‘Ah birbone! ah dannato! ah assassino! Villain! Wretch! Murderer!’ shouted Renzo, striding up and down the room, and grasping the hilt of his dagger every so often…. He stopped suddenly in front of the weeping girl, looked at her with sad and angry tenderness, and said: ‘I’ll make sure he never does a thing like this again.’ ‘No, Renzo, no! — not that, for the love of Heaven!’ cried Lucia. ‘God is the God of the poor and oppressed; but how can you expect him to help us if we do evil?’ (Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, ch. 3)
The cliché that evil begets evil is true not only in it’s obvious sense (that righteous anger and zeal for justice can quickly turn to hatred, revenge, and unlawful violence), but also in the sense that such reaction itself provides occasion for the long term strategies of well meaning but thoroughly mischievous movements.
The recent murder of Charlie Hebdo journalists was perhaps a work of Renzo-like passion on the part of Muslims angered by crass insults to the prophet, and the murder itself gives occasion to all kinds of evil. On the one hand it will increase the naively secularist and racist reaction of the likes of Riposte Laïque, but on the other hand I think it will further the long-term goals of the multi-culturalist, leftist, secularists who oppose them. The left’s fake opposition to bourgeois liberalism really conceals a more thoroughgoing and intelligent commitment to liberal principles. As a fellow blogger on The Josias points out, even the most ostensibly anti-bourgeois publications of the left have been spouting bourgeois platitudes over the Charlie Hebdo murders. French nationalists accuse the left of letting their hatred of their own cultural heritage blind them to the fact that Islam is much greater threat to their hard won freedom. But I think there is more to their seemingly irrational position (“To be a good ‘laïque’ today you have to encourage the building of mosques in France”) than the naive secularists realize. The clever secularists are playing the long-game; their expectation is that the can encourage Muslim’s to become “moderate.” That is they can hollow Islam out, and make its practitioners good liberals who amuse themselves by going to pray on Fridays. And if one considers how successful this strategy has been in dis-mantling continental Christianity, this might not seem so unrealistic. This strategy involving Muslims in leftist politics through alliances over immigration, encouraging the education of Muslim clerics in European schools and so on.
What are we to think of this? My Josias colleague argues that it would be foolish to take sides in this contest: both “radical Islam” and the secularists should be opposed. I agree. And yet, one can still ask “which is worse?” Michel Houellebecq has been accused of “Islamophobia” for his latest novel envisioning an Islamicized France. But, as he points out in an interview, “things don’t go all that badly, really.” “There is a more fundamental opposition between a Muslim and an atheist than between a Muslim and a Catholic,” Houellebecq says, and it’s hard to contradict him. It is difficult to say which would be more successful in opposing Christianity Muslim France or secularist France— but at least Muslim France would be more up-front about its opposition.
In any case, nothing is to be gained by assisting the secularists bring about a more “moderate” Islam. What does “moderate” Islam mean? I once heard Raphaël Liogier say that the idea of “moderate” Islam makes it sound as though Islam were a drug which one might safely take in small doses, but that one ought not to take too much of. I don’t subscribe to Liogier’s overall project, but here he makes an excellent point. The idea of “moderate” religion is completely stupid. Moderation is good with respect to finite goods, but how can it be considered good with respect to the infinite good? Moderate religion is fake religion. This does not mean that ISIS terrorists are the most authentic Muslims; since the basis for such terrorism in Islamic law is highly shaky, Muslims who oppose ISIS can claim that they are more extremely Muslim than ISIS.
One might of course object that Islam is not the true religion, and that therefore one ought to encourage its being watered down. I grant the premise, but the conclusion does not follow. A passage of Bl. John Henry Newman’s Apologia is apposite here:
For is it not one’s duty, instead of beginning with criticism, to throw oneself generously into that form of religion which is providentially put before one? Is it right, or is it wrong, to begin with private judgment? May we not, on the other hand, look for a blessing through obedience even to an erroneous system, and a guidance even by means of it out of it? Were those who were strict and conscientious in their Judaism, or those who were lukewarm and sceptical, more likely to be led into Christianity, when Christ came? […] Certainly, I have always contended that obedience even to an erring conscience was the way to gain light, and that it mattered not where a man began, so that he began on what came to hand, and in faith; and that anything might become a divine method of Truth; that to the pure all things are pure, and have a self-correcting virtue and a power of germinating.
Who is more likely to be led to the truth: a Muslim on fire with devotion to the Creator, willing to give everything, and do anything for His sake, or a “moderate” Muslim who will never do anything that offends the consensus of a decadent secular culture? Even if the devout Muslim commits sins that are worse than anything done by the lukewarm one, he still seems closer to the Kingdom. St Paul holding cloaks at the murder of St Stephen was in itself a worse sin than the tolerant attitude of moderates like Gamaliel, and yet who became a prince of the Apostles?
Update: A Retraction.
Update 2: Fanaticism vs. Liberalism