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Father Schall on the Fragility of Islam

August 26th, 2011 - 1:40 pm

Fr. James V. Schall S.J. remains at the age of 83 an indispensable voice in foreign policy, combining theological depth and strategic acuity. “The Fragility of Islam” is the subject of his latest pronouncement at the Catholic Thing blog. Western analysts tend to accept the narrative of Muslim triumphalism, the assertion that the strong faith of the Islamic world will overwhelm the temporizing and vacillating West. Not so, Fr. Schall argues: Islam itself is “as fragile as communism.” He writes:

The major change Islam looks to is not modernization or objective truth but, in a stable world, the submission to Allah of all men under a caliphate wherein no non-believers are found.

We still look back at communism, at least the non-oriental variety, with some astonishment in this regard. Almost no one thought it could “fall” without a major military encounter. That it disintegrated so quickly and so completely seems incomprehensible to anyone but a John Paul II. He understood its frailty, its failure to understand the human soul and its origins….

Religion or faith, even in Islam through Averroes, has been conceived as a myth designed to keep the people quiet. The scholars could quietly let the caliphs and the imams rule if the intelligentsia were left free to pursue philosophy, which was conceived to be anti-Koranic in the sense that the Koran did not hold up under scrutiny about its claims.

The fragility of Islam, as I see it, lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism.

A tiny minority of analysts, this writer included, have argued instead that Islam cannot be reformed or situated in democratic institutions; its militancy, rather, stems from the realization that it cannot survive modernity. “Koranic criticism yet may turn out to be the worm in the foundation of radical Islam,” I wrote in 2003. Much of the Muslim world is repeating the West’s transition out of traditional society, but in lapsed time.

That is the subject of my forthcoming book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too).

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