The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have jarred American self-confidence, caused coast-to-coast panic, and even (we shall see) ignited World War III, but so far they have failed to put a dent in multicultural etiquette. President Bush and other government spokesmen have been at pains to stress that we are not at war with Islam or Arabs in general and to discourage any negative thought, word, or deed toward Muslims within our borders. Islam is a “religion of peace,” and all that. After all, aren’t all religions, by definition, religions of peace? Aren’t Muslims, when you come right down to it, just Unitarians with camels?
At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu, Norman Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and the rest of what Patrick Buchanan dubbed “Israel’s Amen Corner” have suddenly adopted a whole new party line, in flat contradiction to the traditional one. The attacks, they say, had nothing whatever to do with the United States’ support for Israel. The idea that there is any such connection is a “dangerous myth,” according to one State Department, er, expert.
According to the new line, Arabs and other Muslims don’t hate America for supporting Israel; they would hate America just as bitterly if Israel had never existed. It’s the other way around: They hate Israel only in a secondary way, because of its association with America. If this is so, it would seem not that the United States should rethink its support for Israel, but that Israel, for its own safety, should rethink its close ties to the United States.
For years, we have been told that the Arabs hate Israel with insane intensity because it is a Jewish state, that they will never rest until they have driven every last Jew into the sea, that they admire Hitler and deny the holocaust, and so forth. Well, never mind all that. They are merely annoyed with Israel because of the “values” it shares with America—democracy, freedom, etc. Ignore Osama bin Laden’s fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans and Jews; ignore hot-headed slogans like “Death to the Jews!” You can’t believe anything a terrorist says.
In sum, religious differences—and the cultural differences stemming from them —aren’t serious. All religions preach the same great truths, the virtues of peace and tolerance. We are all brothers under the skin. It is unfortunate, and paradoxical, that some fanatics have, from time to time, managed to wrest religion into the service of “hate,” as a few pseudo-Muslims are doing now (and as Jerry Falwell would do if he could).
In multicultural cant, of course, “hate” is a broad concept. It can include even disapproval of certain sexual practices. And it does include the belief that religious doctrines matter—or, to paraphrase the endlessly repeated aphorism of Richard Weaver, that creeds have consequences. If you think your religion is “better”—truer—than other religions, you are intolerant and bigoted.
In other words, liberalism is the natural fruit and fulfillment of all religions. Nobody puts it quite that baldly, but that’s what it comes to. I prefer to put it still another way: Multiculturalism is the negation of all cultures. It means that all cultural and religious distinctions are merely superficial.
Needless to say, this idea is as novel as it is preposterous. Until fairly recently, sane people took religion seriously. Set aside many centuries of religious wars, crusades, persecutions. Abraham Lincoln’s political career was jeopardized early by his (earned) local reputation for freethinking. Al Smith’s 1928 presidential candidacy showed that most Protestants wouldn’t trust a Catholic in public office.
When John F. Kennedy became our first Catholic president in 1960, it proved chiefly that religious differences no longer mattered as much to voters, not that genuine tolerance had triumphed. Liberals trusted Kennedy because they knew he didn’t take his own religion too seriously. Since the Second Vatican Council, we have learned that the same is true of much of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy.
It now comes as an unpleasant surprise to Americans to discover that our own liberal rot hasn’t affected the Muslim world, which still takes religion seriously. It still believes that God has revealed himself to some men and not others; that some things are true and others are false; that some men are saved and all others, damned. The ecumenical spirit has not caught on in Mecca, or among the billion or so people from Morocco to Indonesia who still direct their daily prayers toward Mecca.
Did anyone see this coming? Yes. In 1938, Hilaire Belloc predicted that dormant Islam would someday revive and pose a serious challenge to the West, as it had done from the seventh to the 17th centuries. At the time, when modern Europeans were preparing for another bout of mutual slaughter, the backward Muslim world appeared to have dropped out of history. But Belloc argued that the Muslims were deficient only in science and weaponry, a gap that could be closed fairly quickly; whereas the Muslim world had more spiritual vigor than the West, which had lost its Christian faith.
In the new collision between faiths—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—only the Christians (if you can even call them that anymore) are naive enough to believe that vague “values” matter more than real religions. One Christian conservative has also paraphrased Weaver in the vapid formula “Values have consequences.” Many Muslims are ready to die for what they believe the Almighty actually said. How many Americans are ready to die for “values”?