If a civilized man, as it is sometimes said, can hold two ideas in his mind at the same time, post-civilized man goes one step farther and sees nothing wrong with maintaining contradictory opinions on any subject that comes up: We say simultaneously that the Russians are animalistic drunkards with no aptitude for the free-market or self-government—but a quickie course in democratic capitalism will solve all their woes. The contradiction does not bother us. We are post-rational as well as post-civilized.
Most people—whether they are pre-civilized primitives, like the American masses, or post-civilized degenerates, like the American elite—are perfectly capable of taking a stand on the practical matters of everyday life. They know that something either tastes good to them or does not (if they are post-civilized, they will concede that the difference between bistecca fiorentina and a Chicago hot dog is just a matter of style and preference). In matters outside their immediate experience, however, they display an enormous capacity for tolerating contradiction.
The bifurcation of the post-civilized mind is especially obvious in foreign affairs. Within a matter of weeks, newspapermen can be demanding intervention on behalf of the Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, or Kosovo, and then without pausing to make a transition as artificial as a Jay Leno segue, they will condemn the violent terrorism of the “ragheads” in the Middle East. This is not a case of hypocrisy, which is the ability to distinguish between a general principle and its pragmatic application to one’s national and private interests. If it were, we should be demanding justice for the “ragheads” pumping oil in the Middle East, and we should be driving the Bosnian Half-Turks out of Europe.
Throughout the modern era. Western attitudes toward the Islamic world have been confused and contradictory. Once upon a time, when Peter the Hermit was preaching the First Crusade, we thought we knew what we wanted. We wanted to expel the Muslims, who worshipped a devil named Mahound, from the Holy Land they had seized by fire and sword from the Eastern Roman Empire and from the Eastern Christian Church. It was us against them, and when some Christian authorities declared that no Christian had to keep faith with a devil-worshipper, the Crusaders obligingly violated oaths and treaties with what they hoped was impunity. Anyone who has read Christian chroniclers like William of Tyre and Villehardouin and compared their accounts with the Arab writers collected in Gabrieli’s wonderful volume, Arab Historians of the Crusades, will easily conclude that, in the good old days, the soldiers who took up the Cross of the Church Militant could match, stroke for stroke and massacre for massacre, the Turks, Arabs, and Kurds who fought for the Crescent.
During the brutal Third Crusade, however, a bright spot developed in the form of a myth surrounding the relations between two great leaders, the French Christian Richard of England and Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim. Both were tough men, each was the flower of his respective chivalry, and each—at least according to the legend elaborated upon by the poets and later by Walter Scott—learned to display a grudging respect for his great antagonist. Saladin was, by all accounts, a brave and capable soldier, a great builder, and a generous and merciful ruler. Richard was, if not exactly merciful, the greatest knight and most heroic fighter of his age and a troubadour to boot. (The modern attempt to portray him as a homosexual moron only shows what happens when a civilization is in the control of its enemies.) Their meeting is probably only a legend, but Richard did strike up a friendship with Saladin’s brother, whose son he knighted.
Saladin repeatedly expressed admiration for the piety of Christian pilgrims, and, a generation or so later, Joinville refers approvingly to Saladin’s ecumenical observation that a bad Muslim could never make a good Christian. But even in the days of Richard and Saladin, the confusion had already set in. The lords of Outremer found it convenient to strike bargains with the devil’s minions and allied themselves with Muslim rulers against both Constantinople and new sets of crusaders who upset the balance of power. Before too long, the Crusades turned into European man’s first colonial adventure, and in the Fourth Crusade, the soldiers who besieged Zara and sacked Constantinople should have had some difficulty in maintaining the fiction of a religious enterprise.
In later years, when the Austrians and their allies (Polish, Hungarian, and Serbian) were defeating the last great Muslim push into Europe, their European rivals took advantage of the situation. His Christian Majesty Louis XIV of France allied himself with the Turks, a strategy followed later by the perfidious English, who supported the Turks against the Russians and did their best to restore the sultan’s Christian subjects in the Balkans, once they had revolted, to the abject condition of dhimmi—serfs who could not own a horse or weapon, make a contract, or testify against a Muslim in court.
Part of the British strategy is simply their usual game of balancing the powers, but I sometimes wonder if there is not some horrifying attraction, especially for English boys brought up in a public school, to the brutal manliness that regards sodomitic rape as an expression of virility. In any event, a series of Anglo- Saxon males who have gone in search of their manhood found it in Islamic culture: Sir Richard Burton, T.E. Lawrence, and Pasha Club are at the head of a large pack, whose rear is brought up by the academic camp-followers and foundation executives who find, in their defense of Islam, the excuse for their hatred of Jews.
Few Americans are troubled by our contradictory views of Islam. Like Will Rogers, we only know what we read in the papers. Most Americans, apparently, think journalists—at least in the ideal—are professional seekers of fact and truth. Such people have no doubt existed in the past, and they are sighted from time to time in various backwaters, much as Bachman’s Warbler is glimpsed occasionally in the swamps of the Francis Marion National Forest.
Journalists like to think of themselves as practicing a profession, though few would have the brass to call it a learned profession. The word “professional,” though, is a dead give-away. We speak of professional gamblers, professional wrestlers, professional hit-men; and when we want to be polite toward prostitutes, we call them practitioners of the world’s oldest profession. Professionals, in other words, are mercenaries who receive money for a job, even a disagreeable job. The exemplary professionals in the United States today are attorneys, who are paid to represent a particular case and a particular set of clients, to make, as Socrates was accused of doing, the worse appear the better cause, and it is no insult to compare journalism with the practice of law.
Professional ethics (1o say nothing of the laws) frown upon lawyers and journalists who make up facts, but there is no necessity (as Mr. Clinton’s lawyers have told us repeatedly) to tell all the truth, and there is nothing wrong in repeating someone else’s lie. That is the rule in public relations, and it is the rule in journalism, especially for columnists and editorial writers.
Journalists will tell you that even their less scrupulous colleagues are aiming at an ideal of objectivity, which, because of their frailties, they cannot reach. They would like us to believe that they really want to get at the truth of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians or to dig up the straight story on Saddam Hussein or the conflict in Kosovo. Their words tell a different story. Why is it that every report on Iraq contains the phrase “weapons of mass destruction,” and every analysis of Kosovo includes the figure “90 percent Albanian”? Surely, at least one network is aware that Saddam’s stock of biological and chemical weapons is nothing in comparison with that of his principal supplier, the United States, whose government has not only employed such chemical weapons as Agent Orange and napalm and dropped nuclear bombs on civilians, but has also experimented on its own people with various toxins. And I know that there are one or two men at the New York Times who realize the demographic facts in Kosovo, which is more like 80 percent Albanian, 12 percent Serbian and Montenegrin, with the balance made up of Bosnian Muslims, Gypsies, and Turks.
The systematic misreporting in Iraq and the Balkans serves a number of interests: the State Department’s petro-political agenda, Israel’s understandable desire to eliminate a dangerous enemy, and the regime’s general hostility to religious commitment —routinely stigmatized as “fundamentalism”—whether it is Islam in the Middle East or Christianity in Europe and the United States. Militant Islam is a bad thing in the Middle East, where it gets in the way of our plans for the region, but in Europe, it is a good thing because it will forever destroy the Christian identity of European nations.
I do not blame the journalists for writing from a point of view. The claim of impartiality, made by journalists and historians, should never have been taken seriously: It is, on the face of it, an impossible goal, and if it could be reached, it would only mean that the writer had become an inhuman monster who had turned his back on every person, place, and creed that had a claim on his loyalty.
Setting aside the extreme cases—such as the demand that only African-Americans can teach black history and only women pursue women’s studies—the attempt to construct objective history has been an abysmal failure. When historians still had pedagogic and patriotic ends in view, writers as diverse as Thucydides and Livy, Hume and Macaulay actually shaped the moral and political imaginations of ordinary people. An historian is not necessarily dishonest because he confesses to having a point of view; and a modern historian who relies on facts and figures is not necessarily honest because he is reticent about his prejudices. Even at the beginning of Western history and epic literature. Homer is clearly on the side of the Greeks in the Iliad, and yet he is more than fair to the Trojans, to the point that many readers have regarded Hector as the real hero of the work.
If human experience were a glacier, slowly accreting facts, pebbles, and statistical debris in its course, some case might be made for writing impartial history, but most of what we call history is a conflict of wills, between leaders and nations. Who could write an impartial account of the Crusades? Not a faithful Catholic or Muslim, and certainly not an atheist who is “neutral” on the religious claims of the two parties: He, in fact, has the biggest ax to grind. I prefer Hilaire Belloc or the Whig historians who never concealed their prejudices or their agenda.
Once upon a time, newspapers displayed a similar candor, identifying themselves as Democratic or Republican, frankly acknowledging the prejudices that their readers would be able to discount. Today, when the overwhelming majority of journalists vote for liberal and Democratic candidates, they persist in the fiction that there is no liberal bias in the media. The smaller number of conservatives insist on the parallel fiction, that conservatives are only interested in an objective evaluation of the facts. When Michael Kinsley was still at the New Republic, he dismissed the whole idea of liberal bias, saying: “Since most journalists I know are reasonable, intelligent people, the mystery to me is not why journalists tend to be liberals but why so many other reasonable, intelligent people are not.” In other words, a difference of opinion, among otherwise intelligent people, is a mystery requiring explanation.
G.K. Chesterton anticipated Kinsley when he described the “new bigot” as the man who says, “I will not argue with you, because I know you agree with me.” In Heretics, Chesterton distinguished between the fanaticism of true believers and genuine bigotry, which he defined as “the anger of men who have no opinions.” Impartiality, he once said, “means at best indifference to everything.”
Individuals have their own points of view, but so do groups and traditions. The history of the past 500 years will be told in quite different language and emphasis if the teller is, say, an Icelander, an Orthodox Serb, or an African-American. Of course such a history would be ver)’ partial —like the history of Europe from the Polish perspective written by Norman Davis?—but it would open up entire vistas that had been veiled. Frequently, it is only by adopting a point of view (if only temporarily) that a scholar or journalist can catch a glimpse of the truth that eludes all those whom impartiality has made blind. The experience of religious faith, for example, educates the believer who lives with its scriptures and ceremonies and comes to understand the religion as no objective outsider can.
Matters of faith lie beyond reason and scholarship, and the only objectivity possible is that of the non-believer who cannot be objective at all because he rejects the phenomena under consideration. Hundreds of books have been written by atheist scientists challenging the possibility of the miracles attributed to Christ—as if a miracle were not by definition something that takes place outside the course of the laws of nature. This does not mean that the scholar or journalist cannot aim at the truth—and not only in matters of fact. But for a Western Christian to discover something of the truth about the Crusades, he must be willing to enter into the mind of the other sides—the Orthodox Byzantines and the Muslim Arabs, Saracens, and Turks. He must be willing, in his imagination at least, to dwell in the tents of the infidels, to sing their songs and hear their poems, to find out the story they tell of themselves.
Like a fair-minded traveler who goes native, for a time, in foreign lands and comes back with an appreciation for the strange things he has witnessed and experienced, the historian or journalist can temporarily suspend his judgment on the aliens and enemies to whom he owes a fair and honest accounting. He must play Homer to Hector, Walter Scott to Saladin.
This was the approach used by Rebecca West in her book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which depicts the three parties in Bosnia—the Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslims—on the eve of the Yugoslav bloodbath of World War II. Fifty years later, journalists who donned the mantle of impartiality expressed their opinions on the Bosnian civil war in terms that echoed the official statements issued by the U.S. State Department. Objectivity and impartiality, so it seems, have come to mean that a reporter is on the side of the angels who could never give an even break to the other side without spotting their snow-white robes.
Although Sir Thomas More said he would give the devil himself the benefit of law, journalists like Walter Lippmann, Herbert Agar, Walter Winchell, and Drew Pearson, reporting on World War II before Pearl Harbor, saw nothing wrong in cooking their stories according to recipes handed to them by British intelligence, and their successors in the 1990’s have been even more “even-handed”—or rather, one-handed—in reporting on events in the Gulf War, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union.
Some Americans (and, I suspect, most of our readers) know better than to believe professional journalists or State Department spokespersons, but how are they to respond to the Islamic world? There are two challenges: The first is to refuse to give in to the temptation, so artfully manipulated by the professionals, to demonize all Muslims and all Arabs, especially those who are living in Islamic countries. The “terrorists” who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon and the members of Hamas who are killing Israeli policemen and settlers are not cowards: They are brave and sometimes honorable men who are willing to lay down their lives for their people. Even if we end up having to kill every one of them, let us treat them as brave men and worthy adversaries and leave the “camel jockey” and “Gaddamn Insane” stereotypes to late-night talk radio.
The second, which is not quite the opposite of the first, is to keep up a stout heart for the coming confrontation between insurgent Islam and decadent Christendom. As Chesterton understood at the beginning of this century, Islam is our enemy, not only in a geopolitical sense, but metaphysically: The Islamic rage against the Incarnation manifests itself in opposition to art that represents the human person and in condemnation of the wine that our Lord used both to signify the joys of life, in the wedding at Cana, and, in the communion that He instituted, the sacrifice of His Blood.
My fear is that Christendom has entirely lost its nerve. East may still be East, but West is no longer West. So far from resisting the Muslim invasion of Europe, we may ourselves be succumbing to an Islamic temptation in the mistaken belief that, while Muslims are free to be men, we Christians are condemned to be something like Ralph Reed. In The Flying Inn, Chesterton depicts a decadent England falling under the spell of a teetotaling and Nietzschean version of Islam. (Think of Armin Mueller-Stahl or Tomislav Sunic in a turban.) The enemies of life are defeated only by a drunken, half-mad Irishman, who moves an inn-sign from place to place and defies the dechristianization of his country. But where, in these sober and progressive times, are we going to find a drunken Irishman who keeps the Faith?
We know that our governments will do nothing to resist the islamicization of the West; we also know that the only political leaders who have breathed a word of defiance are Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and Umberto Bossi in Italy—leaders at the opposite ends of the spectrum—who have both been demonized for wanting to preserve their nations. If we do find the courage to resist, let us be at least as civilized as Richard Lionheart, and if we cannot match his courage, let us surpass him in humanity.