Much as I admire Yuja Wang and deplore the victimary sanctimony that has replaced Judeo-Christianity among our Belmont class, I am not really rooting for China to take over the USA’s role as the world’s dominant nation. Even a kinder, gentler China that left the Uighurs and Hong Kong in peace would not stop me from flying the American flag on my automobile.
So I thought that in honor of Bahrain’s decision of to join the UAE in recognizing Israel, it was time to give Cassandra a sleeping pill and celebrate an event which apparently has led to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for President Trump. (For readers who are “triggered” by mention of the latter, Prozac will be supplied on request.)
G. W. Bush’s overthrow of Saddam without reflecting on the balance of power in his part of the world may have had unfortunate results, but unintended consequences too have unintended consequences. The mischief wrought by removing the chief obstacle to Iran’s aggressive Shiism has led to a nascent unification of Israel and the Sunni bloc, hopefully eventually to include the Palestinians. Islamist Iran has had no real affinity with the Arab world other than mutual hostility to Israel, and if opposed by an Arab-Israeli coalition, it would have to rein in its mischief, depriving Hamas of its chief source of support, weakening Hezbollah, and perhaps discouraging Turkey from pursuing its own brand of Islamism.
The opening up of the Arab world to Israel is no small thing. Last Sunday, Nave Dromi suggested in the Jerusalem Post (https://www.jpost.com/opinion/its-time-to-normalize-the-temple-mount-642055) that when the UAE delegation arrives in Israel on September 22, Netanyahu should invite “its most senior member to join him for a visit on the Temple Mount . . . [and] as an added gesture, . . . they can invite Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to join them . . .” That Abbas would almost certainly decline is hardly the point. The very idea that an Israeli journalist can seriously propose such a thing reflects a sea-change.
The time has come for ending the knee-jerk rejection of Israel by the Arab world. After 72 years, clearly the Jews are not going to be driven into the sea, but above all, there is no good reason for Muslims to wish this. Israel has no inclination to impose its religion on anyone, and the vast majority of Muslims no longer maintain their ideal of world-conquest save as a symbolic reaction to Western domination.
I share Daniel Pipes’ view that we need not become the “mimetic rivals” of the Islamists; there is plenty of material for fraternity among the three Abrahamic religions, a grouping that could in the future be expanded to include the different religious perspectives of Asia.
Although I have never been attracted to millennialist beliefs, and have become even less so after recent experiences with millennials, I cannot help reflecting on the significance of the evangelical idea that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus—which I would interpret rather as the establishment of world peace than as the occasion for the Last Judgment. No doubt there is more to the world than its Abrahamic portion, but the perspective of peace in our part of the world is a major watershed that may hopefully allow humanity on both sides of the Urals to negotiate the digital age without catastrophe.
In 1959, after having expressed a good deal of hostility to Zionism and to Israel in its early years, Arnold Toynbee gave a lecture to the British section of the World Jewish Congress entitled “Is There a Jewish Future in the Diaspora?” that surprisingly concluded:
. . . the future of Judaism is to convert the world. It is an extraordinary thing that twice in history the Jews have allowed outsiders [Christians and Muslims, I assume] to run away with their religion, and spread it over the world. . . . Does not the real future of the Jews and Judaism lie in spreading Judaism, in its authentic form, over the whole world? (https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/jacob-agus-2/toynbees-epistle-to-the-jews/)
Toynbee never reconciled himself to the national existence of Israel. What he is calling for here is a kind of post-national Judaism, one presumably lacking in any of the particular elements of Jewish religious practice. Toynbee is not just saying that the world should accept the moral lessons of the Ten Commandments. His vision is that the world should find its ethical unity in Judaism, not so much in the sense that it should reject Christianity and Islam, as that it should accept the “Abrahamic” root of the civilization of which the three religions—including the Classical element absorbed in all three—are integral parts. It goes without saying that this “conversion” could become effective only by subordinating any specific religious practices to a common understanding of the central “Jewish” core of the three religions—the sovereignty of the One God.
Although the destruction of the Second Temple and the deportation of the Jews were carried out by the Romans well before Constantine’s conversion in 313, the Christian figure of the “wandering Jew” makes clear the historical association of the ensuing Christian civilization with the Jews’ statelessness, which emphasized the anomaly of their originary national status.
Whence the salience of Old Testament examples as models for the “Westphalian” state system that emerged in Europe over a millennium later. Emulation of the nation-concept embodied in “Israel” led various sects, from primitive Christianity and Islam to the various Protestant denominations from Luther to Joseph Smith, a number of which established territorial states of their own, to consider themselves as the “new Israel” to whom God’s original blessing to Abraham had been transferred.
All this remained dependent on the non-existence of a Jewish Israel with which its avatars could be compared. The dawning coexistence, of not only the Western state system, but what appears to be an emerging majority of the not-quite-Westphalian Arab states with the Jewish state of Israel is the mark of a new era.
What we are now witnessing is the reintegration into Western civilization of a domain that has for well over a millennium posed as an enemy rather than a part of the “Abrahamic” West. Although the Islamism of the late 20th century may be taken to have demonstrated that the forced Westernization exemplified by Ataturk was premature, an eventual alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s original home, would put a symbolic end to the Western world’s most significant schism, fourteen hundred years after the original jihad. Accepting the permanence of a tiny Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world gives promise of accomplishing a union that neither the Crusades nor the Ottoman sieges of Vienna could realize.
The Koran’s identification of the Arab people with Ishmael, Abraham’s “other” son, defines the Abrahamic world of the Bible, and by extension, the civilization of the Western world, by an ancient dichotomy between insiders and outsiders, city-dwellers and nomads, participants and heirs of the Classical civilization that had united in Christianity with the Jewish element, and those excluded from this cohesion. There were many ethnic groups in the West outside the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, but it is significant that the only serious rival movement arose not in the distant North but in close proximity to the ancient heartland of Near Eastern civilization.
This is hardly the place to litigate the resentments that led to Mohammed’s astonishingly successful movement, but clearly this success reflected a powerful intuition of the vulnerability of the early Christian world. What appears to have allowed Islam to conquer so much of it in a relatively short time was its failure to resolve the dualism of (1) Jewish “tribal” monotheism and (2) the Christian dichotomy of God and Caesar.
The Islamic solution was to integrate monotheistic worship directly into the power structure, placing above all tribal distinctions not simply a belief system but a redefined sense of transnational solidarity in the Ummah, which welcomes all humanity under the banner of the One God. This single-mindedness endures down to the present in the hearts of the Islamists who renewed it during the last century. If we all worship the same God, why must we have different nations? Thus, like the recent Islamic State, Iran defines itself today not as a nation but as a renewal of the world conquest promised by Islam from the first. But an Abrahamic peace implies the recognition by Muslims that the same spiritual end can be pursued as a fraternal enterprise.
The desire to destroy the new nation of Israel shared by the Arab nations of the Middle East in 1948 was founded on (1) the idea that what had once been Islamic territory could never be permanently relinquished, but also (2) the scandal that the Jews, whose extraterritoriality was thought to have become part of their DNA, dared to claim a territory of their own.
As evidence of the Jews’ long-standing unfamiliarity with such things, Israel itself was loath to assert its territorial rights in its dealings with Jordan concerning the Temple Mount after its victory in 1967. Can anyone imagine a synagogue in the holiest part of Mecca, with the whole surrounding area declared off limits to even a mumbled Islamic prayer—after an Islamic victory in a war to reclaim this very territory? Yet with full military control of Jerusalem, the Israeli victors gave the Jerusalem Waqf jurisdiction over the Temple Mount, and Muslims still riot on occasion over presumed violations of this jurisdiction.
That the hoped-for peaceful coexistence that failed in India in 1947 can succeed in the birthplace of the Abrahamic tradition is a sign all the more welcome today when the most troubling problem of West European states has been their ever-increasing difficulty in integrating their growing Muslim populations—a problem due in large measure to the reverberations of Palestinian irredentism. Given an Abrahamic vision of the Middle East, European Muslims would no longer need to see themselves as “ex-colonials.” It is in this way that the states of Europe, however they arrange their political and fiscal unity, might attain (and perhaps improve upon) the unity in diversity of the United States.
Unlike those who see jihad as a permanent danger, I follow Daniel Pipes in viewing Abrahamic reconciliation as the very archetype of a globalization that would allow the West its best chance to defend itself against the totalitarian challenge presented by China and its fellow autocracies. The digital era is not fated to lead to the “decline of the West.” It can just as well bring about an era of peaceful coexistence among all the world’s great civilizations. But for the West to function to the maximum of its potential, its Islamic offshoot must be reconciled with its Judeo-Christian cousins.
The spectacular Al Qaeda hijacking during the first year of the third millennium embodied the new aggressiveness of the Islamists (then a new word for most of us) as not just rivals but potential destroyers of the West. Bush’s over-optimistic response in attempting to establish a Western-style democracy in Iraq after ousting Saddam was founded on a superficial understanding of Francis Fukuyama’s idea that ours was indeed the “ultimate” political system.
But we need not abandon our belief in the real substance of this idea, which is grounded in the simple fact that liberal democracy is the system that allows the most degrees of human freedom. We need not disavow our conviction that, even in its Chinese incarnation, totalitarianism’s intolerance of disorder must lose out in the end to democracy’s greater potential creativity.
Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), the founder of modern Islamism, found his primary inspiration when witnessing what he viewed as the scandalous looseness of Western morals in 1948-50 Greeley, Colorado. It is easy to condemn Qutb’s reactionary moral vision. But the fact that the victimary movement in the West has never complained of Islam’s sexual inequality and condemnation of deviancy cannot simply be explained as a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Left’s anomalous toleration of the unequal treatment of women in Islam, despite even the horrors of FGM, is a reflection of tacit respect for traditional society’s acceptance of biological reality, which the West is increasingly driven to deny.
Does sexual equality require the denial of biology? On September 16, Le Figaro reported that “Claire,” a French “transgendered woman,” attempted to be recognized, on the birth certificate of a child that he had biologically fathered, as its mother. Fortunately (in my view) the appeals court rejected his request, but one need not be a Qutb to be shocked at the excesses of Western gender-bending. A more fraternal attitude toward Islam might lead the Western world to curb such excesses, while renewing its confidence in the advantages of the traditional two-parent family, and perhaps even producing more children.
Finally, as the situation on our campuses makes clear, the Palestinian cause has long been a major source of fuel for “intersectional” resentment. Hopefully, the newborn Abrahamic peace will lead to a settlement that will bring greater prosperity to the Palestinians while eliminating this sore point. It’s hard to resist the images of Israelis and Arabs smiling and shaking hands.