Opening the door to the enemy
Islam | Self-loathing rooted in cultural relativism blinds the West to the dangers of Islamic terrorism
by Darrow Miller
Posted 12/27/14, 02:07 pm
Two months ago we published Chapter 3 of Darrow Miller’s Emancipating the World: A Christian Response to Radical Islam and Fundamentalist Atheism. The chapter provoked a good discussion on the website and elsewhere, so we’re back with one more, Chapter 7, which reports on and analyzes the “pathological self-loathing” that characterizes much of Western civilization’s contemporary intellectual output.
Miller, who heads the Disciple Nations Alliance, asks why many in Europe and America are reluctant to speak about “Islamic terrorists,” why many feminists are silent about Muslim oppression of women, and why we tolerate the intolerant. He also points out some painful truths that lie within the Islamic moral critique of the West: Many in Europe and America are spiraling into a spiritual and moral abyss.
WORLD has recommended some of Miller’s excellent books, especially LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day. For more of Miller’s thinking, please see the interview we ran in WORLD in December 2009. Happy New Year, everyone. —Marvin Olasky
Chapter 7: The Connection Between the Twin Wars
A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. —Will Durant
Between the death of culture and the corresponding death of a nation or civilization lies a phenomenon that could be called pathological self-loathing. This entails individuals and societies hating their heritage and wanting to distance themselves from their past. Let’s look at several examples of this self-loathing.
In a story entitled “Hostage Drill Prepares School for Crises,” journalist David Levinsky reported:
The mock terror attack involved two irate men armed with handguns who invaded the high school through the front door. They pretended to shoot several students in the hallway and then barricaded themselves in the media center with 10 student hostages.
Two Burlington Township police detectives portrayed the gunmen. Investigators described them as members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the “New Crusaders” who don’t believe in separation of church and state. The mock gunmen went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class.
Jihadists are attacking daily around the world. Their attacks in the United States are increasing. So why would a simulated hostage attack in a public school in America cast Christians as the terrorists? And how is it that the term “Islamic terrorists” has been stripped from our political vocabulary?
Another example of Western self-loathing is pictured in the lack of any Western feminist response to the recent liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban. Under Taliban rule, women were prisoners in their own homes. They could not venture out without a burka and a male escort. Girls could not attend school; women could not serve as medical doctors or educators. Feminists rail against such treatment in the West, but their rage against the Taliban and their celebration at the liberation of Afghan women by Western armies were conspicuous by their absence. Feminists did not consider the merits of the war. The joy of seeing a nation of women freed from barbaric Islamic law failed to overcome their loathing of the US military and commander-in-chief George W. Bush, by whose actions those women had been liberated.
Self-loathing is rooted in cultural relativism, which undermines the importance of a given culture’s unique identity and strengths and maximizes that culture’s weaknesses. Cultural relativism denies an objective moral and metaphysical order that leads to freedom, economic sufficiency, social health, and public justice. Cultural relativists seem embarrassed by their national identity. Somali political refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali noted this tendency in her adoptive homeland of Holland: “[The Dutch] saw nationalism almost the same as racism. Nobody seemed proud to be Dutch.” A logical consequence of cultural relativism is the denial of the uniqueness of one’s own culture. Thus, cultural relativists do not recognize the problem of Islamic terrorism and instead lay the world’s problems at the feet of freedom-seeking theists who believe in absolutes. An example comes from Robert Reich, secretary of labor in President Clinton’s administration:
The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. … The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.
While much of Reich’s offering is spurious, his main point is clear: the battle is not between Jihadists and the West; it is between atheists and theists. Not only do those who deny God and moral absolutes promote freedom to do anything without moral restraint; they also open the door to the enemy who is seeking to destroy them for that very reason.
Perhaps a mental picture would be helpful. Political cartoonist D.T. Devareaux drew a cartoon titled “Suicide of the West.” In it, Uncle Sam, the national personification of the United States government, is holding a pillar labeled “Western civilization” in one hand and a gun marked “Liberalism” in the other hand. The gun is aimed in the mouth of the morally and spiritually exhausted Uncle Sam, whose finger is on the trigger. Another person’s finger, labeled “Islam,” reaches in from outside the frame of the picture to cock the weapon for firing. The message is clear: the United States, the upholder of Western civilization, is in the process of committing national suicide and thus ending the hope of the West’s recovery; and Islamists are all too eager to speed up the demise of both America and the ideal of liberty.
Surrender and Appeasement
On July 6, 2008, in Jonesboro, Georgia, Chaudhry Rashid, a fifty-four-year-old Pakistani immigrant, strangled his twenty-five-year-old daughter, Sandeela Kanwal. Ms. Kanwal had refused an arranged marriage. This horrible murder, an Islamic honor killing in America, received scant news coverage. Contrast that with months of sensational news coverage of the disappearance and suspected murder of American blond beauty Natalee Ann Holloway, last seen in Aruba. Two stories of young American women murdered, one story repeatedly broadcast for months, the other buried.
Why the different treatment? Why were women’s rights advocates silent about the Muslim death? Did the media intentionally bury coverage of a cruel honor killing because it would cast Islamic culture in a negative light? Was the life of a young Muslim woman less valuable than that of a beautiful blonde?
The church has surrendered as well. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that the “UK has to ‘face up to the fact’ that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system. Dr. Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.” Sharia undergirds honor killings, among other unspeakable practices. Western accommodation to such a system would undermine the dignity of women and jeopardize their right to life and protection. At his trial for the murder of his daughter, Chaudhry Rashid stated that he had done nothing wrong. Indeed, failure to restore the honor of his family by murdering his daughter would have violated the Islamic code.
Why this surrender? Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of the German media company Axel Springer, wrote an explosive piece in the daily newspaper Die Welt titled “Europe—Thy Name Is Cowardice.” He states the cause of the surrender as the absence of a moral compass:
Appeasement cost millions of Jews and Gentiles their lives. … Appeasement stabilized the Communist Soviet Union. … Appeasement crippled Europe when genocide ran rampant in Kosovo. … Appeasement generates a mentality that allows Europe to condone the 300,000 victims of Saddam’s torture and murder. … [We Europeans] present ourselves as the world champions of tolerance against the intolerants. … And why, actually? Because we’re so moral? I fear it’s more because we’re so materialistic. … These days, it sometimes seems that Europe is like a little old lady who cups her shaking hands around her last pieces of jewelry as a thief breaks in right next door. Europe, thy name is Cowardice.
Self-loathing eventually dissolves the will to survive. As a nation increasingly embraces cultural relativism, it loses interest in its history or cultural heritage. It feels guilty for its very existence, lacking the ambition or the will to defend or even perpetuate itself. A self-loathing culture has no reason to reproduce.
Nineteen of the twenty lowest national birthrates in the world are in Europe. Not one European country has a replacement level birth rate. A similar anti-natal pattern characterizes the United States, especially politically liberal states. In the 2004 US presidential elections, John Kerry won the sixteen states with the lowest birthrates, those most like Europe, home to social liberals, averaging 1.47 children per woman. In the same race, George W. Bush won twenty-five of twenty-six states where social conservatives live, with the highest birthrates, averaging 2.08 children per woman.
These statistics reveal the powerful impact of cultural narrative, the implications of the culture wars. They are an ominous portent for the survival of Western civilization. Malcolm Muggeridge’s reflections are instructive:
The final conclusion would seem to be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions and providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down. And, having convinced himself that he is too numerous, labors with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer, until at last, having educated himself into imbecility and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct.
Europe has marched into death; America is the dead man walking.
Tolerating the Intolerant
The absence of moral or metaphysical absolutes erases the concepts of falsehood, moral evil, or the artistically abhorrent. No moral judgment can be brought to an individual’s or culture’s behavior. The result is tolerating the intolerant, accepting conduct that once was morally and aesthetically incomprehensible.
Many Islamic societies practice honor killings, deny personal freedom, practice severe discrimination, shun non-Muslims, and fight from behind children and the elderly. How can so many Western academics, media personalities, bureaucrats, and feminist leaders ignore such injustices? As we have seen, Malcolm Muggeridge called it “The Great Liberal Death Wish.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s phrase is the “seduction of totalitarianism.”
In the United States terms like “jihadists” or “Islamic militants” are politically incorrect. Such folly masquerading as sophistication could be simply dismissed were it not so dangerous. Atheists (by confession or lifestyle) reject jihadists’ explanations for their behavior. They cling to a Western account of the jihadists’ attacks on the West: Muslims attack us because “America is bad” and we support Israel; Arabs are poor because Americans are rich. Such economic and political analysis, no matter how erroneous, appeals to the secular humanist; a reasoned critique of Muslim religious ideology does not. In Terror and Liberalism, author and political writer Paul Berman describes how jihadist violence “produced a philosophical crisis among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world.”
Walid Phares writes, “Between the mosaic of democracies and the panoply of Jihadism, the disagreement is philosophical, historical, and doctrinal: it is about how the world has functioned for centuries and how it should evolve.” Democracies by nature are transparent; they offer freedom of religion and of speech. Arab nations are opaque and restrict or deny freedom of religion or speech. A huge dilemma results when a democracy welcomes people who reject democratic values, who refuse to assimilate, who want to dominate. The plan by New York Muslims to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero illustrates this dilemma.
The year 2005 witnessed another example of the dilemma of democracy confronted by totalitarianism when the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper published twelve editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad. The newspaper ran the cartoons as part of the debate about freedom of the press and freedom of speech versus the limits of irreverence toward religious figures. As word about these cartoons circulated in the Muslim world, riots broke out in Arab and European capitals. Newspapers that think nothing of portraying Christ irreverently suddenly began to self-censor the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Political correctness and fear of jihadist wrath trumped the traditional Western value of freedom of the press.
Mark Steyn, Canadian author and cultural critic, challenges cultural relativism: “It’s easy to be sensitive, tolerant, and multicultural—it’s the default mode of the age—yet, when you persist in being sensitive to the insensitive, tolerant of the intolerant, and impeccably multicultural about the avowedly unicultural, don’t be surprised if they take it for weakness.” French writer Jean-François Revel famously said, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
The Great Satan
Jihadists label the United States, with its moral and cultural relativism, “the Great Satan.” What does this mean?
The apostle John reveals that Satan is the father of lies and the author of death: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In Revelation, Satan not only lies; he deceives entire nations (Rev. 20:3, 7–8). Satan is the personification of evil. And beyond this, Satan’s nature is to deceive and, through that deception, to destroy nations.
When Islamists call America the Great Satan, they do so in this sense of deception. Islam scholar Bernard Lewis describes the Muslim concept of the demonic: “Satan as depicted in the Qur’an is neither an imperialist nor an exploiter. He is a seducer, ‘the insidious tempter who whispers in the hearts of men’ (Qur’an CXIV, 4, 5).” The fundamentalist Muslim regards the United States as the great seducer. Not content with our own spiritual bankruptcy, we spew our vileness to the world. Through the media and Internet, we draw people in Muslim nations away from Allah and from their traditional values into godless materialism and immorality.
Professor Samuel Huntington explains how Muslims view the West: “They see Western culture as materialistic, corrupt, decadent, and immoral. They also see it as seductive, and hence stress all the more the need to resist its impact on their way of life. Increasingly, Muslims attack the West not for adhering to an imperfect, erroneous religion, which is nonetheless a ‘religion of the book,’ but for not adhering to any religion at all. In Muslim eyes Western secularism, irreligiosity, and hence immorality are worse evils than the Western Christianity that produced them. … Muslims see their opponent as ‘the godless West.’”
In his “Letter to the American People” dated November 24, 2002, Osama bin Laden raised two questions: “Why are we fighting and opposing you?” and “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?” One would think that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the West, particularly the United States, to seek the answers. Apparently our desire for personal peace and affluence outstrips our interest in such questions. Nevertheless, we would be foolish not to listen to the mastermind behind the war from the East.
In answer to his question “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?” bin Laden writes:
(1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam. …
(2) The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you. …
(3) What we call you to thirdly is to … discover that you are a nation without principles or manners. …
(4) We also advise you to stop supporting Israel. …
(5) We also advise you to pack your luggage and get out of our lands. …
(6) Sixthly, we call upon you to end your support of the corrupt leaders in our countries. …
(7) We also call you to deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits. …
Bin Laden continues:
(a) We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s [sic], and trading with interest. …
(b) It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind. …
(iv) You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honour nor your laws object.
Who can forget your President Clinton’s immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? …
(vi) You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.
(vii) You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.
Moral atheists, whose goal is sexual freedom, dismiss bin Laden’s words as moral ranting. Moral relativists challenge his right to judge others’ behavior. Those who seek to live within a moral framework see some truth in his accusations.
Bin Laden’s statement that the United States is “the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind” is patently false. No nation is perfect. But America has set a standard of civilization that has been the envy of many in the world. Furthermore, bin Laden’s life and immoral behavior, including his treatment of women, has often reflected his very critique of the United States. Nor can his heinous attacks on the United States and innocent civilians be justified on any grounds.
Parts of bin Laden’s critique, however, have the sad ring of truth. In many ways we have become a culture that encourages “acts of immorality,” substance abuse, adultery, and premarital sex. Women have become objects, not subjects; they become the “sex toys” of men. Too often women are exploited for commercial purposes to sell all variety of material things. Many thousands of women and girls are trafficked each year into the United States for sex slavery. There is no denying that pornography has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Things that would have been unthinkable in the United States fifty years ago, such as redefining “marriage” to be between two men or two women, are becoming mainstream. A movement to make pedophilia legal in the United States is now under way. We have indeed become a culture that “practices the trade of sex in all its forms.”
So, while we must condemn bin Laden’s actions and hateful rhetoric, we must also see the painful truth of his moral critique. The United States is spiraling into a moral and spiritual abyss. Too often the American church stands uncritical of the decadent lifestyles of the modern atheistic and materialistic culture; and more tragically, Christians often practice the same lifestyles. The American patterns of adultery and divorce, pornography, abortion, and support of same-sex marriage are found in the church in growing numbers. Instead of being radically countercultural, too many Christians have been caught up in the increasingly depraved culture of modern America.
A Battle of Ideas
Ultimately we face a conflict of ideas, ideals, and vision—a battle of worldviews and religious narratives. As Proverbs reminds us: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 KJV). As we have seen, our religious worldview not only tells us how to see the world but also determines the kind of nations we will build.
Each narrative has a symbol, a driving vision, and a focus. Atheistic materialism’s symbol is the condom. The vision is “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Its focus is the self and the immediate satisfaction of one’s natural instincts (hedonism).
The symbol of militant Islam is the sword. Would-be martyr Ijaz Khan Hussein expresses its vision: “We went to the Jihad filled with joy, and I would go again tomorrow. If Allah had chosen me to die I would have been in paradise, eating honey and watermelons and grapes and resting with beautiful virgins.” The focus is obedience to Allah by murdering innocents through jihad.
Biblical theism’s symbol is the cross. The driving vision was stated by the apostle Paul: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free … use your freedom to … serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:1, 13). The focus is personal and national liberty through obedience to God’s order.
These radically diverse narratives lead to drastically different ends. The first ends in disorder (moral anarchy), the second in tyranny, the third in freedom.
This battle of ideas must be fought on two levels. First, the license of secular atheism and the freedom of biblical theism must face off. The winner—license or freedom—will confront the tyranny of jihadist Islam. The outcome will determine the future of Europe and America, the future of the Middle East, the future of the world.
To engage in this battle fully, we must see it from its deepest level—the spiritual level.
From Emancipating the World. © 2012 by Darrow L. Miller. Published by YWAM Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.