It Isn't (Just) About Islam

My last post  about Fr. James Schall’s comparison of Islam and Communism elicited a pandemonium of posts, including some that should embarrass the posters. As a new blogger at Pajamas Media I did not censor even the most egregious violations of good taste, mainly because I wanted to see what was out there. But I want to make clear how repulsive I find proposals to “expel” Muslims from America and the like. There is such a thing as a Constitution, and also such a thing as basic decency.

Consider the following: If every radical Muslim disappeared today, we still would confront a culture of death that contaminates almost every aspect of daily life, and has harmed every family in America, even the most cohesive and the most religious. This is the deadliest threat to our existence. We still could go down the drain, along with most of the other industrial nations.

My new book is titled How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying, Too), and it is about us as much as it is about Islam. Iran, Turkey and other Muslim countries are dying of their own loss of faith, heading into a demographic death-spiral that makes them more dangerous. But they are following the example of some Western countries. Consider Italy and Poland, with fertility rates of 1.3 or so. By the end of this century, if this persists, Poland’s population will fall by half and the average Pole will be almost 60 years of age. And that is the Poland of John Paul II, this brave and talented nation whose resistance to Communism formed the spearhead of the West during the Cold War. My family visited Rome when my children were small and I brought them to Vatican Square on a Sunday so that they might might catch a glimpse of this spiritual leader of the West, this great friend of the Jewish people. In 1989 Poland was an inspiration to the West. But today’s Poles do not care enough about their future to bring a new generation into the world! The same is true of most of industrial nations.

America and Israel are the only industrial nations with fertility rates above replacement. But it is not yet clear whether we Americans really are an enduring exception, or just the lepers with the most fingers. Consider my own people: Secular Jews have a fertility rate around 1, and capital-c Conservative Jews 1.3. The Reform are at 1.2 or so, and by their own account have lost a third of their synagogue-going members in the past decade. The Modern Orthodox, by contrast, have between 3 and 4 children, and the ultra-Orthodox more than 7, but we Orthodox are just a tenth of American Jews. Episcopalians and Presbyterians are at 1.3. The overall birth rate is sustained by two large groups: Evangelicals (at 2.6) and Hispanics (and close to 3).  And the pessimists don’t think that will continue.

It’s easy to fulminate against Muslims. It’s harder to fight the endemic culture of death here. And it’s easy to deal with Iran (for example) as soon as we choose to do so. Soviet Russia — now there was a frightening enemy, one capable of annihilating us. Iran is a danger, but a trivial one compared to the Evil Empire that Ronald Reagan defeated. If we let Iran get nuclear weapons, it could be a very dangerous enemy, but probably not an existential danger like the Soviet Union.

That’s why I wrote a book that deals with the crisis within Islam, but by reference to our own crisis — and past crises in the West, including the depopulation of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. There but for the grace of God go we.

I believe America is exceptional, and that we will prevail. But that requires us Americans to ask ourselves every day whether we’re still good enough to be Americans.