One of the many problems that arise from the cross-currents in the Middle East and the activities of radical Islamists is that the Western response is almost entirely confined to concerns about terrorism, and, to a degree, to the need to prop up the less odious regimes against the more barbarous and aggressive. These are certainly desirable lines of defense, but they leave some large fields of combat vacant. Militant Islamists endlessly denounce the West as degenerate, morally decrepit, godless, and a vast zone that is bankrupt in terms of the human spirit. Because so much of the secular leadership of the West, and so many of its institutions, are agnostic, and the state religion of the West is, in effect, atheism, we discard in advance one of the strongest cards the West possesses in this contest with deranged and aberrant Islam. Judeo-Christians were the pioneering monotheists, the Jews about 1,500 years ahead of the Christians, and the Christians 600 years ahead of the Muslims.
There are at least as many practicing Roman Catholics in the world as there are practitioners of Islam, and that is not counting Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches, in which there are hundreds of millions more practicing Christians. This is not just a question of market share: The development of Christian theology and religious philosophy and connected art, ramifying into painting, sculpture, and literature, vastly surpasses that of Islam or of any other religion, much less that of any secular creeds that would affect to shoulder the vast body of Judeo-Christian thought and creativity aside. Because our governments, with few exceptions, are so infested — stuffed, in fact — with agnostics, they are complicit in the Islamic campaign to represent the West as a completely corrupted materialist society with no connection to or belief in any spiritual concepts or any moral imperatives. All is relativism and there is nothing that is right or wrong, and even a terrorist attack that massacres the innocent is the expression of frustrations that inevitably are a response to some provocation or shortcoming of the West, and even as we deter or even punish terrorist acts we must contritely mend our ways and pull up our moral socks.
Broadly speaking, in the interests of liberating themselves from any review by ecclesiastical leaders and facilitating the materialization of all values by pitching almost all political questions as matters of pecuniary redistribution, our governments make it easier for the critics of the West to denounce us as a society of no beliefs, in which everything can be bought. While there is no known reason to believe that this bulked heavily in the minds of President Obama and his advisers when they unleashed the spurious and outrageous campaign to impose upon the Roman Catholic Church the obligation of ensuring payment for the contraceptives (as well as sterilizations and inducement of miscarriages) of students and employees of Church-related organizations and institutions, that was an across-the-board win for the enemies of the West. The government of the most powerful Western country went to war against the premier Christian Church and the leadership of the largest religious denomination in the United States. It was Obama’s own little Bismarckian Kulturkampf, which dismisses religious convictions as part of a partisan “war on women” and promotes and makes believable to the uninformed (who are a majority of the world’s Muslims) a version of Western society that is profoundly irreligious.
This reinforces the Islamists’ argument that they are without religious rivals, that they alone are aligned with God and are defending godliness against the “corruption on earth” that that murderous lunatic swaddled in violent religiosity, the Ayatollah Khomeini, was always imputing to his opponents. And Islamist fanaticism is also fostered by the ghastly quietism with which Western governments appease the Islamists and ignore the endless outrages committed against Christians, even more than Jews, in the world. Nothing could better encourage the sense that the West is cowardly, decadent, and heretical than the feeble acquiescence of all of the West except the Vatican in Islamist persecution of Christians in the Middle East. A century ago, Christians still made up 30 percent of the population of the Middle East, but that number is only about 3 percent today. In only two years since the toppling of Egypt’s President Mubarak, some Egyptian Christians have been publicly crucified, a Coptic church was burned down with no intervention from the new Muslim Brotherhood regime, hundreds of Christian women have been brutally assaulted, and over 100,000 Copts have fled Egypt.
Prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, whom it is difficult to conceive of as a force for religious liberality, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. In recent years, 70 churches have been attacked, nearly a thousand Christians have been murdered, and the Christian population is down to fewer than 200,000. Iraqi Catholic archbishop Bashar Warda says, “We need to bear the cross, but it is becoming heavy.” Before the beginning of the present violence in Syria, there were 80,000 Christians in the city of Homs; none remain. About 300,000 Syrian Christians have fled, an inordinate number of the country’s refugees, while Western governments, particularly that of the United States, have waffled and prevaricated.
Moammar Qaddafi is even harder to imagine as a champion of religious toleration than was Saddam Hussein, but there were about 100,000 Christians in Libya when the armed struggle to get rid of him began. The Roman Catholic bishop of Benghazi had 10,000 people in his diocese two years ago; now only a few hundred remain. Readers will recall that it was here that the U.S. ambassador and three other officials were murdered in the American consulate, and to maintain the fiction that it wasn’t a terrorist incident, but rather a spontaneous mass response to the anti-Islamist video of a religious kook in California, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came on television to assure the Muslim world that the United States had the utmost respect for Islam. It would be hard to imagine anything more skillfully conceived to incite contempt for the U.S. and the West as a whole, and to inflame Muslim religious chauvinism, than that pathetic and falsely motivated address.
Iran’s Assyrian Christian population has fallen from 100,000 in the late 1970s to 15,000 today. The only remaining Christian minister in Pakistan was assassinated in 2011. Over 200,000 Christians have fled the violence in Mali, and even in Lebanon, traditionally a half-Christian country, where to preserve that myth no census has been taken since 1932 and the real Christian share of the population is about a third, there is a steady decline. In 2009, Pope Benedict counseled his Middle Eastern coreligionists in an open-air address at Amman attended by about 40,000 people to persevere, to join with the moderates of other faiths, but to “bear witness against the desecration of women.” Israel has never persecuted Christians, although that has not prevented the Palestinian Christian leadership from often being shameless lickspittles of Arafat and his collaborators and successors, but since 1946 the population of Jerusalem has changed from 30,000 Christians, 31,000 Muslims, and 97,000 Jews to 14,000 Christians, 230,000 Muslims, and 460,000 Jews, prompting fears that Jerusalem will become a “Christian Disneyland” where Christians visit but do not reside.
Pope Benedict understood the Islamist threat and often referred to it in moderate and reasonable terms (though that did not prevent many Muslims from imagining that they could silence him by assimilating him to the Danish cartoonist — still, today, under threat for his life — who caricatured the prophet). The Roman Catholic Church, though it took an unconscionably long time to do so, has finally grasped the nature of the threat against it from Islam, but most Western governments are still appeasing the source of that threat, and the government of the United States, for its own discreditable purposes, is conducting its own, comparatively gentle war on Christianity, instead of embracing it, with all respect for secularism, ecumenism, and non-belief, as the greatest ally it has in its attempt to tame and defang aggressive Islam. Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo said on behalf of the Holy See in 2006: “Islamist countries demand religious rights for their citizens who migrate to other countries, but ignore this principle for non-Muslim immigrants in their own lands.” This hypocrisy should be forcibly discouraged.
Stalin infamously asked, “How many divisions has the pope?” The answer was, More than Stalin thought, and more than Stalin’s heirs. It is strategic folly, and a betrayal of the nature of our civilization and its history, for American and other Western leaders to attempt to defend against Muslim extremism while conducting an excruciating charade to pretend that the West is un-Christian. Fortunately, that is not true, and the Islamists should know it.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].