Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Notes from Eurabia

My post yesterday was about conversion to Islam and the individual convert who, recent studies in the U.K. suggest, convert from a sense of emptiness and longing they experience in the milieu of late modern life in Western society. Of course, this has long been the stuff of conversion and reversion of which there are many more examples in the West of people with similar experiences converting, or reverting, to various forms Christianity in recent decades: evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, or even Orthodoxy. In broad strokes, my own experience of conversion, like that of hundreds of thousands of others, certainly bears resemblance to this general description. I also wrote yesterday that it appears that most of these new Western converts to Islam, at least in the U.K. are not radicalized, that is, they do not convert for ideological reasons.

It remains for me to try and define radicalization a bit more precisely. To convert or even to revert to religious faith and practice is a radical act on the part of a person that very often results from a crisis (I am using "crisis" here in a very precise sense). A crisis is a turning point for better or for worse, initially used with regard to a fever or an acute disease. It also means a decisive point or simply an emotionally significant event that is either the cause or catalyst for a person to radically change her life. Calling to mind my own conversion, which is on-going, but that began more than twenty years ago, I maintain that a religious conversion includes all of the above. Similarly, "radical" means "root", referring to what is fundamental; an extreme shift in one’s basic views, which does not necessarily (though it certainly can) refer to one holding politically extreme views. By definition an adult who undergoes religious conversion or dramatic reversion, at least in some attenuated sense, is radicalized. This is certainly true of any Western person converting to Islam.

Another consideration is that, like Christianity, Islam is not, contrary to popular belief, monolithic. Even within the two parts of the main division within Islam, Sunni and Shi’a, there are different schools of thought and practice, all this without so much as mentioning Sufi Islam, which holds sway among many Muslims, but does not get as much attention precisely because Sufis are largely very peaceful. One of the great advocates for peace is the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who also condemns violence against Christians and who, despite appearances to the contrary, is highly revered among Shi’ites.

The effect of the rise of Islam on Western society, especially in Europe, is becoming noticeable and measureable and in no place more than in The Netherlands. Just before Christmas 2009, Maria Corradi, writing in Avvenire, an Italian daily newspaper published by the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference, profiled Christmas in Amsterdam. The English translation of her article was made available on Sandro Magister’s indispensible Chiesa website. In her article she asked, "what is left of Christmas in one of the most secularized countries in Europe, where 58 percent of the population, according to one survey, does not know exactly what happened that day? In a country with 900,000 Arab immigrants out of 16 million inhabitants, and twenty mosques in Amsterdam alone?"

Another article, Islam in Europe: In the Casbah of Rotterdam, published in May 2009, by Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, who also wrote the recent and very important book, A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism, which is reviewed in the current issue of Commentary, provides some answers to Corradi’s questions. Meotti visited the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which he shows to be a good candidate for the general headquarters of what Bat Ye’or first dubbed Eurabia. During his visit he spent time with the journalist Sylvain Ephimenco, formerly the correspondent for the French left-leaning newspaper Libération, who offers an insider view of being ever more an outsider in a European city that is increasingly at odds with Western civilization.


Dutch journalist Bart Jan Spruyt, who now writes the newspaper column formerly authored by murdered politician Pim Fortuyn, who was one of the first internationally recognized voices to decry the use of Western democracy to bring about its demise, articulated all of this succinctly for Meotti’s piece: "The Muslims are in the majority in many neighborhoods, and are asking for sharia. This isn't Holland anymore. Our use of freedom has turned back against us, it is a process of self-Islamization." Remember, it was only back in early 2008 that Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, spoke about the inevitability of the Muslims in the United Kingdom adopting certain aspects shar’ia law. Such a concession ought to be utterly inconceivable.

So, the question remains as to whether Islam is inherently inimical to Western society, which undeniably has its roots in Christianity, or whether it is adaptable. I suppose only time will tell and, given the spread of Islam in the West, even among Westerners, these converts will prove catalysts in the European crisis, it remains to be seen whether the turning point will be for better or for worse.

For her article, Corradi walked through the streets of Amsterdam one Christmas ago, accompanied by Prof. Wim Peeters, who teaches at the seminary of the Amsterdam diocese, she noticed that anticipation for Christmas was palpable, even on the faces of the prostitutes, the homeless and the elderly they passed while they walked. She writes about some young women in an Italian pizzeria singing We wish you a Merry Christmas, to which Prof. Peeters responds by saying "In spite of everything the desire for happiness, and therefore for God, is always there, in the heart of man." As Don Giussani so forcefully pointed out over and again, this desire is at the heart of what it means to be human, which description leaves the matter far too abstract- this desire constitutes our humanity!

Peeters' observation is as true of Western converts to Islam as it is among those who constitute the secularized portion of the 58% of the Dutch population who do not know the reason we celebrate Christmas. It is this desire, this need that only truth, goodness, and above all beauty can satisfy that constitutes the basis of the new evangelization to which Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI have almost entirely dedicated their papacies to beginning. Above all, as the Holy Father demonstrates every time he preaches and speaks, this requires fidelity to what we Catholics call the depositum fidei, the truth that is Jesus Christ, handed down from the apostles via the Church, which is nothing other than the community of disciples through time and space, who make Him continuously present for the world, a Presence that began with the first Pentecost. A faith that is authentic, which means it resists the temptation to water it down, render it inoffensive, non-scandalous, or make it politically correct.

Prof. Peeters hit the nail-on-the-head when said to Corradi- "we would have nothing to fear from Islam, if we were Christians. And it often seems that today the Dutch are afraid of everything: of having children, as they are of immigrants. But fear is the exact opposite of faith." I believe it is exactly this kind of thought that resulted in John Paul II making the words of our Lord, “Be not afraid,” the motto of his papacy.

In a post on his Telegraph blog just today Damian Thompson draws positive attention to a book by one Nick Chatrath: Reaching Muslims: A One-stop Guide for Christians.

Veni adoramus

3 comments:

  1. Sure it can, who suggested otherwise? This is not even close to the first time I have addressed this issue here on Καθολικός διάκονος. Part of the negative Islamic reaction to the West is how irreligious we are, sometimes this is true even of people who go to church, which is also why I found Prof Peeters insights so spot on.

    In the Islam in Europe piece, Ephimenco states that when he the Netherlands in the 1960s "religion was dying, a unique event in Europe, a collective de-Christianization. Then the Muslims brought religion back to the center of social life. Aided by the anti-Christian elite." From a Christian perspective, the best way to resolve cultural conflict with Muslims is to unapologetically and fully live my faith and by recognizing the Christian roots of Western civilization. I tend to be more sympathetic with Joseph Ratzinger's suicide of the West than with the Muslims are killing Western culture thesis.

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  2. "we would have nothing to fear from Islam, if we were Christians"...So perfectly said!I think when our faith is focused where it needs to be, that is, on Christ himself, fear of another persons faith becomes non-existent. Well, fear diminishes greatly on just about everything.

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