crescent and the conclave
Now that everyone is talking about Europe's
demographic death, it is time to point out that there exists a way out: convert
European Muslims to Christianity. The reported front-runner at the Vatican conclave that began on Monday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the few Church leaders unafraid to
raise the subject.  Hedonistic dissipation well may have condemned the
existing Europeans to infecundity and extinction, but that does not prevent Europe from getting new ones. It has been done before.
Europe in the 8th century was a depopulated
ruin. The loss of half the Roman Empire's population by the
7th century left vast territories open to Islam, which rapidly absorbed
the formerly Christian Levant, North Africa and Spain. By converting successive
waves of invading pagans - Lombards, Magyars,
Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Slavs - Christianity reinvented Europe,
and held Islam at bay.
Now that John Paul II has been buried, Catholic voices are sounding the alarm
about the coming Islamicization of Europe. In the
future imagined by John Paul II's biographer George Weigel, "The muezzin summons the faithful to
prayer from the central loggia of St Peter's in Rome, while Notre-Dame
has been transformed into Hagia Sophia on the Seine -
a great Christian church become an Islamic museum." 
Misjudging the impact of Islamic immigration upon Europe
may have been the signal error of John Paul II's
reign. Against the bitter opposition of Catholic traditionalists, John Paul II
visited mosques, kissed the Koran for the news cameras, and held more than 50
audiences with Muslim representatives. The late pontiff saw Muslims as
prospective allies against secularism, and believed that the popular piety of
Islam offered something of a bulwark against the soulless direction of the
modern world.  In particular, John Paul II seemed impressed by the fact that
the Koran acknowledges the Virgin Mary, a point emphasized in the Second
Vatican Council's ecumenical statement, Nostra Aetate.
No pope in recent history identified more with the popular folk-religion of
Catholicism. He canonized more saints than any of his predecessors, and lent
papal authority to the Cult of Fatimah.
Not just sympathy, but also fear, guided the Vatican's caution with respect to
radical Islam. As Father Richard John Neuhaus
observes, "L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican
newspaper, regularly reports on terrorist acts around the world but assiduously
avoids mentioning that they are almost all associated with radical Islam. There
are several reasons for this: the Holy See wants to resist any suggestion that
we are engaged in a war of religions; as the chief institutional representative
of world Christianity, it has a unique role in developing any future dialogue
with Islam; and it is keenly aware of the precarious position of Christians in
Muslim countries." 
In that respect, John Paul II recalled the sad position of Pius XII, afraid to
denounce publicly the murder of Polish priests by Nazi occupiers - let alone
the murder of Polish Jews - for fear that the Nazis would react by killing even
more. It is hard to second-guess the actions of Pius XII given his terrible
predicament, but at some point one must ask when the Gates of Hell can be said
to have prevailed over St Peter.
Islam surrounds traditional society with a spear-wall, and proposes to extend
the realm of traditional society, the ummah,
by dominating the world around it through jihad (see Islam:
Religion or political ideology?,
August 10, 2004). Christian missionaries will get nowhere in Muslim countries
except into trouble. But Muslims in Europe no
longer live in traditional society, much as they might attempt to re-create it
on European soil. As long as they are strangers on European soil, they are
vulnerable to Christian proselytizing, if there exist
a Christian agency with the temerity to attempt it.
The last public discussion of the Church's stance toward Islam took place at an
October 1999 bishops' synod in Rome.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels
enunciated the dominant view: "We have much to learn" from Muslims,
such as "the transcendence of God, prayer and fasting, and the impact of
religion on social life". Danneels is a leading
"liberal" candidate for the papacy.
Dissident voices such as Professor Alain Besancon
became persona non grata at the Holy See. Besancon
still writes on Islam, although his views are known to English-language readers
principally through a 2004 article in the neo-conservative monthly Commentary
(see Has Islam become the issue?, May 4, 2004).
So impassioned was John Paul II's commitment to
ecumenical embrace of Islam that one finds dissenting opinion only on the
reactionary right of the Church. The closest thing to an anti-Islamic manifesto
to emerge from Catholic circles during the past decade came from a supporter of
the heretical Archbishop Lefevre, who refused to
accept the Vatican II reforms. He is Hans-Peter Raddatz,
a German scholar and co-author of the Encyclopedia of Islam.  Like Besancon, Raddatz presents the
classical Catholic view, formulated in the 13th century by St Thomas Aquinas,
that Allah is a different entity altogether from the Christian God.
Raddatz' work is not available in English, although
its tone is not much different from that of Ibn Warraq, a widely read secularizer.  It contains an
exhaustive survey of Church politics with respect to Islam. The villains of Raddatz' drama are "the founding pair in the
re-creation of faith identity after Vatican II, Wojtyla,
pope since 1978, and Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the
Congregation of the Faith since 1981".
As the late pope's adviser, Cardinal Ratzinger shares
responsibility for past Vatican policies, but
his tone has changed during the past six months. He opposed Turkey's entry
into the European Union. Last week he published a tract
titled Werte in Zeiten
des Umbruchs ("Values in Times of
Upheaval"), calling for Europe to return
to its core Christian values. He denounced Europe's
"incomprehensible self-hatred", adding that if Europe
wants to survive, "it must consciously seek to rediscover its own
soul". He wrote, "Multiculturalism cannot survive without common
constants, without taking one's own culture as a point of departure."
Ratzinger deplored the exclusion of Christianity from
the proposed European Constitution. Unlike the United
States, where politicians of both parties agree that
revelation is the source of virtue, secular Europe
insists upon an entirely secular approach to ethics. In this regard I
sympathize with Ratzinger, and refer readers to an
extensive debate on the subject of Kant's Categorical Imperative in the Asia Times Online Forum. Kant initiated the modern attempt
to derive ethics from reason. His approach (oversimplified) is to ask,
"What if everybody did?" You are not supposed to do something to
which you would object were someone else to do it. This approach has some
obvious weaknesses. Bertrand Russell observed in his History of Western
Philosophy that a depressive very well might wish for everyone to commit
suicide, and thus commit suicide himself with perfect justification. Just that
attitude describes the mindset of today's Europeans, who naturally prefer a
Kantian approach to a religious one.
Precisely how the Church might go about proselytizing Muslims is a different
matter, and a dangerous one, considering that Islam decrees the death penalty for
apostates (see Muslim
anguish and Western hypocrisy, November 23, 2004).
It is clear that Cardinal Ratzinger has been thinking
about this for some time. "Islam has no magisterium,"
that is, official teaching authority, Ratzinger
observed in a 2001 newspaper interview.  But the Catholic world can count on
the services of scholars such as Alain Besancon,
Hans-Peter Raddatz, and perhaps the pseudonymous Cristoph Luxenberg, who showed
that the sloe-eyed virgins promised to Islamic martyrs actually were raisins.
 If the Church were to devote its shrunken but still formidable intellectual
apparatus to such matters as Koranic criticism, all
heaven would break loose, if I mix my metaphors right.
Years ago I argued that Koranic criticism "yet
may turn out to be the worm in the foundation of radical Islam" (You
say you want a reformation?,
August 5, 2003). Unlike the Christian and Jewish scriptures, revealed to men
who heard the revelation in their own voices, the Archangel Gabriel dictated
every word of the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed. As Toby Lester reported
in the January 1999 edition of The Atlantic Monthly:
"To historicize the Koran would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim
community," says R Stephen Humphreys, a professor of Islamic studies at
the University of California at Santa
Barbara. "The Koran is the charter for the
community, the document that called it into existence. And ideally - though
obviously not always in reality - Islamic history has been the effort to pursue
and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a
historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of 14 centuries is
Koranic criticism has disappeared from the
radar screen. No news outlet has so much as mentioned the name of Professor
"Luxenberg" in recent months. That simply
might indicate that the entire establishment of the West,
from the democracy-obsessed administration of US President George W Bush to the
timid mandarins of the Vatican,
do not want to tread upon Islam's sore toe. Or it might mean that such
weapons are being held in reserve. One wants to exclaim, like an Italian taxi
driver, "Cosa sperate?
La morte dal prossimo papa?"
1. Ian Fisher, "Issue for Cardinals: Islam as Rival or Partner in
Talks", April 12, 2005.
2. George Weigel, The
Cube and the Cathedral (Basic Books: New York 2005).
3. See Recognize the Spiritual Bonds which Unite Us: 16 Years of
Christian-Muslim Dialogue; Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue,
4. In First Things, February 2005.
5. Hans-Peter Raddatz, Von Gott
zu Allah? (Herbig:
6. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am
Not a Muslim (Prometheus: New York 2005).
7. Le Figaro, November 17, 2001.
8. Christoph Luxenberg (ps),
Die syro-aramaeische Lesart
des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung
der Qur'ansprache. Berlin, Germany: Das Arabische Buch, First Edition,
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