Friday, December 26, 2014

On the Situation in Iraq

I began this post in the summertime, not sure how to finish it at the time. Hence, some things will seem out of date, and there have been have several executions, a POW capturing from the Jordanian Air Force, and the ISIS-inspired attacks in France and Australia. 

Also, keep in mind that I don't have an answer for the behavior of individual Muslims who vigorously oppose ISIS and who I care about as human persons worthy of love. I can only comment on what I see as general patterns. 

I am sure you have heard by now that President Obama became the first Western leader to authorize humanitarian relief and airstrikes in Iraq in order to aid those suffering from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or as they like to be known, simply the Islamic State. It is a full-on genocide. The Christian minority in Iraq is being threatened with death if they remain and practice their faith, so they have fled to the Kurdish held regions of Iraq. The Yazidis, a people who practice a so-called "heretical" form of Islam, are also being killed. Towns controlled by these peoples are specifically being attacked for that reason.

It's good that Barack Obama finally made a decision about this. We must defend the innocent and the helpless, even if our country is not directly threatened by this (and of course, Obama thought American interests were threatened...). As Christians, who make up the majority of people in this country, at least nominally, we must especially seek to protect Christians who are under threat. But go figure, Obama has not really done anything to arm the Kurds, and he does not desire for the United States to serve as the Iraqi Air Force, even though the Iraqi Air Force is utterly incompetent at this point and the Kurds don't have their own air force.

The former Australian Chief of Army, Peter Leahy, was interviewed in an Australian paper (which is behind a paywall, so I send you, regrettably, to the Daily Mail). He said that we will be involved in a century-long war against Islam. The retired general specifically focuses on Australia's past experience with terror groups in Indonesia as well as individuals who leave and return in order to launch attacks at home. I would add that ISIS wants to first restore the caliphate as it existed in the Middle Ages. At a minimum, it would include these territories.

I say at a minimum because what ISIS apparently wants is to conquer all of north and central Africa, Iberia, the Balkans and southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, central Asia, the Levant, Arabia, Mesopotamia. That means the former Ottoman Empire would be covered as well as the medieval caliphate. It would also seem they want the Muslim countries of southeast Asia and the western Pacific under their thumbs...and that's before they get to the rest of the world, especially Rome and Moscow, the only two patriarchal sees (we'll leave that discussion for another day...) not to have been successfully held by Muslim invaders. Yes, invaders. My medieval history professor taught about the barbarian movements at the end of the Western Roman Empire as well as the beginnings of Islam. The first was truly migration. The second was truly invasion.

No, I'm not convinced that it was a terribly good situation for Christians in Cordoba. Scholarship is also not in support of the thesis that Arabs preserved ancient Greek and Latin learning so that it could be picked up by medieval Christians after the Crusades and then reinvigorated by the Renaissance. It's quite the opposite, actually. Irish monks could use perfect Greek and Latin, even though Greek had been dead in the West for centuries. Christians studied the texts independently and then reacted to Islamic interpretations. But I digress.

So why does Barack Obama believe that a few airstrikes will be enough to stop ISIS? In fact, I'm not even sure the style of limited engagement in vogue since the Vietnam War would be enough. Once American troops leave, everyone goes back to fighting each other. Vietnam is now a Communist state, Iraq is in shambles. Central Americans flee to our southern border in droves. We haven't even completely left Afghanistan, and American troops still die on a regular basis. The exception would be the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent enforcement of the no-fly zone, but that's, in my admittedly limited assessment, because the American government so successfully controlled the narrative and decided to fight the Iraqi military on its own terms. We used the tools to finish the job, i.e. since Iraq launched a full invasion, then we fought back equally. It's much easier to fight a war against a true state actor that has tangible goals, unlike those set in the conflicts of the last decade. And it was not an ideological war. One must root out the evil ideology, and a limited engagement does not allow for that.

I read the other day that ISIS is now "al-Qaeda with a state." Rather like the Nazi Party, it has taken over the administration of its territories in Syria and Iraq and replaced the non-existent or corrupt administration which preceded it. It's much cheaper than before, since bribes are not being taken, and it's somewhat efficient. They have kept the professionals in place, and somehow they make it work with ISIS fighters from all over the world supervising them. Not to say that I condone this, rather like American Democratic Party members do when they see the standard of living in socialist Cuba under the Castro brothers and compare it to our own. It's horrifying that al-Qaeda, or something that split from it anyways, has now become a state or something that resembles one. Imagine ISIS voting in place of Iraq and Syria in the United Nations, attempting to dictate to the world the benefits of an international Islamic caliphate. It rather smacks of the Soviet Union's role in the UN, no? To any American over the age of sixty, that should get the alarm bells ringing.

Why that year? Someone born in 1954 would have been around eight in October 1962, when the world stood on edge as the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to resolve the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. The world came oh so close to being destroyed. That means they remember the civil defense drills, where they got underneath the desks in case of a nuclear first strike, and they remember the films shown in class.  They remember the reality that yes, it might be the end.

Now, ISIS is nowhere near the military capabilities of the Soviet Union as far as destroying the world thirty times over goes. But they are quite capable of genocide as we see (just as the Communists were!). They are just as hellbent on conquering like the Communists did. Europe is finally under a direct threat. It is no longer something that can be pushed around. We can no longer simply give more money to the Security Service (MI5) and Scotland Yard and their French equivalents (and in the meantime control the private lives of ordinary citizens...). We can no longer simply pass laws that attempt to integrate Muslims into European societies, like those that ban the face coverings and the Swiss ban on minarets. We can no longer simply ignore the fact that there is widespread support for ISIS and Hamas (that's one fight where the middle is the decidedly best route!) in European capitals among communities with Muslim majorities. A nun had to tear down the black flag of jihad flown by protesters (my only consolation is that they don't realize Hamas will be wiped out by ISIS if they conquer the Levant). We have seen protests in recent weeks that have turned anti-Semitic, not merely anti-Israel. In fact, those protesters threatened the reporter who investigated the black flag, and they shouted profanities against Jews and said they didn't want any around the neighborhood (he wasn't even Jewish).

By logical extension, that is anti-Christian, for our faith comes from the Jews, and we must love all, no matter their religion. "If ye love me, keep my commandments," saith the Lord to his disciples.

Indeed, two churches in Thonon-les-Bains, a small town of 30,000 in France, were desecrated this summer. One of them is the church where St. Francis de Sales served as provost of the Oratory. The young Muslim man responsible even made sure to desecrated the holy Eucharist.

There is a fundamental tension between the Christian world with its Greco-Roman antecedents and the Islamic world, and I believe it is based on a bizarre misunderstanding of Christianity by the first Muslims that has shaped Islamic thought, culture, and politics since the early 600s. Christ cannot be the Incarnate Son because God cannot have physical children. That leads to a quasi-Docetist belief where Jesus was swapped at the Crucifixion. (Also, for the Christian, God does not deceive...we might not understand every word of Scripture, but He does not lie!) Of course since the Crucifixion was not redemptive, it fits in with the Islamic view of God's relationship to man, which is decidedly not that of adoptive sonship, which happens to be the theme of the collect of the 19th Sunday per annum in the revised Roman liturgy. It is much more akin to the master-slave relationship, hence it revolves around what God's will is. Hence the concern in the late medieval period when certain theologians emphasized the divine will and seemed to take an Islamic view of God rather than a Christian one (and when the belief was expunged, the Greek philosophy used to illuminate it was reinterpreted...). The Trinity is reduced to mathematics, and since 1+1+1 is not equal to one, there is no Triune God. Of course, we Christians have dogmatic statements which clarify our faith in the Trinity, in the Incarnation, etc. and it's irrational to think the Scriptures became corrupted or that the Church became corrupted (the same argument goes against most beliefs held by Protestants). One also needs to consider Christ's gift of the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose given to St. Peter and the college of the apostles and their successors, as well as the promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

I am not sure yet that I agree entirely with Hilaire Belloc's thesis presented in multiple books that Islam is a Christian heresy, or of the details which accompany it. The later Fathers said so, for what it is worth. But it is worth reading what he had to say in Survivals and New Arrivals, keeping in mind that his language was not the tempered sort in vogue today:

"On this account our generation came to think of Islam as something naturally subject to ourselves. We no longer regarded it as a rival to our own culture, we thought of its religion as a sort of fossilized thing about which we need not trouble."  
"That was almost certainly a mistake. We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our faith it will rise."  
"Remember that our Christian civilization is in peril of complete breakdown. An enemy would say that it is living upon its past; and certainly those who steadfastly hold its ancient Catholic doctrine stand on guard as it were in a state of siege; they are a minority both in power and in numbers. Upon such a state of affairs a steadfast, permanent, convinced, simple philosophy and rule of life, intensely adhered to, and close at hand, may now that the various sections of the world are so much interpenetrating one and the other, be of effect."  
"We must remember that the subjection of the Mohammedan -a purely political subjection -was accomplished by nothing more subtle or enduring than a superiority in weapons and mechanical invention. We must further remember that this superiority dates from a very short time ago."
"A little more and there will cease that which our time has taken for granted, the physical domination of Islam by the disintegrated Christendom we know."
More excerpts are available HERE.

Indeed, Belloc says as much as I do, that ideology must be rooted out. We cannot overwhelm them with force and expect everything to change overnight. It's fascinating that he believed Europe was living on its past. ISIS for whatever reason paints two pictures of Europe: the reality of the decadence and rampant secularism, and also Christendom. It's the latter they seem to focus on the most. As I noted the other day (4 months ago), Pope Benedict XV called World War One the suicide of Europe. I wonder today if European politicians have the desire to defend their countries, because there really isn't much left in actuality to defend in Europe. What is left is either a remnant or is otherwise waiting to be restored... and it is no coincidence that as the Nazis rose and Russia spread her errors and Europe was left to deal with the consequences of modern man's actions that Islam rose in that wake.

 As the Dutch contracept and abort at high levels, the population of the Netherlands will be evenly divided between native Dutch and those who come from Islamic countries. It would be one thing if Europe was being replaced merely genetically. But it's not. For the last several years, governance has become dysfunctional from Greece to Italy to Spain to Belgium and so on. It has been argued to me that Muslim women will not put up with the radicalism imported from the Middle East because they come to appreciate the European ideals of governance and society. But if Europe disintegrates in its institutions, and let us not forget that its religion has been divided for nearly five centuries and it is basically secular, what influence will European life have on these women in the future?

If we are to fight ISIS so that it is completely dismantled, we must keep in mind the words of  St. Louis IX, the Crusading king and champion of the poor, who said to the Sultan in Jerusalem, :I left my sweet France and came all the way here just to save your soul."

However, I am not living under a rock. I know that Barack Obama and the American-spurred coalition will not be followed up by Jesuits and mendicant friars, ready to serve the residents of Iraq and Syria so that they might preach to them the Holy Gospel. But we must do what we can, I suppose. If nothing else, we should pray for their conversion and desisting from violence. Perhaps priests using the traditional Roman liturgy can add extra collects for peace and conversion, and we can offer our own prayers.

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