or other former British colonies. If justice is someday manifested on earth, I expect Britain will pay its heavy debt.
We have mentioned previously that the contemporary world now consists of three camps: Judeoamerica (with Britain), the Muslim world, and the indifferent rest of the world which does not want to go to war over the Middle East. Culturally, Judeoamerica in fact includes most of Western Europe (and increasing numbers of Eastern Europeans). The culture of Judeoamerica since the 1960s has been shaped by hedonism and by the belief that wisdom (or its modern equivalent: “satisfaction”) derives solely from experience and from physical stimuli such as wealth, power, sex, the violation of traditional taboos, altered states of mind, etc.
The true faith of the West since the 1960s is hedonism, which teaches that the ultimate goal of human life is to undergo every possible pleasurable experience, with an emphasis on physical stimuli. Hedonism throughout much of history was the privilege of the powerful and wealthy, but in America, it was democratized in the 1960s, especially with “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” and fifteen minutes of fame, and pandered to the masses addicted today.
The fallacy of hedonism is that the hedonist believes he can, indeed, experience every possible human experience. Yet such hedonism, in fact, precludes the feeling of denial of pleasure and the experience of asceticism. For if one is overwhelmed by physical pleasure, one cannot appreciate any pleasure from a denial of physical pleasure. Varieties of asceticism characterize some varieties of Islam, just as even longer they have been a significant tradition of Apostolic Christianity and other religions. This involves the experience of asceticism as an ideal of personal sacrifice, not personal fulfillment or indulgence. Asceticism relates somehow to the issues of martyrdom, such an important aspect of early Christianity and contemporary Islam, and military service. Those societies willing to defend their own cultural and spiritual values do not object to military service for their youth, even with the possibility of death.
Thus, the Muslim world and the West today are distinguished by their values. The Muslim world possesses something, namely faith and tradition, which its youth is willing to die for (in war, suicide bombings, etc.). No one in the West wants to die for hedonism. No one in the West, in fact, wants to die for anything. Thus, a dynamic of future history is revealed. Those willing to die for their values surely will triumph over those who have none worth dying for.